News You Can Use:

USA Today, “Common Core Test Wake-Up Call Is on Its Way”: Most states are in the process of releasing results from new assessments aligned to Common Core Standards, marking a “critical milestone” in the years-long process to raise classroom expectations, write Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio. “The news is expected to be sobering, and may come as a shock for many. Parents shouldn’t shoot the messenger.” Pointing out that high-quality exams ensure students are making progress, the authors say parents and taxpayers “deserve to know if their kids are learning.” “Most states set absurdly low academic standards before the Common Core, and their tests were even worse,” the piece states. “The most important step to fixing this problem is to stop lying to ourselves – and to parents – and ensure our children are ready for the next grade and, when they turn 18, for college or work…This will be tough medicine to take …but without an accurate diagnosis, you can’t get well…Parents should resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or the associated tests. They may not be perfect, but they are finally giving parents, educators and taxpayers an honest assessment of how our students are doing.”

What It Means: College- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments are a necessary step for states to begin improving student outcomes. The Honesty Gap illuminated that for a long time states lowered the bar instead of adequately preparing students for college and careers. Karen Nussle wrote recently that state score releases reflect a new chapter in which states are raising classroom expectations to levels that set students on a path of success, and states leading the way, like Kentucky and Tennessee, have achieved some of the biggest academic gains in the country. As Petrilli and Pondiscio articulate, now is not the time to turn back.

Los Angeles Times, “What Will the Common Core Test Results Show?”: Today, the California Department of Education will release results from assessments aligned to the state’s Common Core Standards, which were given this spring. “Everything about this process has been new and different,” the editorial board says, including higher education standards, new curricula aligned to them, and “markedly different” tests. Teachers and students will not face consequences from the scores, but the “more important question is whether the test results will show that students are mastering the standards.” “It would be a mistake to compare these results with the old ones; that would be like comparing apples and porcupines,” the piece states. “We cheer any effort to shift pedagogy from rote memorization to teaching students how to research, analyze and write… This may be only the start, the baseline for future improvement, but California will get an immediate sense of how it’s doing…If indeed California’s test results are significantly worse than the others’, state education officials should waste no time figuring out why.” At the same time, a USC poll finds more than a quarter of Californians have never heard of Common Core State Standards, and 46 percent of parents said they know little or nothing about them.

What It Means: Like all states that have begun measuring students against higher standards, California’s score release marks an important step to provide better information to parents and educators about how well students are really developing the skills and knowledge to succeed at high levels of learning. As the editorial makes clear, the results provide a baseline to measure progress from, and because the results are comparable, state officials will be able to monitor how well schools are doing relative to their counterparts across the country. As Karen Nussle wrote this month, these changes mark the beginning of a new chapter and demonstrate that “states are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do in college or a career.”

EdSource, “Teachers, Too, Will Learn a Lot from New Tests”: In addition to providing parents with honest information about how their child is doing, assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards will inform teachers about “how effectively they’ve taught [their students].” California is gradually rolling out an online tool to enable teachers and principals to analyze their students’ results, and in turn to help guide classroom instruction. “Better data than before about students in real time is the goal,” explains Patricia Rucker, a State Board of Education member. Data reports from future tests are expected to be available “weeks before summer vacation.” “It is our expectation that more than in the past, every teacher should have access to make real-time decisions,” says Keric Ashley, a state deputy superintendent.

What It Means: While states are still adjusting, results from new assessments aligned to higher education standards will provide educators with constructive, timely data about student progress. That information empowers teachers to tailor instruction to meet individual student needs, building on student’s strengths and getting them support where they need it. A Teach Plus study earlier this year found nearly 80 percent of teacher participants said new assignments aligned to Common Core State Standards are better than those their states used before.

The Conversation, “Common Core Is Today’s New Math – Which Is Actually a Good Thing”: Kevin Knudson, a math professor at the University of Florida, writes that – despite objections to math practices espoused by the Common Core – schools have “been down this path before,” with promising results. Noting there is “no set curriculum attached” to Common Core State Standards, Knudson says, “There is nothing controversial about these topics.” He explains that new math techniques aren’t “nonsense.” “In fact, we all do arithmetic like this in our heads all the time…As an instructor of college-level mathematics, I view this focus on conceptual understanding and multiple strategies for solving problems as a welcome change. Doing things this way can help build intuition…Ditto for conceptual understanding.” The piece concludes, “The standards themselves are fine, and before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, perhaps we should consider efforts to implement them properly.”

What It Means: Knudson makes a strong case that the math concepts and procedures emphasized by the Common Core actually build on the framework most individuals use every day, in addition to traditional techniques. Implemented correctly, the shift in instruction will help students develop stronger fundamental math skills at early ages, setting them up to succeed at higher levels of math. 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.


Correcting the Record:

TODAY, “Cursive Comeback? After Outcry, Handwriting Lessons Return to Some Schools”: After some critics “pointed the finger” at Common Core State Standards for schools deemphasizing cursive-writing instruction, “there seems to be a cursive comeback under way in parts of the country.” “Responding to parent complaints, some states are revising the national standards and adopting their own rules,” the article reports. Arkansas, Florida, and Tennessee have added cursive writing requirements, and others including California, Georgia, Kansas and North Carolina are considering similar measures. “I’m more concerned that [my kids] are able to get out their ideas, express themselves and show what they know whether it’s printed, in cursive or typed,” says one parent.

Where They Went Wrong: The article suggests that, because the Common Core State Standards do not explicitly include handwriting as a requirement, the standards are somehow directing schools away from teaching cursive. The standards in no way preclude schools or teachers from doing so, because handwriting requirements are a state decision. In fact, some states are moving to include handwriting in their standards, underscoring the fact that these decisions are made by state education officials.

Salon, “The New Common Core Lie: Parents Who Opt-Out Are Not the Problem”: In response to a New York Daily News editorial that says teachers’ unions “ginned up” support for opt-out efforts, Diane Ravitch, an outspoken critic of the Common Core, writes the argument is “not only false but implies that the parents are fools.” “The editorial claims that the state must stand by the Common Core Standards, which (they say) were ‘developed over many years by the nation’s top education experts.”…Who says so?” Ratitch says. “Why does the editorial board think that students in ‘struggling schools’ will fare better academically if most of them fail the Common Core tests year after year? How will repeated failure create higher expectations?…The reality is that parents across the state are fed up with the excessive emphasis on testing.” She concludes that students will continue to refuse state assessments “not because their parents are dupes of the union, but because their parents are defending the best interests of their children.”

Where They Went Wrong: Even while some parents are concerned with over-testing, they still overwhelmingly support rigorous standards and high-quality assessments, as evidenced by polling Ravitch herself cites. Karen Nussle wrote recently that as states release results from assessments aligned to higher standards, parents are finally getting accurate information about their children’s readiness. As experts like Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio explain, parents “shouldn’t shoot the messenger.” While the changes are a dose of tough medicine, they are necessary for states to begin improving student outcomes. And evidence from states leading the way suggest they are working. Carmen Farina, New York’s school chancellor, underscored yesterday that opting out sends the wrong message to students. “I don’t believe in opting out,” she said. “The message is, ‘You’re not ready.’ The message is, ‘You’re not accountable.’”


On Our Reading List:

Associated Press, “Tests Suggest Most Kansas Students Not Ready for College”: On Tuesday, the Kansas Board of Education released statewide scores from tests aligned to the state’s Common Core Standards. Data show that 42 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency benchmarks in English and 34 percent of students in math. Among 10th graders, those figures fell to 31 and 25 percent for English and math, respectively. “We can get these kids up to a higher bar,” said Scott Smith, testing director for the State Department of Education. “This is given as a snapshot of where we don’t want to be in five years,” added education commissioner Randy Watson.

Rutland Herald, “Vermont to Conduct Curriculum Assessment”: Vermont education officials announced a pilot program to evaluate 16 school districts’ curricula to determine what degree they meet the state’s Common Core Standards. “Through the education quality reviews, we will build a common understanding across Vermont of what all students, regardless of geography or demography, are getting and need to get from their schools,” said Amy Fowler, deputy education secretary. “These reviews will help us all work toward high quality and increased equity.”