News You Can Use:

Collaborative for Student Success, “State of Student Assessments: Finally, an Honest Baseline”: The release of results from new assessments marks “a new chapter in a time of transformation for American education,” writes Karen Nussle. “The standards and assessments effectively mark a reset to the baseline of classroom expectations,” the memo says. “States have weighed the evidence, seen past the rhetoric and overwhelmingly embraced high, comparable education standards.” The new tests give parents and teachers a tool to “compare their progress across schools, districts, and states.” Early results show mixed but promising student performance, and more importantly “states seem to be preparing for the long haul.” “This year’s tests establish a starting point to measure achievement going forward,” and “getting students over a higher bar will be a gradual process… For parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change…” Nussle closes by reminding readers that now is the time to stay the course by supporting parents, educators and policymakers, “Together, these groups have remained committed to helping our students become college and career ready – and we should join them.”

What It Means: As Louisiana State Superintendent John White said recently, states are a long way from declaring victory, but “we have accomplished what we needed to accomplish: states have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standards and they’re comparable, so there can be an honest baseline.” These developments are important steps to ensure that all students are held to expectations that fully prepare them for success in college or a career. A dozen civil rights groups this year underscored the importance of higher standards and honest assessments: “Data provide the power to advocate for greater equality under the law.” High-quality assessments give parents and educators accurate information to ensure students of all backgrounds get the support they need to get on and stay on a path of college and career-readiness.

The Seventy Four, “Mary Scott Hunter: Common Core Has Been a Game Changer for Military Schools (and Military Families): Military families share the “yoke of patriotic duty,” and deserve high, consistent academic standards to ensure their children have access to a quality education no matter where service leads, writes Mary Scott Hunter, a veteran and member of the Alabama Board of Education. “This game of education roulette faced by U.S. military members and their families has a real impact on volunteers agreeing to continue their service,” Hunter says, citing a Stimson Center report that discrepancies in education standards can negatively affect military recruitment and retention. “Quality education can be a real wild card – particularly when there’s no baseline to ensure quality schools.” Common Core State Standards help “address the lack of consistency and provide a threshold of learning expectations,” and states are able to build on them further. On the Alabama Board of Education, Hunter advocated for Common Core State Standards to give teachers “a coherent framework of expectations” and lay out a path for students to leave high school college- and career-ready. “If we hope to improve education outcomes…we must not turn back on the important work states are doing.”

What It Means: For military families, which move on average six to nine times during a child’s education career, Common Core State Standards provide consistency from school to school, ensuring that students are less likely to fall behind or be asked to relearn material. In 2010, DoDEA began implementing Common Core State Standards in all military schools. On the last national test, students from these schools outperformed students from public schools, even while 40 percent qualify as low-income. As Hunter points out, it’s difficult to attribute these gains to education standards alone, but the Common Core is having success elsewhere as well. Early adopter states like Kentucky and Tennessee have made some of the biggest academic improvements in the country, and two-thirds of teachers who have worked closely with the standards report improvements in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.


Correcting the Record:

The Nation, “The Rebellion against Standardized Test Is Exploding”: The opt-out movement in New York has “mushroomed from a fringe rebellion to a mass mobilization” against “anxiety-provoking, creativity-stifling, and hyper-commercialized testing regime.” “Opting out is in,” the article says. “Driving the movement is a national network of teachers and families providing encouragement, along with form letters and legal guidance on how parents and kids can exercise their right to reject the test.” While some states have developed policies clarifying parents’ right to refuse tests, New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is “leaning in the other direction,” even though state officials ruled out the loss of Title I funding. Still, if federal authorities withhold funding it could disproportionately hurt minority communities, the article adds. “But the impact of the testing obsession arguably hit children of color the hardest…Anti-testing activists have emphasized the connection between test-and-punish school reform measures, school closures in communities of color, and the disciplinary policies driving the so-called ‘school to prison pipeline.’” At the same time, “progressive educators and teachers unions have rallied around opt-out,” threatening to “deprive the testing machine of the data it relies on to validate and legitimize its existence.” “The chief consequence of opt-out, in fact, is that massive noncompliance in school communities expose the hollowness of the testing system… They don’t assess skills or teacher ‘effectiveness’ so much as they measure conformity and the establishment’s power. Students, families, and educators are learning fast that whatever they put on the answer sheet, it all adds up to zero.”

Where They Went Wrong: In dismissing student assessments as a tool of “conformity,” the article ignores the purpose of high-quality tests: to provide parents and educators with honest information about how well children are developing the skills necessary to succeed at high levels of learning. After years of systematically lowering the bar, states are finally providing accurate information about student readiness. As the Honesty Gap analysis underscores, that is a critical first step to begin improving performance. Opt-out efforts ultimately put students in a worse position by undermining one of the best tools to determine if a child is on a track toward college- and career-readiness, and to get them support if they aren’t. Contrary to the article’s claim, civil rights groups and educators overwhelmingly support high-quality assessments as a way to achieve greater equity in classrooms.

Springfield Republican, “Ballot Question to End Common Core in Massachusetts Will Move Forward”: A ballot question about whether to repeal Common Core State Standards in Massachusetts was certified as constitutional by the State Attorney General on Wednesday. The next step will be to collect the signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot, the article reports. “This was the first step,” says Donna Colorio, a former Worcester School Committee member who chairs the group behind the End Common Core Massachusetts initiative. “We can have the discussion that we never had when this was approved in 2010…This is a one-size-fits-all education standard, period. What you have when you have a one-size-fits-all is mediocrity, not quality education.” Colorio added that the standards have “watered down” learning, subjected students to confusing math procedures, and encouraged “teaching to the test.”

Where They Went Wrong: Contrary to Colorio’s claims, Common Core State Standards set high learning goals for all students to ensure that more students develop the skills necessary to succeed at higher levels of learning. Coupled with high-quality assessments, the Common Core State Standards give teachers more information necessary to tailor instruction for individual students – ensuring that the standards are not “one-size-fits-all.” And it’s clear that teachers in Massachusetts support those high-quality assessments. A TeachPlus study found that 72 percent of Massachusetts teachers rated PARCC a higher-quality test than MCAS. States leading the way with implementation of the standards have achieved some of the biggest academic improvements in the country, and teachers continue to strongly support implementation. The ballot initiative marks another ploy to perpetuate parents’ concerns, but as recent polling suggests, the public remains committed to high education standards.


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Associated Press, “New Standardized Test Linked to Common Core Proves Challenge for Delaware Students”: Results from Delaware’s first round of Smarter Balanced assessments aligned to higher education standards indicate students did better than expected, though fewer percentages of students earned proficient scores in math and English language arts. “Simply put, these assessments that our children took are harder…It does not mean that our students learned any less,” said Education Secretary Mark Murphy. Murphy. Gov. Jack Markell also underscored that the results provide a new baseline to measure progress. “Smarter Balanced is harder and different from any of our past state assessments,” Gov. Markell said. “It tests more skills than we’ve ever tested before, and it does so more rigorously. For the first time, our students had to do more than fill in bubbles. They had to write essays, show their work and answer complex, real-world problems.” Statewide, 52 percent of students showed proficiency in English language arts, and 39 percent of students scored proficient in math.