News You Can Use:

New Orleans Advocate, “State Education Superintendent John White Talks Common Core Tests with Lafayette Educators”: Louisiana Superintendent John White met with about 100 school parish leaders on Monday to explain the results of new state tests and how they will be used to help improve student performance. “We’re involved in a transition to higher expectations in our state,” White said. “Our standards are more challenging, but students are rising to those challenges.” The scores will be used to establish a new baseline for the state’s accountability system, and results won’t be used to penalize schools, White added. “No results will be used to punish a child. No results will be used to denigrate educators or schools. What we have to do is know that it’s working.” He added that classroom performances are improving overall, including higher graduation rates and better college-readiness scores. The two-year baseline will be used to chart “how fast we can expect Louisiana kids to make progress toward a higher-level.” “What I’m really focused on is – for all kids – how do we measure not just their learning in one year, but the progress they made over the course of the year, from one year to the next,” White said.

What It Means: High-quality assessments are one of the most important tools that parents and teachers have to measure student academic progress and to identify and address learning needs. White makes clear that the purpose of the transition is to measure students against expectations that fully prepare them for college or careers, and to provide parents with better information about how well their child is really doing. The Honesty Gap analysis revealed that for a long time states instead inflated readiness measures by lowering the bar for students. As Karen Nussle explains, “States are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college or a career… For parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change.”

Slate, “Here, Step by Step, Is How Common Core Transformed One Middle School’s English Classes”: Contrary to the perception that Common Core State Standards would drive literature out of classrooms and deemphasize qualitative skills, Valerie Lake, an eight-grade teacher in New York, says the transition has created deeper content learning. Classes focus on fewer materials with greater time devoted to each, helping students identify “text structures.” Before, a class might have focused on finding a theme to a text, but now students are asked to scrutinize paragraphs and sentences to determine how the author communicates broader arguments. “You’re now being asked to think about and synthesize what you’ve read and come up with your own thoughts,” Lake explains. The standards also encourage more independent exploration of texts and the use of materials that challenge students. “The standards have forced [Lake] to raise her own expectations about students’ abilities, and pushed her to find harder texts that her students can learn to love,” the article notes. “The students are still reading novels – but they’re reading much more than that, too.”

What It Means: Common Core State Standards prioritize content understanding, pushing students to dig deeper into materials and think critically. By doing so, the standards empower teachers to help students develop the skills necessary to succeed at high levels of learning. 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. Like Lake, teachers continue to overwhelmingly support the transition to Common Core State Standards, saying the new learning goals invite greater flexibility and creativity in the classroom.


Correcting the Record:

Bluefield Daily Telegraph, “Lawmakers Hear Views on Common Core before Sealing Its Fate in West Virginia”: West Virginia lawmakers heard testimony on Monday about the state’s Common Core standards from both supporters and opponents. Dr. Peg Luksik testified that the standards and related tests put disadvantaged students at risk. Noting some students take tests “under duress from issues that stem from poverty,” Luksik said assessments “are measuring and then punishing poverty.” “The state took one pretend definition of proficiency and replaced it with another pretend definition of proficiency,” Luksik added of Smarter Balanced. She also called Common Core State Standards “educational malpractice.” Dr. Amanda Ellis, associate commissioner of education in Kentucky, disagreed. The framework in her state, she said, provides guidance for West Virginia policymakers. Dr. Ellis pointed to academic improvements in Kentucky, where only 11 to 12 percent of public input indicated a need for adjustment. “By and large our students, our teachers, our parents and our stakeholders feel like these are the right standards at this time,” Dr. Ellis said. The article notes that West Virginia lawmakers have pledged to repeal the state’s standards in the next legislative session.

Where They Went Wrong: By setting high academic expectations for all students, Common Core State Standards and the high-quality assessments that support them better ensure more students will get and stay on a path of college- and career-readiness. Recent polling underscores that the public continues to overwhelmingly support high education standards, which is the goal of the Common Core State Standards. As Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio wrote this month, parents are finally getting honest information about their children’s development, 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.”


On Our Reading List:

Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Ohio’s Common Core Test Results: A Little More than a Third of Kids Met Standards on PARCC Exams”: On Monday, Ohio became the first state to release results from PARCC tests (the scores reflect only tests taken online, which was about two-thirds of students). The Ohio Department of Education proposed aligning the five tiers of scores – “Did not yet meet expectations,” “Partially met expectations,” “Approached expectations,” “Met expectations,” and “Exceeded expectations” – with the state’s existing levels of performance ratings – “Limited,” “Basic,” “Proficient,” “Accelerated,” and “Advanced.” That means students could be labeled “Proficient” by Ohio benchmarks, but only “Approached expectations” by the PARCC scale. “If we accept these cut scores…there’s not that precipice,” said Ohio’s Director of Assessments Jim Wright, referring to an anticipated drop in the number of students scoring at or above proficiency. About a third of students met the proficiency benchmark set by PARCC. By using Ohio’s scale, which includes PARCC’s “Approaching expectations” in its classification of proficient, about 65 to 70 percent of students will be rated as proficient. This is the only year that Ohio will use PARCC tests; next year the state will transition to tests administered by the American Institutes for Research.

Chicago Tribune, “State Superintendent Letter Warns Schools to Brace for PARCC Results”: In a letter to Illinois school officials, State Superintendent Tony Smith cautioned that fewer students could be expected to earn top scores on PARCC assessments that were administered for the first time last spring. “While the numbers are not final, we know that the percent of students who demonstrate proficiency are likely lower than the percentage of students who were proficient on the previous test,” the letter said. Smith cautioned against making comparisons to past years and described the scores as “simply a new baseline from which we can move forward.” The letter adds that the results will not be used to “shame teachers or schools.” “We need to celebrate the good work our teachers and schools are doing to teach the new content our children must have for success in the future,” Smith wrote. “Please let everyone in your communities know that we fully expect results to improve as teachers and students become more familiar with the higher standards.”