News You Can Use:

Winston-Salem Journal, “Educators Ask Panel to Keep Common Core”: On Monday, six educators urged North Carolina’s Academic Standards Review Commission to continue implementation of Common Core State Standards. “The standards are solid,” said Carrie Tulbert, the state’s 2014-15 Principal of the Year. “Implementation is the more frustrating part for teachers.” “Starting all over will just create a bigger headache,” added Lynsey Hubbard, an elementary school teacher. “If the Common Core Standards are pulled from under us, I want to know what floor the retirement office is on,” said Allison Bowers, a high school math teacher. “We need to do what’s best for children. We look at what we have, fix what we have if necessary and go from there.” Jeanie Metcalf, a member of the commission and a former educators, said, “I think the teachers and the principals don’t want to change again…I don’t want to change either. I want to get what’s wrong, right.”

What It Means: The educators’ testimony emphasize the overwhelming support for Common Core State Standards among teachers and administrators. A Scholastic study last fall found more than eight in ten teachers who worked closely with the Common Core were enthusiastic about implementation, and more than two-thirds saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. Likewise, polling shows parents continue to strongly support high education standards and increased accountability, the principles the Common Core is built on. By setting clear, rigorous learning goals and giving local authorities control over how to achieve them, Common Core State Standards ensure more students will graduate high school fully prepared for college and careers.

The Seventy-Four, “Will Shifting Political Winds Strip Wisconsin of its Standards?”: Students’ education has become a “political ping pong ball” as Wisconsin policymakers consider subjecting classrooms to three different state tests in three years, writes Terry Kaldhusdal, Wisconsin’s 2007 Teacher of the Year. “In other words, my students are aiming at a target that continues to shift,” Kaldhusdal says. “How can we accurately measure students’ academic progress and determine where they need assistance in shoring up the fundamentals when we can’t even decide on the standard and the measuring stick?” In the five years since Wisconsin adopted the Common Core, opponents have been unable “to dislodge the standards,” but are now “shifting their focus on the standardized tests that are aligned to Common Core.” “Our leaders can either create a strong tailwind for my students’ learning or they can create an unnecessary headwind,” Kaldhusdal writes. “If the Smarter Balanced assessment is placed on a shelf, Wisconsin will have to create yet another test,” costing as much as $17 million and undermining comparability. “This is a test worth taking. Like the standards it measures, the Common Core aligned test emphasizes critical- and analytical-thinking skills…The shift to these rigorous standards prepares my students for the world they will face after high school. The only way to gauge whether this is actually happening though, is to test students on the skills and concepts we introduce in the classrooms – and that’s what the aligned test does.”

What It Means: Honest assessments are a critical tool to ensure high education standards achieve their purpose of preparing students for higher levels of learning and to ultimately graduate high school college- and career-ready. Decisions about how to measure that progress shouldn’t be subjected to political whims, which Kaldhusdal makes clear. As Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrillii wrote this month, high-quality assessments finally provide parents with accurate 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.”

WHO TV Iowa, “New Assessment Test Could Put Iowa Students Back on Top”: While Iowa once boasted one of the strongest student assessments – the Iowa Test of Basic Skills – it has fallen behind as other states have transitioned to exams that offer greater comparability, says State Board of Education member Mary Ellen Miller. Last week the Board voted unanimously to replace the Iowa Test of Basic Skills with Smarter Balanced, and schools will begin administering it in the 2016-17 school year. “Right now, if you think about it, teachers are testing to the new standards on an old test, no wonder they complain,” says Miller. Students will no longer be subjected to time limits and officials say the new assessment will evolve with student needs. “This is going to take a while to adapt,” Miller says. “This is probably going to take two to three years for everyone to really feel comfortable with…What we have done nationwide with the Core is raise expectations for our students, so that we are moving beyond what we used to do, which was rogue memorization. Now we want students proving they can apply knowledge.”

What It Means: Iowa’s decision to implement Smarter Balanced assessments underscores the value of high-quality tests that measure students’ progress toward college- and career-ready standards. Karen Nussle explained in a recent memo, “States are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do to be successful in college or a career…For parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change.” Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli agrees, “[New assessments] may not be perfect, but they are finally giving parents, educators and taxpayers an honest assessment of how students are doing – a standard that promises to end the lies and statistical games.”


Correcting the Record:

US News & World Report, “As Test Results Trickle In, State Still Ditching Common Core”: As most states release results from the first administration of student assessments aligned to Common Core Standards, “a growing number of states across the country are walking back their commitments to the tests and even to the standards themselves,” reports Lauren Camera. “In the last two years, states have passed various pieces of legislation to detach themselves from the two federally funded Common Core testing consortia…either by defunding the tests, issuing a new request for proposal to testing vendors or repealing the relationships outright.” PARCC membership has fallen from 24 states to 12. “We’re in the middle of an escalating fight about how much educational assessment is driven from the top down,” says Robert Schaeffer, director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. “There is a rising national movement pushing back against the basic test-and-punish assumption that has driven assessment policy for the last 15 years.” Others say there is a lot to be gained from the push for higher standards and better tests. “You still have over half the states in either Smarter Balanced or PARCC, which is a heck of a lot more commonality than we had last year,” says Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute. “What matters to me is whether the test is well-aligned to the standards and whether they’re set at a tough enough level that we signal to educators, parents and kids whether individual kids are on track for success.” “There was always supposed to be a partnership among states, and the fact that they can’t come to an agreement…is a bad signal for this whole undertaking of commonality,” says Chad Aldeman, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners. “And it shows that even despite all this money, the political problems are just too challenging.”

Where They Went Wrong: More students have taken comparable, high-quality tests this year than ever before. And while results may not be as high as some parents are used to, these new assessments give parents more honest, reliable information about student achievement and allow teachers to understand how students are progressing toward college- and career-readiness. Louisiana Superintendent John White explained last month, “In establishing a new baseline, we cannot put a flag in the ground and declare victory…But what we can say is in this first phase of the mission, 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…That is a fantastic success for each state and for America and its children.”

Heartland Institute, “If Common Core Is Scary, Hide from New ‘Community Schools’”: Before turning to the Full Service Community Schools Act, authors Nancy Thorner and Bonnie O’Neil lambast Common Core State Standards, heralding as fact many of the myths experts and analysis have repeatedly dismissed. “This experimental program was sold to state governments sight unseen,” the piece claims. “This maneuver was largely accomplished through taxpayer-funded bribes, deception, and federal bludgeoning.” The authors say accompanying student assessments are “why parents are becoming activists to get Common Core out of their schools.” “Under Common Core, an Orwellian nightmare is already taking place through the data-mining of students and their families…How long will it take before all vestiges of privacy are stripped from vulnerable students?”

Where They Went Wrong: Thorner and O’Neil perpetuate wild claims aimed at stirring parents’ concerns with little regard for factual accuracy. Common Core Standards were developed and voluntarily adopted by states. After two national elections, all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the standards continue to implement them or a very similar set of learning goals. As experts like former Education Secretary Bill Bennett explain, Common Core Standards were created “separate from the federal government,” and “common, voluntary standards are good, conservative policy.” The standards introduce no new data collection requirements, as the authors allege, and polling indicates that parents continue to support high, consistent education standards and increased accountability.


On Our Reading List:

Washington Post, , “Why Catholics Are Fighting Each Other over the Common Core Standards”: As Pope Francis arrives to the United States during his first visit, Catholic schools are divided over the decision of many to adopt Common Core State Standards. Supporters say the move was necessary for Catholic schools to stay relevant and to ensure students that transition into public schools are able to do so without falling behind. Many note nothing in the standards contradicts Catholic values. “The Common Core State Standards in no way compromise the Catholic identity or educational program of a Catholic school,” the National Catholic Educational Association said in a statement in 2013.  Others, however, say the standards are not rigorous enough and that use of the Common Core could jeopardize Catholic schools’ identity. “CCSS should be neither adopted nor rejected without review, study, consultation, discussion and caution,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a 2014 statement. “But the CCSS is of its nature incomplete as it pertains to the Catholic school.” The article concludes, “Just like the Core debate in public education, it isn’t likely that the Catholic conversation is going to end anytime soon.”

Albany Times Union, “Q Poll: Voters Split on Opting Out, but Say Tests Aren’t Best Measure of Learning”: A Quinnipiac University poll finds 65 percent of New York voters believe standardized tests aren’t the best measure of student development, but respondents were split, 48-47, on whether opting out of tests is the right thing to do. More voters in upstate New York agreed with the opt-out movement (51-45), while fewer in New York City did (45-51). Twenty-three percent of respondents said student assessments should not count towards any part of teacher evaluations.

Associated Press, “Massachusetts Issues Latest Test Scores as Key Decision Nears”: Fewer public school students in grades three through eight who took PARCC exams last spring met or exceeded proficiency benchmarks than those who took MCAS tests, results released Monday show. In the last school year the state gave school districts the option of administering both tests. Fifty-four percent of districts chose the PARCC assessment. Policymakers will decide in November which test to use going forward. PARCC results “cannot yet be directly compared to this year’s MCAS results,” State Education Secretary James Peyser said in a statement. “These results renew our confidence in the PARCC test,” said Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.

Keloland Television, “South Dakota Student Test Scores Higher than Expected”: Results from the first round of Smarter Balanced assessments given in South Dakota this spring indicate nearly half of students across all grades achieved proficiency in English language arts, and 41 percent met or exceeded proficiency in math. “The students really exceeded what our predictions were early on,” said State Education Secretary Melody Schopp. “This is a baseline year so we’re setting the expectations of where our students are and where we need to be…The statewide average gives us an indication of where we need to improve, but there are definitely schools that exceeded that amount as well.”

Washington Post, “Six D.C. Schools Had ‘Critical’ Testing Violations, 11 Others Irregularities”: Administrators in six D.C. public schools had “critical” violations on standardized tests in the 2013-14 school year, indicating they steered students to correct answers, erased stray marks on answer sheets, or provided unauthorized accommodations for test takers, according to a review by outside consulting firm Alvarez  & Marsal. The investigation also found minor or moderate infractions at 11 schools. The violations represented 0.5 percent of all testing groups, and most violations amounted to procedural or documentation errors. The investigation did not include the most recent administration of PARCC exams last fall, which will be studied later this year.