News You Can Use:

Politico, “How Common Core Quietly Won the War’: Even while some “naysayers” still attack them, Common Core State Standards have “become the reality on the ground” for classrooms in most states, Kimberly Hefling reports. “The math and English standards designed to develop critical thinking have been guiding classrooms for years now,” the article notes, adding that the standards were never compelled by federal authorities. “In more than half of all states, millions of students took new standardized tests last spring based on the standards, and the expected uproar over these test scores never materialized.” Many critics have ceded that Common Core State Standards “are likely here to stay,” and reviews in some states, like Mississippi and Kentucky, have found “ringing support” for the standards. States are reviewing, building on and in some cases rebranding the Common Core instead of repealing it. The next challenge for states will be setting appropriately high cut scores on tests aligned to higher standards, the article adds, but with strong support from educators, the Common Core is here to stay.

What It Means: Despite years of targeted attacks, states continue to implement Common Core State Standards, and most passed an important milestone this year by administering tests aligned to higher expectations. Earlier this year, Karen Nussle explained one reason that states are sticking with the Common Core, is that parents overwhelmingly support academic expectations that prepare their children for high levels of learning. And it is “impossible to produce a set of K-12 academic standards that both bear no resemblance to Common Core and adequately prepare students for college and career.” With high, comparable education standards in place in most states, policymakers’ challenge now will be setting proficiency benchmarks adequately high to ensure parents and teachers get honest information about student development.

New Orleans Advocate, “Louisiana’s Students Deserve the Higher Expectations that Come with the PARCC Test”: “Without an assessment of where we stand, it’s hard to know where to go,” writes John White, Louisiana’s state superintendent. On the state’s old LEAP tests, 71 percent of students were deemed “proficient” in 2014, but only 22 percent achieved community college- or university-ready scores on the ACT, giving a “false promise of readiness” to students, parents and teachers. Louisiana officials set out to correct the problem by helping develop and adopt PARCC assessments, which raise expectations for students and use the “same measuring stick as other states to determine students’ readiness for the next level.” “We can expect the results to show that many of our students are on track for community college and university success and that many are not,” White says. “Most important, however, is what we adults do with these scores in year one.” Officials should set proficiency benchmarks adequately high to ensure when met students are truly ready for college or a career. “Let’s use these results to do right by our children,” White concludes. “[Students] are owed expectations higher than ‘basic.’”

What It Means: High-quality assessments are one of the best tools parents and teachers have to measure development and ensure students get and stay on a path of college- and career-readiness. White makes clear that policymakers must set proficiency levels high enough to ensure students are held to levels that equip them for postsecondary education or a career, and that parents and teachers get accurate information about student progress. As Karen Nussle explains, “By expanding the definition of proficiency to include students who are less-than-proficient,” states risk regressing on efforts to raise expectations. “Parents deserve an honest assessments of student proficiency,” and “dumbing down the system in order to make policymakers look good at the expense of kids” stands counter to those goals.

Education Post, “2015 Parent Poll”: Education Post’s annual survey of over 1,000 public school parents finds that respondents generally support standardized tests but also feel they are being over used and not targeted to help improve learning. Parents also hold themselves and students most responsible for success in school; only 14 percent of participants said teachers are most responsible. Inconsistent quality of schools was among parents top education concerns, behind only that parents are not involved in their child’s education as they should be. Parents placed a high priority on accountability, with three-quarters saying holding teachers and principals accountable for student achievement is important. About a fifth of parents were unfamiliar with Common Core State Standards, but among those familiar most either want to preserve the standards or give them a chance to improve.

What It Means: The findings add to the body of evidence reaffirming public support for high, comparable education standards and high-quality student assessments. Access to consistently high academic expectations is especially important for low-income communities and communities of color to ensure that students of all backgrounds are held to levels that prepare them for success in college or a career. Even while misperceptions about Common Core State Standards persist, as parents learn more about them they overwhelmingly support implementation. Karen Nussle explains that’s largely because parents support academic expectations that fully prepare students for success after high school, and it is impossible to create standards that achieve that goal and that look nothing like the Common Core.


Correcting the Record:

Boston Herald, “Let’s Keep the MCAS”: That states employing PARCC assessments came up with widely different proficiency rates because of how they set cut scores shows the “undesirability of the Common Core,” the editorial board writes. “If a ‘common’ endeavor allows such varying descriptions of the exact same results, what good is it?” the piece questions. “It ought to be rebuked next month when the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education decides whether to junk the familiar (and sound) MCAS tests in favor of the opaque PARCC process.” Adding that the “Common Core curriculum” will “dumb down” performance, the piece says Massachusetts’ reputation as a leader in education would be jeopardized if “Common Core gets firmly established.” Separately, Christine Mulcahy, a state resident, writes that PARCC tests have not been “validated as accurate,” carry a “huge financial cost,” and results “are not broken down in any way that is of diagnostic or instructive use.”

Where They Went Wrong: Assessments aligned to high education standards and that empower states to compare results across state and district lines, as PARCC does, hold huge potential to help states improve student outcomes. Unlike MCAS tests, PARCC assessments measure college- and career-readiness and provide parents and teachers with honest information about how well their kids are developing the skills necessary to succeed at high levels of learning. As 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…and that is a fantastic success for each state.”

Jackson Clarion-Ledger, “Common Core’s Not Common”: Columnist Rachel James-Terry writes that because of changes to math instruction under Common Core State Standards, she was not able to help her husband’s son with his first-grade math homework. “I was surprised, and relieved, at the number of comments from equally exasperated parents,” James-Terry says. “These were parents with undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees and some, who graduated with double degrees…If parents do not understand Common Core, how do we reaffirm what our children are learning?” The piece concludes, “Common Core is supposed to ready students for success after school, but so was the previous curriculum. So, right now, I think the way to prepare Mississippi students for success is to ensure their education is fully funded first.”

Where They Went Wrong: Like James-Terry, some parents who grew up under old models of instruction are unfamiliar with problem-solving techniques espoused by Common Core State Standards. But, by introducing multiple approaches in addition to traditional methods, these changes help students develop a stronger conceptual understanding of numbers and functions. As one expert explains, “Over the past several years, what math teachers have realized is that kids who relied on memorization, algorithms, and calculators had a really hard time understanding math as they got older.” New approaches help students understand the mechanics so they can build strong fundamental skills that empower them at higher level content.

Quad City Times, “Common Core Math = Confusion”: Erin Crane, an Iowa parent, writes that math techniques espoused by Common Core State Standards complicate basic procedures to the point that parents can’t help their children with homework. “Simple addition and subtraction is now inefficient, and requires many steps for completion,” the letter states. “This week my son was counted wrong for solving 83-37 in the old way. This was the final straw.” Crane calls on likeminded parents to take action. “We need to do something before we discover our kids are at a disadvantage in their future education because of this concept,” the letter concludes. “We might have strength in numbers as I am having no luck alone with teachers and administrators.”

Where They Went Wrong: New approaches to math problem-solving introduced by Common Core State Standards may be foreign to parents who grew up under old models, but the changes help students develop a deeper conceptual understanding of numbers and functions. “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,” a recent analysis by the Collaborative for Student Success explains. “Parents should want their children to be better and more confident at math than they were as students.” There are many resources available to help parents understand changes to instruction, and many districts are providing resources to ensure parents can continue to help their children.


On Our Reading List:

Kansas City Star, “Proposed Missouri Standards to Replace Common Core Draw Criticism”: Even after a year of review and public input, “some opponents still are not satisfied” with proposed standards to replace Missouri’s Common Core State Standards. “The concern is that, despite legislative efforts meant to ditch the contentious national Common Core Standards, the recommended replacement goals might not be much different,” the article reports. Last year state lawmakers voted to replace the Common Core, which Gov. Mary Fallin approved. The resulting proposed replacement standards will be presented to the State Board of Education later this month. The groups tasked with creating new standards largely preserved “the overall structure and essence of the Common Core Standards,” says Anne Gassel, leader of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core. “Continuing such a comparison effort at this point is a waste of time.”

Lexington Herald-Leader, “Teachers, Parents, Others Suggest Changes in Kentucky’s Core Academic Standards”: A review of Kentucky’s Common Core standards initiated by then-State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday finds that the public believes only 12 percent of the more than 1,300 standards should be revised. Karen Kidwell, director of program standards for the State Department of Education, told the Kentucky Board of Education the public input overwhelmingly supported the state’s academic standards for math and English language arts. The survey resulted in 4,000 comments, which a committee of educators will consider when proposing changes that will be given to the Board of Education later this year or early next year. “Students today are spending more time analyzing information, formulating ideas and discussing issues and opinions,” one teacher said.

Arizona Capital Times, “Parents Can’t Opt Out of Common Core Testing, AG Says”: In a formal opinion, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said state law does not permit parents of public school students to withdraw their children from statewide standardized tests. Brnovich’s concluded state tests are “separate and distinct” from classroom materials and activities in response to a question raised by State Superintendent Diane Douglas, an outspoken opponent of Common Core Standards. Brnovich added that the “Parents Bill of Rights” passed by the legislature in 2010 did not give parents the right to opt out of tests. “The Legislature’s failure to include such a right is especially telling because the statute specifically mentions the ‘right to review test results’ and the ‘right to receive a school report card,’” Brnovich wrote.

Newsday, “Commissioner: Website Will Let Public Weigh In on Common Core”: On Friday, New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said teachers, parents and other interested parties will be able to provide input on the state’s Common Core standards through a website hosted by the state Department of Education. “As educators, I’m asking you to decrease the rhetoric on assessments,” Elia told a group of 500 school superintendents and administrators. The website will allow the public, and particularly educators and parents, to read the education standards and rate them as “appropriate” or “not appropriate” with a brief explanation. The comments will be reviewed and tabulated by a panel of experts, which will then submit them to the State Board of Regents with any recommendations for changes.

Detroit Free Press, “In Teaching Versus Testing, Teaching Must Win”: Steven Cook and David Hecker, presidents of the Michigan Education Association and AFT Michigan, respectively, write that Michigan education officials have “come down firmly on the side of teaching” in recent decisions to reduce student testing times. “We hope this marks the beginning of a new era,” the authors say. “However, reducing the amount of time spent on standardized tests is only one component of needed reform. There must be a corresponding reduction in the emphasis placed on these tests. High-stakes tests should not be a dominant force in measuring student and school success, nor teacher evaluation and compensation.” Classroom time should be spent on developing critical thinking skills, which employers and colleges are looking for, and mitigating pressure to teach to the test will “improve educator morale and job satisfaction.”

US News & World Report, “Tennessee’s Trailblazer”: In an interview with Kevin Huffman, former Tennessee state superintendent, Huffman says few could have anticipated the “political pushback” to the implementation of Common Core State Standards, but Tennessee has made “big strides” and is “delivering a better education” because of the state’s efforts. “The standards piece was a wing of political pushback that very few people imagined would reach the crescendo that it did,” Huffman explains. “I don’t think Tennessee is declaring victory…[But] I think it you go into classrooms in Tennessee today you see better teaching than you did five years ago, which I think is a big deal. The state has made big strides. It’s delivering better education than it had before.”