News You Can Use:

Washington Post, “Arkansas Clarifies Common Core Test Scores”: This week Arkansas education officials clarified their statement on performance level labels set for the state’s new assessment data, reaffirming their commitment to high expectations for all students. In a new statement, Education Commissioner Johnny Key said, “It is apparent that we used language that left a misleading impression that Arkansas was backing away from high standards. Nothing could be further from the truth.” State officials had said last week that students who scored a level 3 or above on PARCC tests were “on track,” even though PARCC identifies level 3 as “approaching proficiency.” “Any assertion that Arkansas has adopted Level 3 as demonstrating proficiency is inaccurate,” Key clarified.

What It Means: By reaffirming Arkansas’ commitment to honest proficiency definitions, officials made clear the state remains committed to classroom expectations and honest dealing with parents and teachers. States like Arkansas have taken steps to raise the bar for students and provide honest information to families and educators. By expanding the definition of proficiency to include students who are less-than-proficiency, Arkansas would have walked back that work. State officials deserve credit for acknowledging the confusion and taking action to correct it.

Higher Ed for Higher Standards, “Higher Education Leaders Partner to Improve Educational Standards”: Three leaders of the higher education community, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), and Higher Ed for Higher Standards will “partner and commit to the implementation of higher academic standards in secondary school.” Each year, 50 percent of first-time students at community colleges and 20 percent of those at four-year schools require remediation, which “costs students and taxpayers billions of dollars each year.” Community colleges have a “vested interest” in raising classroom expectations to ensure more students start college fully prepared for college-level work. This fall most states will “mark a critical milestone” by releasing results of assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards. “For the first time, scores on high school assessments will have a meaningful connection to college and career success,” the statement explains. “Over the next year, the partners will work with community colleges…to facilitate greater cooperation with K-12 districts through a number of advocacy and educational programs designed to support student success.”

What It Means: The joint statement reiterates the higher education community’s support for academic standards that better prepare students for college and career. Every year large percentages of college-bound students require remediation to master material and skills they should have learned in high school. Remedial coursework costs families and taxpayers about $7 billion each year. By setting classroom expectations for all students to levels that ensure college- and career-readiness and measuring students to those levels, Common Core State Standards and related tests ensure more students will enter college fully prepared. That’s why colleges and universities across the country are embracing assessments aligned to the Common Core as indicators of student readiness.

Achieving Tomorrow, “Ready. Set. Prepared.”: In a new video, students from across grade levels explain they are developing the critical thinking and reasoning skills to succeed in the classroom and beyond. “I am set. I am ready. I am prepared to change the future,” they say. “Right now, classrooms across the country have upgraded the skills students are learning, preparing them to succeed for the innovative jobs of tomorrow, building a brighter future for every child,” a voice-over explains. More than 5.8 million jobs nationwide go unfilled because employers “are having a difficult time finding employees with the right skills,” an accompanying blog adds. “It’s time the education system got on board…Employers need employees who can work collaboratively, think critically, solve problems, demonstrate tech savviness, and communicate effectively.” Accordingly, states have set out to raise classroom expectations by implementing rigorous education standards and honest assessments, which emphasize applied learning over memorization. “Critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, and effective communication are skills that will benefit students for a lifetime.”

What It Means: The video and blog underscore the importance of preparing students with the skills necessary to succeed in a competitive economy. By raising academic expectations for all students, Common Core State Standards ensure more students will develop the knowledge and skills to graduate high school fully prepared for college and career. A Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with Common Core State Standards saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. And states leading the way, like Tennessee, have experienced some of the biggest academic gains in the country.

The Western Nevada Union, “It Will Take Time to Meet New Common Core Standards”: While parents’ frustrations with new math approaches have flooded social media, they should “slow down and look at this as a whole” before criticizing Common Core State Standards, writes teacher and columnist Megan Ross. “The bigger issue is that when the homework gets tough it’s easier to blame the institution or the politicians rather than encouraging kids to learn something new,” Ross says. “Parents are struggling with homework because it’s so different from what they learned. And maybe that’s a good thing.” Noting that the United States has fallen in international rankings under old education models, the piece explains “Common Core Standards are asking kids to think and explain their thinking…Kids have to write an explanation of how they reached that answer. And isn’t that more like the real world anyway?” Results from the first assessments aligned to the Common Core “reflect a solid start,” but there “isn’t going to be a quick fix for a broken system.” “Before placing too much judgment on the Common Core, or rushing to get rid of it, we should be patient,” Ross concludes. “Give our students and teachers a chance to rise to the challenge of these new standards.”

What It Means: Common Core State Standards raise classroom expectations to ensure that more students get and stay on a path of college- and career-readiness. As Ross points out, getting students over the higher bar will take time. But initial indicators suggest the standards 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 states leading implementation, like Kentucky and Tennessee, have experienced some of the biggest academic improvements in the country, and more states are giving parents and teachers honest information about student readiness. Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, wrote this month, “Most states are living up to their commitments to provide more honest information to parents,” keeping a “key promise” of the Common Core.

Correcting the Record:

Boston Globe, “Test Isn’t Better at Gauging Readiness, Study Says”: PARCC tests are “no better at predicting performance” than Massachusetts’ MCAS exams according to a Mathematica study this week, the article reports. The findings “are sure to fuel debate as the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education votes next month on whether to dump” the MCAS system. “If the MCAS and PARCC aren’t any better than SAT, then relying on the tests for college prediction puts Massachusetts really in a weak position,” says Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “All of the evidence there is that there’s substantially different expectations for student performance and what students have learned, with PARCC being much more demanding,” says Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts commissioner of elementary and secondary education. “I don’t think this [study] makes the decision for us,” says State Secretary of Education James Peyser. “This is going to be a decision that ultimately requires some qualitative judgments and some trade-offs to be made. It’s not necessarily an easy or a close call.”

Where They Went Wrong: While the Mathematica study found similarities between PARCC and MCAS assessments, the results show that PARCC assessments are “significantly better” at predicting students’ likelihood of earning “B” grades in college, and students who met PARCC proficiency benchmarks were less likely to require college remediation. The report states, “PARCC’s standard for college readiness [in math] is better than MCAS’s proficiency standard at identifying students who do not need remediation and can earn “B” grades in college.” The findings underscore that PARCC better measures students’ progress toward being fully prepared for college, especially in math.

On Our Reading List:

US News& World Report“Schools Unsure of Effectiveness of New Common Core Materials”: With a “dearth of research” on materials aligned to Common Core State Standards, states have been “largely in the dark” when deciding among resources. A new study by the Center for American Progress finds there is little correlation between the cost and quality of curriculum materials, and often higher-quality products cost less than more expensive options. The lack of research on curriculum effectiveness also makes it more difficult for school districts to make informed decisions. Implementation of Common Core State Standards “offers important opportunities for the creation of innovative, cost-effective instructional products,” the CAP study authors write. But “these new products will not add much value if schools cannot accurately separate the wheat from the chaff.” Additionally, the report finds some materials don’t align with states’ standards, regardless of whether they are using the Common Core or not. “States’ textbooks can cover a lot of material that’s not in the standards. The result is that schools often use misaligned textbooks.”

Hechinger Report“Can Students Learn the Common Core through Gaming?”: Educators are “increasingly turning to video games to enhance their students’ learning,” and education game makers have been working to align their products with the standards. Nearly three-quarters of elementary and middle-school teachers report using video games in their classrooms. Yet, some experts caution not all games on the market foster the conceptual understanding emphasized by Common Core State Standards. “With a game like Jeopardy, you are incentivized to be really fast on the buzzer, to memorize things and to think that memorization is important,” explains Daniel O’Keefe, North Carolina regional director at the Institute of Play. “In the best games, you are learning a subject like algebra in a way that you don’t really know you’re learning it.” “The best games are all about solving problems and they can help move us away from just having kids know fast to pass tests,” adds James Gee, a professor at Arizona State University. “[But] games have to be just one part of a bigger learning system.”