News You Can Use:

Casper Star Tribune, “Standardized Tests Are Worth Taking”: Ahead of Wyoming’s release of scores from new assessments aligned to higher standards, Mick Wiest, the state’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, helps explain the new tests to parents. “A valid comparison to last year’s scores isn’t possible because the assessment used this year was different from previous editions,” Wiest explains. “Rigorous standards coupled with well-designed assessments are integral to the kind of learning that will prepare our youth to compete for jobs on an international playing field. Having spent 30 years in the classroom…I can assure you that our current state standards are the most rigorous I’ve seen yet.” Wiest adds that the state’s new standards and assessments emphasize critical thinking and communication skills over memorization. “These tests are worth taking because they give educators, parents and students a more accurate picture of where students are doing well and where they need help…They also help us determine how we are doing compared to students in other states and nations.” Wiest concludes, “This year’s temporary dip in standardized assessment scores is part of a transition that is leading to improved student achievement in Wyoming.”

What It Means: As Wiest articulates, new assessments aligned to higher education standards provide parents and teachers with more accurate information about student development. The Honesty Gap analysis made clear that for a long time states inflated readiness measures, which left many families uninformed about their child’s learning needs. As Fordham Institute president Mike Petrilli and vice-president Robert Pondiscio wrote this month, parents are finally getting honest information, and they should resist the “siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or the associated tests.”

Slate, “’It’s Not Like a Switch That You Can Flick on Overnight’: Four Teachers on Adapting to Common Core”: This article, the second in a series, interviews teachers from across the country about the impact of Common Core State Standards in their classrooms. Jonathon Medeiros, a high school language arts teacher in Hawaii, explains how Common Core has made him a better teacher: “Previously, I’d be like, OK this is Shakespeare month, and we’d just read Shakespeare. But they’d just think they were having fun reading a play or a book. Now the students know, Oh, I’m supposed to be learning skill ‘x.’ And then they can see that skill when it comes up outside my classroom.” Anne Brown, a math coach in Massachusetts, also praises changes with Common Core, “The changes in the instruction have been good and the children are doing well with it,” also noting that the shift to Common Core is gradual, taking years.  Ben Reed, a resource teacher from Colorado, boils it down, saying, “In its heart it’s just trying to elevate the standards across the U.S.”

What It Means: These teachers’ responses demonstrate the overwhelming support educators continue to show for the Common Core. Despite targeted political attacks, teachers by and large express that the standards empower greater content learning and deeper understanding of material. 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 more than 80 percent said they are enthusiastic about implementation. As students are held to higher expectations, more states are likely to see gains in student performance.

All Students, All Standards, “The Power of the Socratic Seminar: Students Leading Each Other to Mastery”: Motivated by the content of Common Core Standards, Katrina Boone, a Kentucky educator, explains how she introduced students to a “Socratic seminar,” which centered on student-led learning rather than lecturing. “The standards required much higher expectations,” Boone says. “My students came to class prepared with discussion questions the next day, and they were ridiculously well-written…The best questions were ones I would have never thought of…During the discussion, students asked questions not only about the text, but about their peers’ reasoning…I spent the last six years of my career trying to lead my students’ learning, to draw out the insights and ideas I was convinced lay dormant…The power of the Socratic seminar lay in the fact that students led the learning, and they were empowered to draw out the potential of their peers and master the standards in the most dynamic, exciting, beautiful way I have been lucky enough to witness as a teacher.”

What It Means: Boone’s experience embodies the transition educators across the country are making through the Common Core to empower student-led learning. In addition to traditional teaching and learning techniques, Common Core Standards encourage students to develop deep content understanding and critical thinking skills. A Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ analytical and reasoning skills. By setting high classroom expectations and encouraging student engagement, Common Core Standards ensure more children will develop the skills to succeed at high levels of learning, and to ultimately graduate high school fully prepared for college and careers.

Ventura Star, “Common Core Maps a Route for Student Success”: Though “not pretty,” results from California’s student assessments aligned to high education standards give a “true picture of where our students – and our schools – stand,” the editorial board writes. “We’ve known – even if we have not acknowledged – for some time that the majority of students coming out of our K-12 system do not have the core knowledge needed to succeed in college,” the piece notes. “Now we have a system in place to fix this, and the scores released this week provide educators with the base numbers to start the process of what we need to do.” Calling efforts to abandon the state’s Common Core standards “poppycock,” the editorial says the standards “finally give our students the skills to succeed in their world regardless of the direction it takes them.” “We have extraordinary educators in the classrooms in this county, supported by administrators. We hope all are focused on the goal of implementing Common Core. The test scores will rise…More importantly, when they leave our K-12 schools, those properly educated students will be better qualified to succeed at college, in business and in life.”

What It Means: The editorial makes a strong case that while results from new assessments are sobering, parents and policymakers should not interpret them as reason to turn back on efforts to raise classroom expectations. As Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli and vice-president Robert Pondiscio wrote this month, “Most states set absurdly low academic standards before the Common Core, and their tests were even worse…Parents should resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or 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.”


Correcting the Record:

Real Clear Policy, “‘Misinformed’ about Common Core, Indeed”: Common Core Standards have “popularity problems,” and recent polling reveals “plummeting approval,” writes Neal McClusky, education director at the CATO Institute and an outspoken critic of the Common Core. “Why such flimsy support?…First, while Washington did not outright order states to adopt the Core, it did require that they promise to adopt standards common to a majority of states – a description fit only by the Core – to get maximum points in the $4 billion Race to the Top competition, held at the nadir of the Great Recession…Washington also selected and paid for Core-aligned tests… that would be plugged into NCLB’s testing requirements.” McClusky adds that the emphasis on informational texts spills over to science, social studies and technical subjects. “Here again, people who responded in a way the pollsters deem misinformed may have been quite well-informed, thank you,” McClusky says. “Indeed, it is far more complicated than Core supporters crying ‘misinformation’ would have you believe, and perhaps more complicated than they even know.”

Where They Went Wrong: McClusky argues states were “coerced” into adopting Common Core Standards because of federal incentives, but adoption of college- and career-ready standards accounted for less than 10 percent of states’ application for Race to the Top funds. His position pushes the idea that Common Core Standards are a federal initiative, which objective analysis has repeatedly rejected. In fact, recent polling underscores a consistent message: the public continues to overwhelmingly support high, consistent education standards, regardless of what label is attached. “It’s important that news coverage of the standards, assessments, and their implementation is accurate,” Karen Nussle wrote last month. “False or misleading information found in new stories published by trusted sources is detrimental to the important work that so many educators, administrators and state education officials have undertaken over the last five years.”


On Our Reading List:

Buzzfeed, “Carly Fiorina Has Completely Reversed Her Position on Federal Education Policies Since 2010”: In a recent interview with a Las Vegas radio program, presidential candidate Carly Fiorina refers to Common Core Standards and the Race to the Top initiative as “bureaucratic programs that are failing our nation.” Yet, in her 2010 senate campaign, Fiorina wrote in a policy paper, “Internationally benchmarked standards and assessments help ensure our students graduate high school prepared with the skills necessary to succeed in our 21st century economy.” The paper says NCLB “helped us set high standards for our students.” In her 1989 Masters’ thesis, also made available on her Senate candidate website, Fiorina argued for a “consistent, long-term” federal role in education, including “curriculum ‘guidelines’ for consideration by local school districts and state legislatures.”

Arizona Daily Sun, “Give New Common Core Exams More Time”: The “silver lining” to Arizona’s results on student assessments aligned to Common Core Standards is “students and teachers will have several more years before they are held rigidly accountable to the scores,” writes the editorial board. “Standardized testing should be a way to measure whether the core material has been mastered before promoting a student into material that otherwise might prove too difficult,” the piece states. “Using problem-solving and critical thinking to master subjects is different than the old curriculum that put a premium on rote memorization, so we would expect initial mastery levels to be lower even for the most apt students.” Noting that debate over the standards has largely prioritized politics over substance, the editorial concludes, “Let’s not go to the back of the pack on curriculum reform.”

US News and World Report, “Now the Real Common Core Fight Begins”: As states release results from the first round of student assessments aligned to rigorous learning goals, Common Core Standards remain “largely intact,” writes Fordham Institute’s Robert Pondiscio. “At the same time, new evidence suggests that the much tougher Common Core challenges – the ones inside classrooms – have only just begun.” Citing a recent Education Trust report that finds daily lesson plans remain largely unaligned to the Common Core, Pondiscio says the “dour findings” reveal the challenges teachers face implementing the standards. “The challenge is further complicated when elected leaders lack the political will to hold the line on higher standards, sending mixed signals to teachers…The bottom line is that while the overheated debate over Common Core has raged on, far too little attention has been paid to the heavy lift being asked of America’s teachers…It requires patience and realism, two things that have never been particularly abundant in American education.”