News You Can Use:

New York Times, “Test Scores Under Common Core Show that ‘Proficiency’ Varies by State”: As results from the first assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards are released, some states “seem to be subtly broadening definitions of success” by setting proficiency benchmarks at levels that include students who are less-than-proficient. As a result, similar scores on the same test could mean “something quite different” from state to state, depending on how officials set cut scores. “This was exactly the problem that a lot of policymakers and educators were trying to solve,” explains Karen Nussle, “to get a more honest assessment of where kids are and being transparent about that with parents and educators so that we could do something about it.” In Ohio, for example, state policymakers included students who scored as “approached expectations” on the PARCC scale as “proficient” on Ohio’s scale, increasing the percentage of students who met proficiency benchmarks. “That mentality of saying let’s set proficient at levels where not too many people fail is going to kill us,” adds Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy. “The global standard of what proficient is keeps moving up.”

What It Means: States have made strides to begin closing Honesty Gaps by implementing high, comparable education standards, and this year most passed a new milestone by administering high-quality assessments aligned to those higher expectations. Even before last spring’s tests, some states were heading strongly in the direction of higher cut scores, as discussed in a recent Education Next article. Expanding the definition of proficiency to include students who are not fully prepared will undo those efforts and continue to give parents and educators misleading information. An analysis by the Collaborative for Student Success explains, “Parents deserve an honest assessment of student proficiency. ‘Local control’ cannot become a fig leaf that covers up a dumbing down of the system in order to make policymakers look good at the expense of kids.”

Politico New York, “Common Core Is Changing Teaching for the Better”: Janice Killelea, a third-grade teacher in New York, welcomes Gov. Cuomo’s formation of a task force to review the state’s Common Core standards. “I’ve seen the positive changes resulting from Common Core in my classroom and I believe the standards deserve an honest, clearheaded discussion,” Killelea says. “My hope is that this task force will help shine a light on underreported success stories and create a clear path for all districts to implement the standards in the most effective ways.” Common Core State Standards raise expectations for students by “shifting the focus to deeper conceptual understanding” and emphasizing critical thinking skills. “While algorithms and procedures are taught and reinforced, the real learning occurs within the application and understanding of the underlying principles,” the piece explains. “Taking that further to application, the student has a repertoire of strategies rich in conceptual understandings that he or she can use to solve rigorous and challenging problems, a key focus of the Common Core.”

What It Means: Killelea underscores the important emphasis that Common Core State Standards put on conceptual understanding and the ability to apply problem-solving skills. By prioritizing critical thinking and application of problem-solving methods, the Common Core empowers students to develop stronger building blocks, which helps them to succeed at higher levels of learning, and ultimately to graduate high school fully prepared for college or career. A Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills, and, like Killelea, more than 80 percent were enthusiastic about implementation.

Asbury Park Press, “Weigh In on New Jersey’s Academic Standards”: States regularly review their academic standards, helping to ensure that students receive a quality education, and schools need to hear from parents and the public through these processes, writes Rose Acerra, president-elect of the New Jersey PTA and a member of the State Standards Review Committee. “Parents and guardians understand what is most important to their children’s development,” the piece states. “Since 2013, 26 states have conducted a similar review process, and in every case, participants displayed a commitment to high quality standards.” About 70 percent of first-year students at community colleges and 40 percent of students at four year programs have to take remedial coursework. “To prepare our students for a successful future, we need to hold them to the highest of standards…I urge anyone with a stake in the success of New Jersey students…to provide their feedback on the standards this week.” New Jersey residents can provide input through October 9 on the Review Committee’s website.

What It Means: States routinely review their education standards and policies to ensure schools are meeting student needs. Since adopting the Common Core, many states, including New Jersey, have launched reviews to refine and build on the standards. After two national elections, all but one state, Oklahoma, continues to implement the Common Core or a similar set of standards. As Karen Nussle wrote this spring, that is largely because the public overwhelmingly supports academic expectations that prepare students for college and careers, and it is impossible to draft a set of college- and career-ready K-12 that look nothing like the Common Core.

New Orleans Advocate, “‘Poor Implementation’ Is Not a Good Argument against Common Core in Louisiana”: While the rollout of Common Core State Standards has not been perfect, problems with implementation are not reason to “step back from what is inevitably going to be a process of several years of moving to higher standards,” the editorial board writes. “During the heat of an election season, it’s easy to criticize implementation, instead of trying to make the logically untenable argument against Common Core Standards directly. These range from teachers unions against testing and accountability in general to the far-right fantasy of Common Core as a national plot against local control of education.” The piece concludes, “In this debate, issues of responsibility are fudged, so that Common Core can be criticized when the real target of the critics is accountability, requiring schools to be responsible for improving academic performance in the classroom.”

What It Means: Unable to find legitimate problems with the Common Core State Standards, many critics have turned to backdoor tactics to impede implementation. As former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett explains, “Lies, myths, exaggeration and hysteria about what the Common Core means and does have dominated the ‘debate’ and the real issues have been obscured… Opponents of the Common Core know they can fan the flames of opposition far more effectively with these sensational and scurrilous accusations rather than engaging in an honest, intellectual policy debate.” The editorial makes clear that Louisiana residents shouldn’t settle for criticism of the implementation process as a reason for turning back on Common Core State Standards.

Buffalo News, “Common Core Promotes Thinking, Not Memorizing”: Lacey Leonard-Mendola, a teacher in upstate New York, writes that through Common Core State Standards “children are engaged in their learning.” “Our children need to think for themselves and explain how they come up with an answer because they’ve previously only had to memorize facts,” Mendola says. “My colleagues and I help our students learn basic math facts in addition to the process behind it. Math is not kill and drill like it once was taught. Students are engaged in rigorous activity.” Responding to a reader’s letter critical of the Common Core, Mendola says, “That Common Core does not teach critical skills is a misconception.” They are now taught in ways to better engage students.

What It Means: In addition to traditional learning techniques, like memorization and standard algorithms, Common Core State Standards encourage multiple approaches. By introducing many ways to work through a problem, the standards help students develop a deep understanding of numbers and math functions. A Collaborative for Student Success blog explains, “It’s important for kids to learn multiple approaches to solving math problems so that they can choose the approach that works best for them and so that they develop a full understanding of the concepts before they move on to more challenging levels.”



Correcting the Record:

Providence Journal, “PARCC Test Hampers Students More Than It Helps”: Results from tests aligned to Common Core State Standards have been “abysmal,” and “doubling down on the use of Common Core curriculum” is unlikely to offer improvement, write Carole Marshall and Sheila Resseger, both retired Rhode Island teachers. “What has been created is instead a test that values a caricature of critical thinking…PARCC sample test questions are confusing to the point that even [adults] cannot determine the ‘correct’ answer,” the authors claim. The “problem is that the PARCC tests are aligned to the Common Core Standards, which ignore developmental learning…The passages are about two grade levels above the readability of the grade and age of the children.” Because the assessments are given online, children are being “rushed to learn keyboarding skills” and other computer skills. “The tests do not provide meaningful information about what children know and can do and where they struggle, but instead result in frustration and random answers,” the piece concludes. “The entire experience…sets children up to fail, discourages them and makes it more difficult for them to engage in learning.”

Where They Went Wrong: After years of dumbing-down expectations for students, states are finally measuring to levels that reflect what children need to know and be able to do to succeed at higher levels of learning, and ultimately to graduate high school fully prepared for college or career. Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, explains the results of raising classroom expectations may be “sobering,” but “parents shouldn’t shoot the messenger.” New tests aren’t perfect, but “they are finally giving parents, educators and taxpayers an honest assessment of how our students are doing…Parents should resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or associated tests.”



On Our Reading List:

Oklahoma Watch, “Experts: State’s Draft of Education Standards Has Many Flaws”: Two of the three experts brought in to help Oklahoma officials develop new academic standards say the third draft has numerous flaws that will likely keep the state from creating the best standards in the nation, as it set out to do. “You’re close to the bottom of the basement, I am sorry to say, because there is no content in them,” said Sandra Stotsky, one of the experts and an outspoken critic of the Common Core. “These are pious statements of academic goals. These are not standards.” “If you’re saying you want these to be top in the nation, and the type of things other states want to adopt full hog, I can say that is too much for first timers,” added Larry Gray, a math professor at the University of Oklahoma. “To ask them to lead the nation is kind of silly. It’s just talk.” A final draft of the new standards will be released in November, which will go to the Board of Regents for approval before returning to the State Board of Education for a vote.

Education Week, “Bill Gates Plans to Give a Big Speech on Education”: Bill Gates will give his “first major retrospective speech on education issues in almost eight years” today at the Gates Foundation’s U.S. Education Learning Forum. Gates’ remarks will be followed by a question-and-answer session. A live-stream of the event, which is scheduled to begin at 12:20 p.m. ET, will be available here.

Education Week, “California Set to Adopt Literacy Materials Tied to Common Core”: California officials are “on the verge” of adopting new English language arts instructional materials for grades K-8 for the first time since adopting Common Core State Standards. Twenty five of the 29 textbooks submitted for review are likely to be approved. Experts say the State Board of Education’s decision is likely to make “less of a splash nationally” in part because California changed a policy that required districts to choose from state-approved materials, and states now have more access to materials that meet their needs. The materials will likely be adopted at the Board’s upcoming meeting scheduled for the first week of November.

WDSU NBC 6 New Orleans, “State Education Leaders Provide Resources to Help Understand Common Core Test Results”: The Louisiana Department of Education will provide resources for parents to help interpret results from tests aligned to the state’s Common Core standards ahead of when scores are released on November 9. “Teachers and parents should use these resources to guide conversations this month on what to expect on the student reports,” said State Superintendent John White. “These resources offer a simple and clear look at how the data can be used to determine where each student is performing well, and where they need additional support in the classroom and at home to be successful.” Resources include guides to help read and interpret the reports and talking points to help guide conversations between teachers and parents. More information is available on the State Department of Education’s website.

Education Week, “Five Questions Policymakers Need to Ask about Common Core Test Results”: Assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards will enable parents, educators and policymakers to “conduct better comparative analytics than ever before,” but results should be considered “within an appropriate context,” writes Joshua Starr, CEO of PDK International, and Elaine Weiss, national coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. The authors suggest five questions policymakers should ask: How well are teachers prepared to teach Common Core content; How well do school leadership and other facets of the school support strong, deep instruction; To what extent does the school comprehensively address student needs; How well are parents engaged as education partners; and, How do district and state policies support or limit Common Core success?