News You Can Use:

The Atlantic, “Native Math”: In American Indian schools, classrooms employ a teaching strategy called, “Strength in Numbers,” which helps students build number fluency through conceptual techniques and strategies. The results have been impressive. Since its introduction in 2006, proficiency among third-graders has more than doubled. Because the practices “align closely” to the Common Core State Standards, these schools “may offer an example of how a Common Core approach can work.” “Getting the right answer on test questions isn’t enough,” the article reports. “Like many of today’s Common Core practitioners, Strength in Numbers teachers require students to explain their work.” Instruction is designed to teach math in a “more natural, orderly way compared to rote memorization.” “We try to look at what [a student] knows and build from there,” explains Cheryl Williams, a Strength in Numbers coach. “This is how we find out what he needs to work on next.”

What It Means: The parallels between Strength in Numbers and math strategies introduced by Common Core State Standards – and the success both have had – suggest learning techniques that emphasize deep conceptual understanding will continue to help more students develop the math skills necessary to succeed at higher levels of learning. In addition to traditional approaches, like memorizing multiplication tables, Common Core State Standards introduce students to multiple problem-solving methods to help students understand the mechanics behind numbers and functions. Like Strength in Numbers, Common Core strategies are working. Early adopter states like Kentucky and Tennessee have experienced some of the biggest academic improvements in the country, and two-thirds of teachers who have worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills, according to a Scholastic study.

US News & World Report, “Tests Matter”: Even while parents may be adverse to over-testing, they recognize assessments are essential to judge how well their schools are preparing students, writes Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Examining recent polling that finds parents think there is too much testing, Rees says the number for communities of color, which “are often stuck in districts with under-performing schools,” show much broader support. “Rather than accepting assurances from teachers, principals and local officials that things are getting better, they want to see the proof.” Rees adds, “While PDK/Gallup captured the general zeitgeist that is opposed to over-testing, Education Next uncovered that parents are more inclined to support testing when they know what’s actually involved.” The piece concludes, “Bottom line: Parents know schools need to get better…and while they may not like how much testing is conducted at schools, they recognize the need for tests in core areas to show how schools are performing.”

What It Means: High-quality assessments are one of the most important tools teachers and parents have to measure how well their children are developing the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed at high levels of learning, and to identify and address learning needs. As Rees points out, while many parents are wary of over-testing, they recognize the vital role of honest assessments. By measuring students to levels that truly prepare them for college and careers, new assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards finally give parents an honest evaluation of whether their child is on track to graduate high school prepared.

New Haven Register, “Don’t Shoot the Test-Score Messenger, Connecticut”: Results in states like Connecticut from new assessments aligned to higher education standards mark a “critical milestone” in the effort to set higher classroom expectations, write Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio. While the results are “sobering,” parents should take heart that they are finally receiving honest information about how well their children are really being prepared. “Parents deserve to know if their kids are learning,” the authors write. “Imagine being told year after year that you’re doing just fine, only to find out when you apply for college or a job that you’re simply not as prepared as you need to be.” Seventy-percent of Connecticut’s community college students require remediation. The most important step to fixing the problem is to “stop lying” to parents. “Common Core should help boost college readiness – and college completion…This is a big shift, but a necessary one, from the Lake Wobegon days.” While new tests “may not be perfect,” they “are finally giving parents, educators and taxpayers a much more honest assessment of how our children are doing.”

What It Means: Petrilli and Pondiscio make a strong case that high-quality student assessments are a necessary step to ensure that parents get an honest evaluation of how well their child is developing the skills and knowledge to succeed at high levels of learning, and ultimately to graduate high school college- and career-ready. For a long time, states systematically lowered the bar instead of adequately helping students reach college- and career-readiness. By holding students to higher expectations, states are taking the difficult step of improving student preparedness. In states that adopted the Common Core State Standards and more rigorous assessments early, like Kentucky and Tennessee, schools have achieved some of the biggest academic improvements in the country.


Correcting the Record:

Torrington Telegram, “Common Core Lowers Standards for Students”: Scott Clem, a Wyoming State Representative, writes that Common Core State Standards will diminish competition among schools. “We’ve all seen these idiotic (and real) Common Core math problems,” Rep. Clem says. “How can we be competitive in math if 46 states, including Wyoming, have all recently signed onto Common Core Standards and are essentially teaching the same thing?…If our students are competitive worldwide, why would we want to use mediocre…math standards? Do we really want to be leaders in the world or run in the middle of the pack?”

Where They Went Wrong: Contrary to Rep. Clem’s reasoning, Common Core State Standards bolster states’ competitiveness by ensuring all students are held to levels that prepare them for college and careers. Without common standards, states have no measure to accurately compare themselves – and their progress – with other states. A Scholastic study last year found two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. Early adopter states like Kentucky and Tennessee have made some of the biggest academic gains in the country. Rep. Clem conflates poor homework problems with the standards, but as experts like Bill Bennett point out, curricula and lesson plans are designed by teachers, not dictated by the standards.


On Our Reading List:

Education Week, “Classroom Assignments Fail to Meet Common Core’s Higher Bar, Study Says”: A study by the Education Trust, which analyzed 1,500 classroom assignments at six urban middle schools, finds “alignment, for the most part, is lacking.” “The majority of assignments included keywords and phrases found in the Common Core Standards, fostering a comforting sense that ‘we’re aligned,’” the report notes. “Unfortunately, this is not the case – much of this is window dressing.” Only 13 percent of assignments were found to require “high levels of cognitive demand,” only 16 percent required students to cite evidence from text. “We definitely saw indications that people were moving, but there was still far too much in the everyday work kids are doing that says we’re not there yet,” says Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice president at the Education Trust.

Washington Examiner, “What Exactly Are the Common Core Standards?”: Misleading criticisms of Common Core State Standards have obscured what the standards do and how they impact classrooms. “What’s not included: Any mention of Islam, the Quran, Arabic or Muslims,” the article states. “If your child has to learn about the Quran in school, don’t blame Common Core… Common Core doesn’t require lessons about religious texts, but it does allow a teacher to use them in their lesson plans…There are legitimate critiques of Common Core, and its opponents should stick to them and ignore those that have no basis in fact. Otherwise, Common Core advocates can simply point to the text of the standards and say, ‘Have you actually read Common Core?’”

Palm Beach Sun Sentinel, “Study: Controversial Test that Replaced FCAT Is Valid”: A review of the Florida Standards Assessment concluded Tuesday that the test accurately measures student mastery of the state’s Common Core-aligned education standards, but problems persist with administration and the rigor and standardization of the exam. The review was ordered after technical problems disrupted testing this spring. “Now all Floridians can share my confidence in the assessment,” said State Education Commissioner Pam Steward of the results. Florida education officials will release scores from the first round of testing in three weeks.