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Grand Forks Herald, “New Assessments Are Worth Taking”: Kristen Baesler, North Dakota’s state superintendent, writes that new assessments aligned to higher education standards “represent a giant step forward in helping students to realize their potential.” “[These new tests] provide a more honest appraisal of how prepared our students are to be successful in the next grade level, and ultimately how prepared they are to be successful in college or today’s careers,” Baesler writes. “Teachers will know when individual students, or an entire class, need additional support and instruction to avoid the need for costly remedial work in college.” Noting that the exams establish a more rigorous baseline to measure future growth against, Baesler explains that the assessments prioritize “analytical thinking, problem-solving skills and persuasive writing” over multiple choice questions that invited guesswork. “Other states have seen improvements with these new standards and assessments, and so will we,” Baesler concludes. “We have a proud tradition of excellent public schools. Our new assessments will make them even better.”

What It Means: High-quality assessments are one of the strongest tools parents and teachers have to measure student development and to identify and address learning needs. As Baesler explains, new exams rolled out by most states earlier this year more accurately measure how well students are developing the skills and knowledge they need to succeed at high levels of learning and ultimately in college or a career. As Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli wrote this month, parents are finally getting honest information about how well prepared their children are, 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.”

Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “Ohio Should Set the Bar at ‘College- and Career-Ready’”: While the decision by the Ohio Department of Education to set cut scores designating about 60 to 70 percent of students as proficient reflects a more accurate number of students prepared for college or a career, “it isn’t the large adjustment needed to align with a ‘college-and-career-ready’ definition of proficiency,” writes Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director at the Fordham Institute. “In fact, this new policy will maintain, albeit in a less dramatic way than before, the ‘proficiency illusion’ – the misleading practice of calling ‘proficient’ a large number of students who aren’t on-track for success in college or career.” Noting education officials were confined by state law to designate proficiency levels as they did, Churchill makes several suggestions to close gaps, including: structure achievement levels as “advanced, proficient, approaching, basic and limited”; move to a “level” or “star” system; and “make crystal clear which achievement level equates to meeting the college- and career-ready targets.” “State policymakers should stop dancing around this issue and give the information needed on whether students are meeting benchmarks that set them on the surest track for success in their later lives.”

What It Means: The Honesty Gap analysis highlighted that most states have begun to give students, parents and teachers more accurate information about student development by adopting rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments. Churchill points out that by setting proficiency benchmarks below college- and career-readiness levels, Ohio is taking a step back in that effort. By measuring students against high, consistent standards and assessments, states will provide parents and teachers with better information, empowering them to get students the support they need to get and stay on a path that sets them up to succeed after high school graduation.

Mineral Daily News Tribune, “It’s Time to Look Critically at Common Core”: Shawn Dilly, Mineral County Superintendent in West Virginia, writes that as lawmakers consider the future of the Common Core, they should “take a critical look” at what the standards achieve, parents’ and teachers’ views, and how the standards can benefit students. “The goal of the new standards is for college and career readiness for all students,” Dilly explains. “We are already aware that one of the issues our graduates face is that they are often having to take remedial courses when they get to college and that can add significantly to their student debt.” Refuting misperceptions that the standards dictate curriculum or were imposed by federal authorities, Dilly says the clear progression of learning will help more students graduate high school prepared for their next step. “Common Core was created to increase transparency and allow parents and school leaders to assess performance nationwide – to bring students and schools under a common definition of what success is,” Dilly states. “We want everyone involved in the transformation process.”

What It Means: By setting high, consistent learning goals, Common Core State Standards better ensure that students will develop the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed at higher levels of learning and to ultimately graduate high school prepared for college or a career. Dilly points out that misperceptions fanned by opponents have created confusion and obscured the purpose of the standards, but the Common Core creates the framework to ensure that more students get on and stay on a path of college- and career-readiness.


Correcting the Record:

Brookings Institute, “Support for Common Core Continues to Wane”: Citing the Education Next annual poll released last month, Joshua Bleiberg says the findings reinforce a “clear pattern of increasing opposition from both sides of the political aisle” for Common Core State Standards. “The national results depict an emerging trend of thawing support for the standards,” Bleiberg writes. “Support for the Common Core Standards has decreased every year since 2012.” Noting “Common Core politics have changed dramatically,” the analysis predicts “the probability of politicians abandoning the national standards project” could increase. Because the number of people with no opinion has decreased, Bleiberg says it will take “a major event to reverse” public opinion. “It’s conceivable that if the current trend in the decreasing popularity of the standards continues for the next several months, the political dam could break with major results in Congress and state houses throughout the country.”

Where They Went Wrong: For years, opponents of the Common Core have been warning that momentum against the standards is building, which would lead to a mass exodus at the state level. Yet, after two national elections, only one state, Oklahoma, has replaced the Common Core with a distinctly different set of standards – and that process has not been particularly easy on Oklahoma’s educators, who were forced to adjust to a new set of standards without adequate time to prepare, or the students who were caught up in that transition. This year, zero states passed repeal legislation. Instead, states have launched reviews to refine and build on the standards further. Contrary to Bleiberg’s interpretation, Karen Nussle explains that recent polling reaffirms that the public remains overwhelmingly supportive of high, comparable education standards and strong accountability.

Home School Legal Defense Association, “Massachusetts Groups Move to Put Common Core on the Ballot”: Writing about a ballot initiative led by the Massachusetts group Common Core Forum to repeal the state’s education standards, Will Estrada, federal relations director for HSLDA, says implementation of the Common Core has been “a far cry from preparing students ‘for college and career’ as the new standards originally promised.” Citing a collection of opposition efforts in several states, Estrada says “many [state] are dissatisfied with the results” of the Common Core State Standards. “Although it is important to encourage student achievement, the Common Core has proven to have the opposite effect. A wiser option is to leave control over curriculum in the hands of those who are more familiar with the needs of their students – namely, parents and teachers. Unfortunately, the Common Core Standards could harm home-schooling by undermining the academic flexibility that has been a hallmark of the movement throughout the years.”

Where They Went Wrong: Contrary to Estrada’s assertion of widespread blowback against the Common Core, after two national elections all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the standards continue to use them or a nearly identical set of standards. Before adopting the Common Core, the Massachusetts State Board of Education undertook extensive analysis, outreach to stakeholders and discussion during a full-year review before deciding that the Common Core State Standards were preferable to their old standards. And states leading the way have achieved some of the biggest academic improvements in the country. While Estrada relies myths that have consistently been dismissed by objective analysis, states continue to implement the Common Core largely because the public overwhelmingly support high education standards and increase accountability – foundations of the standards.


On Our Reading List:

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, “A Name Change for Common Core in New York?”: On Tuesday New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said the state is “toying with” the possibility of removing the term “Common Core” from its state standards. “There is so much politicization about those words, ‘Common Core,’” Tisch said. “If you call them something different and you make appropriate adjustments, addressing some developmental questions, I think those are all appropriate things to do.” Both the State Department of Education and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have promised a review of the standards. “Other states have reviewed these Common Core Standards, and here is more or less what’s happened: They have tweaked in a couple of areas, but they haven’t changed them,” Tisch added. “What they did do, however, is they changed the name.”

Education Week, “Nebraska’s New Math Standards: A Comparison to the Common Core”: An evaluation of Nebraska’s K-12 math standards shows that they “contain many of the hallmarks” of the Common Core State Standards, even though the state never adopted the Common Core. Reporter Liana Heitin notes that both sets of standards ask students to “make sense of mathematical problems and persevere in solving them,” emphasize fractions as numbers on a number line, stress “number sense,” and reduce redundancies. A 2013 analysis by the consulting group McRel found about 76 percent of Common Core State Standards were reflected in Nebraska’s standards.

Honolulu Star Advertiser, “Hawaii Struggles in First Round of New ‘Common Core’ Testing”: Results from the first year of Smarter Balanced exams indicate 48 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency benchmarks in English language arts, while 41 percent were deemed proficient in math. Third grade students performed best in math, with 50 percent meeting or exceed proficiency, while only 30 percent of 11th-grade students achieved proficiency levels in math. In English language arts, 54 percent of fifth-graders met proficiency benchmarks, while only 44 percent of seventh-graders achieved proficiency. “These first year results show promise,” said State Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. “Test scores show we’re not where we want to be, but we’re on the right track for all students to be college- and career-ready.”

EdSource, “Test Scores to Be Only One Factor in Measuring School Progress”: California officials continue to emphasize that results from the state’s new student assessments will serve as only one measure to evaluate school performance. Last year, the state suspended its Academic Performance Index, which it used to grade schools and school districts. “The old notion of a single number doesn’t make sense anymore,” said State School Board Member Sue Burr. “We need to be crystal clear about what the new accountability system encompasses: More multiple measures and a system based on continuous improvement.”