Core of the Matter: Taking a Closer Look at Common Core Test Results (#CoreMatters)

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October 06, 2015 09:53 am

Graduates

Over the past few weeks, the education world has been watching anxiously as states have released scores from new assessments that measure students’ performance against standards for college and career readiness. The results in many cases are low and confirm what observers suspected: in California, 44 percent of students met or exceeded standards for English language arts (ELA), and 33 percent met or exceeded standards in mathematics. In Connecticut, 55.4 percent of students met or exceeded the standards in English language arts, and 39.1 percent met or exceeded the standards in mathematics.

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Common Core Equity Series

Common Core at 5: Just Beginning Its Journey

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June 05, 2015 01:32 pm

As any parent knows, a child’s fifth birthday is a major milestone. At five, a child enters kindergarten, taking a big step from preschool into the world of school. It’s a leap into a lifetime of learning and a bright future.

The Common Core State Standards turned five years old this week. They were unveiled June 2, 2010 at a ceremony at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Georgia. At the time, participants were enthusiastic about the standards but recognized that challenges lay ahead. As Eric Smith, then the Commissioner of Education in Florida, put it: “It is now up to the states to adopt the standards and carry on the hard work of the educators and community leaders that worked to develop them.”

It’s fair to say that the leaders who gathered that day in Georgia…er, underestimated the challenges. The standards were attacked by members of the tea party and others (falsely) as federal intrusion into local decisions about education, and blamed (equally falsely) by parents and some educators for spawning incomprehensible math problems and killing literature. At the same time, many states struggled with implementation and teachers worried (rightly) that they would be held accountable for students’ performance on the standards when they had been inadequately prepared to teach them.

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Why I’m Opting In

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Posted:
March 09, 2015 02:30 pm

Students Testing

Next week, like millions of other students around the country, my daughter will take a new test, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). As many news reports have documented, a number of parents (the exact number is unclear) have objected to the tests and have chosen to “opt out” of them, by not having their children take the tests. States vary in the extent to which this is permissible, but many districts have allowed parents to choose this course.

I will not be among them.

If this had been a test like those most states had used up until this year, I might have agreed with the opting-out parents that the test is basically a waste of time. Most tests have tended to measure low-level knowledge and skills, and the information they provided was not particularly useful. The test results usually came back after the school year was over, and they provided an overall number, which was completely opaque, or worse, a percentile score, which said nothing about what my daughter knew or was able to do.

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Front-End Alignment: New Curriculum Tools for Common Core State Standards

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March 05, 2015 10:00 am

Two new reports have provided evidence to confirm what many teachers have suspected: most curriculum materials, at least in elementary and middle school mathematics, do not match the expectations in the Common Core State Standards. One analysis, by a new organization, EdReports, found that only one of twenty textbook series studied are aligned to the Standards. The other, by William Schmidt, the director of the Center for the Study of Curriculum at Michigan State University, found that none of the 34 textbook series studied covered 100 percent of the grade-level standards in the Common Core.

The issue is a critical one. Despite the charges of critics, the Common Core is not a curriculum. It outlines the learning that students need to demonstrate at the end of each grade level. How teachers guide students to those outcomes is the curriculum. Individual teachers, schools, and districts retain their authority to determine the curriculum that is best for their students. So the curriculum that teachers and schools develop is crucial to the success of the Common Core Standards.

The materials that commercial publishers (for-profit and non-profit) provide are important tools for supporting curriculum. However, as good teachers have always known, a textbook is just that—a tool for curriculum, not the curriculum itself. It offers a structure and sample lessons, along with assessments and supporting materials, but teachers have always added to textbooks and omitted parts that were not relevant to them or their students.

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The Common Core Means Deeper Learning. District Leaders Get It.

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October 09, 2014 12:12 pm

The recently released survey by the Center on Education Policy of district leaders on the Common Core State Standards has attracted headlines for its finding that half will not implement the standards until this year at the earliest. That finding has stirred worries that the results from new tests this year will not be good.

It is worrisome that only a third of districts have fully implemented the standards in both English language arts and mathematics, and only a third said they had adequately prepared all teachers to teach the standards. And nearly half said finding aligned curriculum materials and providing appropriate professional development was a “major challenge.”

But the survey also had some encouraging news about the future of the standards. Consider the district leaders’ responses to questions about the standards themselves. More than three-fourths of the district leaders said implementation would lead to improved skills among students; in 2011, just over half agreed with that statement. And nearly nine in 10 district leaders said the Common Core required fundamental changes in instruction, up substantially from half in 2011.

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The Evidence Is In: Deeper Learning Students are Out-performing Peers

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September 25, 2014 01:47 pm

For more than four years, the Alliance for Excellent Education has been developing policies to enable more schools to foster a broad set of competencies for all students. Like a number of organizations, we believed that the complex global economy made it imperative for all young people to develop deep content knowledge and to be able to use that knowledge to solve problems and think critically, to communicate effectively, to collaborate with peers, to learn how to learn, and to develop academic mindsets. Working with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, we called these competencies “deeper learning.”

We were persuaded to take on this policy challenge by ample research on the changing workplace, notably by Richard Murnane and Frank Levy, and by the impressive examples of schools in Hewlett’s Deeper Learning Community of Practice. But we lacked concrete evidence that deeper learning would in fact produce better outcomes for young people, especially low-income children and children of color.

The Hewlett Foundation, to their credit, recognized this gap as well. So they commissioned a study by the American Institutes of Research, a highly reputable organization. That study was released this week.

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No Matter How You Measure Them, College Remediation Rates Are Too High

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July 14, 2014 10:14 am

Carol Burris raises some important points about data on college remediation rates, which have become the basis for education policy in recent years. As the organization that is the source of the data she says is erroneous, the Alliance for Excellent Education has the obligation to try to clarify the picture.

The Alliance agrees wholeheartedly that policy should be informed by accurate data. And one would think that the question, “How many students take remedial courses?” would yield a ready, reliable answer. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

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Core of the Matter: Common Core Assessments: Cause for Concern? (#CoreMatters)

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July 01, 2014 09:57 am

Four years after they were released, the Common Core State Standards have become one of the hottest political issues in the United States, igniting fierce debates, protest marches, and impassioned (though not always factual) speeches and articles. Three states, Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, have moved to rescind their adoption of the Common Core and replace them with home-grown standards, and other states are poised to join them.

These actions are causes for concern among advocates for educational equity. As Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, has pointed out, the Common Core provides an opportunity to “bridge the achievement gap by leveling the playing field so that all students, regardless of race, geography, or income, have an equal shot at gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century global economy.”

Yet while pulling out of the Common Core threatens to deny this opportunity for leveling the playing field for low-income students and students of color, there is an even more insidious threat from states that choose to retain the standards yet do little to implement them. In those states, students will ostensibly be expected to learn what the Common Core lays out and graduate from high school prepared for college and careers, but the states will have done little to ensure that teachers are prepared to enable all students to develop those competencies.

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Common Core Equity Series

A Coalition, Not an Individual, Pulled off the Common Core Revolution

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June 08, 2014 04:39 pm

I was dismayed, but not surprised, to see the headline on today’s front page of the Washington Post: “How Bill Gates pulled off the Common Core revolution.” Not surprising: for years, critics have charged that the Common Core State Standards was a conspiracy led by the former chairman of Microsoft. But dismaying, because it isn’t true.

Yes, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided some $200 million to organizations, including mine, the Alliance for Excellent Education, to develop the standards and work toward their adoption and implementation. But research I conducted for my book, Something in Common, convinced me that this funding did not create the Common Core movement. Rather, Gates money greased the wheels of a machine that was designed and built by a broad coalition of educators and policy makers who believed—quite independently from any funding they received—that it was the right thing to do.

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More on the Assessment Consortia Field Tests

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April 28, 2014 12:38 pm

Read part 1 in our two-part series on answering your questions about the Common Core-aligned assessments field tests.

On March 20, the Alliance for Excellent Education hosted a webinar with leaders of the two consortia developing assessments to measure the Common Core State Standards: Jacqueline E. King, the director of higher education collaboration for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, and Jeff Nellhaus, the director of policy, research, and design for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The webinar, which took place as field tests for both consortia’s assessments were getting under way, drew a great deal of interest. Hundreds of educators and policy makers signed up to watch it, and viewers submitted dozens of questions to the panelists.

Although King and Nellhaus answered many viewer questions, they could not get to all of them in the ninety-minute event. But they agreed to respond to many of the questions they couldn’t get to at the time. Here are their answers.

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