News You Can Use:

US News & World Report, “Common Core, Common Measure”: Following reports some states have expanded proficiency metrics to be less rigorous than others, Carmel Martin, executive vice president for the Center for American Progress, writes the “implication is that the Common Core hasn’t solved one problem it was designed to address: varying definitions of student proficiency among states.” But, “for the first time in history, it is now possible to immediately and easily compare student performance between states – and it’s all because of Common Core.” Cut scores for each performance level are the same for all PARCC states, so “regardless of what states call each level in their public reporting, comparing performance across states is easier than ever.” Even while states may put different label on performance levels, Common Core and comparable assessments make it “easy enough to stack up” the results. “As a result, states, schools and teachers can learn from each other in exciting ways,” Martin explains. “States need to be honest with parents and the public about how they’re describing student performance…[But] Common Core and aligned assessments have transformed our ability to make accurate comparisons of student performance between states. This revolution is a victory for the Common Core.”

What It Means: Martin makes two important points: First, new high-quality assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards are giving parents and teachers honest information about student performance, which is comparable between states. Louisiana State Superintendent John White explains, “States have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standards and they’re comparable, so there can be an honest baseline…That is a fantastic success for each state.” Martin also makes clear that states have a responsibility to be transparent about how they define proficiency. By expanding proficiency to include students who are not yet on track for college- and career-readiness states risk walking back efforts to raise classroom expectations. Aaron Churchill at the Fordham Institute writes that setting proficiency benchmarks too low will maintain states’ Honesty Gaps, which mask learning needs and impede efforts to fully prepare students for college and career.

Lowell Sun, “Higher Ed Leaders Make Push for PARCC Testing”: Several Massachusetts higher education experts said the state’s MCAS tests are not adequately measuring student readiness. “Students are coming to us not ready for college work,” said Former Education Commissioner Richard Freeland during a forum hosted by the Boston Foundation. “We have set the bar too low. We have set the bar at a minimum standard of tenth grade work…I think it’s time for us to talk less about how great we are and more about how many students are failing. And that’s what PARCC is about.” Another former state education commissioner, Robert Antonucci, added that MCAS assessments were not intended to measure college readiness. “It was a competency test to look at what students should be able to do when they graduate at the high school level. It had no connection to higher education, none whatsoever,” Antonucci said. “PARCC really is an advanced MCAS test that we should be doing.” Other participants added that schools need the technical support to administer new assessments.

What It Means: High-quality assessments are one of the strongest tools parents and teachers have to measure student development and to identify and address learning needs. Tests aligned to Common Core State Standards, like PARCC, measure the skills students need to succeed at high levels of learning, and to ultimately graduate high school fully prepared for college and careers. Karen Nussle explains, “States are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do…For parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change.”


Correcting the Record:

Arkansas News Bureau, “Arkansas Education Officials Release Partial Data on PARCC Test Results”: On Thursday, Arkansas education officials released some results from PARCC exams, which were administered in the state this spring. The data included the percentages of students in grades 9-12 scoring a 3 or higher on the assessments. Sixty-four percent of ninth-grade students scored a 3 or higher on the English language arts test, as did 60 percent of 10th graders and 69 percent of 11th graders. However, only 36 percent of 9thgrade students and 37 percent of 10th grade students scored a 4 or above, which PARCC sets as the benchmark for proficiency. Similarly, 60 percent of students scored a 3 or higher on the Algebra I test, and 57 percent on the geometry test. But only 28 percent and 21 percent scored 4 or above on those tests, respectively.

Where They Went Wrong: Like Ohio, Arkansas education officials plan to include students that scored at a level 3 as “proficient,” even though PARCC qualifies that level only as “approaching proficiency.” A recent memo by Karen Nussle explains that by expanding proficiency definitions to include students who are less-than-proficient, states risk undoing efforts to raise classroom expectations and to provide parents with honest information about student readiness. Parents deserve an honest assessment of student proficiency, not a dumbing-down of the system in order to make policymakers look good at the expense of children.

Albany Times Union, “A Failed Approach to Education”: Education reforms based on “setting standards, testing kids, then judging the teachers by the results” is “getting nowhere,” writes John Metallo, an upstate New York resident. “Think about all of the school reform we are experiencing based on Common Core and a battery of tests from grades 3 to 12 to go with it,” the letter states. “What has any of that got to do with improving teaching and learning?…It is just set standards, teach, test, score, rank and attack the schools and the teachers.” A former track coach, Metallo compares rigorous education standards to setting a high-jump bar too high. “Using the methods the politicos want to use to fix schools would amount to me setting the bar at seven feet. Having the kid jump once, miss, then declare it a failure. It is time to admit that this national approach to school improvement will never work.”

Where They Went Wrong: To use Metallo’s analogy, for a long time states set the high-jump bar too low, giving an often misleading impression that students were ready to compete, only to find out they weren’t once they got to the track meet. By raising classroom expectations and measuring students to levels that reflect what they need to know and be able to do to succeed at high levels of learning, Common Core State Standards and related assessments ensure all students are help to college- and career-ready levels. And they are working. 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 early adopter states have demonstrated some of the biggest academic improvements in the country.


On Our Reading List:

Bridge Michigan, “Echoing State, Detroit Schools Cut Back on Standardized Tests”: Detroit Public Schools have cut the number of days teachers spend administering standardized tests by half, which will give district teachers 15 percent more uninterrupted time. The decision follows a similar rollback by the state. Next spring, the Michigan Student Test of Education Progress (MSTEP) will be shortened by 2.5 hours for younger grades and by eight hours for juniors in high school. “This is another tangible example of how DPS is becoming a more efficient and effective school system focused on improving student achievement,” said district emergency manager Darnell Earley. “Increased instructional time is critical to ensuring we achieve this goal.”

Washington Post, “Improving U.S. Schools Tougher than Global Health, Gates Says”: In his first major retrospective speech on education in nearly eight years, Bill Gates said improving education in the United States is harder than work on global health. “When we come up with a new malaria vaccine, nobody votes to undo our malaria vaccine,” Gates said. Gates added that he did not anticipate political pushback to Common Core State Standards, which his foundation supports. “There was adaption, everything seemed to be on track…We didn’t realize the issue would be confounded with what is the appropriate role of the federal and state government. We didn’t think it would be confounded with questions about are there too many tests, confounded with if you’re raising the bar, what is the right set of things to help teachers be ready for that…The fact that some of it really is off the rails, in terms of some of the facts, that’s a little disappointing.”

The Seventy-Four, “Teachers Unions Strong-Arm Democrats, Kill Iowa Education Summit”: Campbell Brown, cofounder of The Seventy Four, and Kevin Chavous, executive counsel for the American Federation for Children, write that an education forum for Democratic presidential candidates will not take place because the country’s two largest teachers’ unions “worked aggressively behind the scenes to kill the event.” “This form of bullying is anti-democratic. It diminishes the free engagement of ideas,” the authors state. “In the end, while the NEA and AFT may claim a momentary victory by silencing discussion and debate on education reform, ultimately they will continue to lose the battle with public opinion.”