News You Can Use:

Des Moines Register, “Johnny Still Can’t Read, but We Pretend that He Can”: Some policymakers are “less focused on improving their schools than on reducing the number of kids labeled scholastic failures,” even though it comes at the expense of students, the editorial board writes. “It seems that the same test scores can be labeled as either passing or failing depending on the individual states’ definition of ‘proficiency.’…It’s an interesting twist on the old government ploy of redefining ‘poverty’ or ‘unemployment’ to make it appear that people are doing better than they really are.” Common Core State Standards were developed to address such discrepancies, the piece explains, but by “arbitrarily lowering the bar for students,” states risk continuing to “paper over” deficiencies in their educational systems. “Simply changing the definition of academic success only makes it harder for America to compete for jobs and new technology.”

What It Means: By expanding proficiency definitions to include more students, even if they’re not adequately prepared, masks learning needs and risks walking back efforts to provide parents and teachers with honest information. “Parents and policymakers need to keep policymakers honest,” Karen Nussle wrote this month. States’ “decision to either close the Honesty Gap or, conversely, take the politically expedient route and continue on with business as usual will have implications for an entire generation of young children.”

Orlando Sentinel, “Just as Military Won’t Lower the Bar, Neither Should Florida’s Educators”: Florida officials’ decision of how to set proficiency benchmarks on assessments aligned to high education standards is important not only for the state and its families, but “also for our future national security,” writes retired Lieutenant General Robert Winglass. Noting that 21 percent of Florida high-school graduates cannot pass the military entrance exam, Winglass says “we have two options: We can lower the standards for joining the military, which would be unacceptable, or we can raise the education standards for America’s children.” Florida Standards “are essential for ensuring that more students graduate from high school prepared for college, civilian careers or the military…There must be accountability. If we do not know how students are truly performing, we can neither know the scope of potential problems, nor make informed efforts to solve them.” Because high-quality assessments raise the bar, “we should expect that proficiency scores are likely to decrease in the beginning. But this process will uncover those areas in need of reform and ultimately result in better student performance.”

What It Means: As Winglass notes, the Honesty Gap analysis reveals Florida, like most states, inflated student proficiency rates, giving families and teachers a misleading evaluation of how well prepared their kids were. Florida has begun to address the problem by implementing rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments. As officials consider how to set cut scores, they should avoid taking the politically expedient route of expanding proficiency definitions to include students who are less-than-proficient. Karen Nussle explains, “Parents and the public need to keep policymakers honest – not only in Florida, but in every state…The promise of Common Core State Standards has always been predicated on not only high standards, but also on accurate measurements of progress under those standards.”

Los Angeles Times, “Math Nights Aim for Teachers to Instruct Parents on Common Core”: Teachers and administrators in California schools are hosting sessions to inform parents about changes to instruction happening under Common Core State Standards. “Parents have asked for more information [about] how to help and support their kids with the shifts in math,” says Lynn Marso, assistant superintendent of Glendale Unified School District. “This is absolutely a response to our next steps to do whatever we can to support parents and students.” During these math nights, teachers meet with parents to walk through math instruction at different grade levels. In Glendale, where schools have held outreach sessions, 49 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency benchmarks in math on state assessments, compared to the state average of 33 percent.

What It Means: In school districts across the country, teachers are reaching out to parents and communities to help them understand changes to instruction happening as states continue to implement Common Core State Standards. As an analysis by the Collaborative for Student Success points out, shifts in math instruction are designed to help students develop a better conceptual understanding of numbers and functions, in addition to learning traditional approaches. “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:

Boston Globe, “Should Massachusetts Drop the Common Core?”: In 2010, Massachusetts officials voted to adopt Common Core State Standards to win federal funding, but that’s not reason enough to keep them, argues Sandra Stotsky, an outspoken critic. Common Core State Standards “had no track record for effectiveness anywhere and were not research-based, internationally benchmarked, or rigorous,” Stotsky writes. “Nevertheless, like sheep, most school committees have supported their superintendents’ recommendations” to purchase materials and technology to support the new standards. “All this is costing far more than anyone ever dreamed, and there’s no end in sight. Parents and teachers know there is something wrong with almost nine hours of PARCC testing at every grade level, plus test prep, with no useful information returned to teachers or parents.” Stotsky ends, “Our public schools need to move forward, not backward. Common Core’s standards weren’t designed to develop critical thinking or deeper learning.”

Where They Went Wrong: While Massachusetts did have some of the best education standards and assessments before, state officials chose to adopt the Common Core – despite having nearly completed a revision of the Massachusetts standards – because they felt the standards were more rigorous. While Stotsky argues against the rigor of the standards, she overlooks the fact that the Massachusetts State Board’s adoption of the standards in 2010 was based on extensive analysis, outreach to stakeholders, and discussion. The adoption included a full year of reviews of successive drafts by staff, educators, outside experts, and the public as well as reports from educator panels and public surveys. Contrary to Stotsky’s assertions, Common Core State Standards set rigorous, consistent learning goals, ensuring all students are held to academic expectations that fully prepare them for high levels of learning.

On Our Reading List:

Times Picayune, “Common Core Tests: About a Third  of Louisiana Pupils Make ‘Mastery’”: Data released Thursday shows between 22 and 40 percent of public school students in grades three through eight scored at proficient or higher on PARCC assessments administered this spring. Thursday’s results are the first thorough school-by-school and system-by-system look at how students scored, the article reports. “We are immensely proud of the hard work of our schools and students, who have eagerly embraced the increased academic expectations that come with the implementation of Common Core,” Recovery Superintendent Patrick Dobard and Orleans Parish Superintendent Henderson Lewis said in a statement. “You’re not going to see us compare this year’s results with last year’s results because you have different kids taking the tests and different tests,” said State Superintendent John White.

Politico Pro, “Election Day in Louisiana”: Louisiana voters will head to the polls on Saturday to cast their ballots the primary election to replace outgoing Governor Bobby Jindal and vote for the eight seats of the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, among other races. Senator David Vitter is considered the frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, though the New York Times reports his unfavorable ratings have been growing. Sen. Vitter has been critical of Common Core State Standards after once supporting them. The Times Picayune reports the Common Core “presents a bit of a quandary” for candidates because the state’s business community strongly supports them, but “there is a growing grassroots movement among rank-and-file conservatives to abolish” them. Separately, another Times Picayune article reports more than $3.5 million has come in through political action committees to support the Common Core in the BESE races.

Arizona Republic, “Arizona Schools Prep for First Common Core Scores”: Arizona education officials will release paper reports from the state’s first assessments aligned to its Common Core standards on October 27. Educators expect fewer students to earn top scores than in years past because new AZMerit tests are more rigorous than those used before. “Districts are working together and sharing information,” says Helen Hollands, a spokeswoman for Mesa Public Schools. Holland says schools expect two kinds of reactions: “What can I do to help my child,” and “I told you these tests weren’t any good.” Schools Chief Diane Douglas, an outspoken critic of Common Core Standards, will release statewide, district-wide and school-level results on November 30.