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| NEWS | Curriculum Matters
It's been five years since states began adopting the common core. But many faces have changed since then in the big chairs occupied by the governors, state commissioners, and state board members who gave it the green light. That's why two Washington-based groups think it's time for a refresher course.
The name of the course could be "Why State Test Results Don't Tell the Real Story," or more bluntly, "State Tests Lie." Backers of the Common Core State Standards have been trying to get this message across for years, using the proficiency gaps between NAEP and states' scores on their own tests as Exhibit A.
Last week, those advocates released a report showing how most states produce much higher proficiency rates on their own tests than they do on the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress. The report was issued by Achieve, which had a central role in organizing the initiative to write the common core, and the Collaborative for Student Success, a foundation-funded group that works to expand support for the standards.
The report separates states into categories according to the size of their gaps: "truth-tellers" have tests that produce proficiency rates closer to NAEP, and "biggest gaps" ... well, that speaks for itself.
Here is an example of what Achieve and the collaborative call "the honesty gap." In 4th grade reading, Georgia has the biggest gap: a 60-point differential between the proficiency rates its own tests reported in 2013-14 and those that NAEP reported that year. New York has the narrowest differential, with only a 5-point gap.
More than half the states have proficiency gaps of 30 points or more, the report says.
The states named as the "biggest truth-tellers" are those that have "the political courage" to rework their standards and tests to ensure that students are expected to master material that truly prepares them for college and good jobs, according to a statement by Karen Nussle, the executive director of the collaborative.
There have been many reports about how states set the bar low on their tests—lower than NAEP "basic" levels, in most cases—and that they did so, in many cases, to escape sanctions for low achievement that were written into the No Child Left Behind Act. So in a way, although the comparisons in the new report use more recent test-proficiency rates, they revisit well-trod turf.
But timing is everything. And with so many new state policymakers—all of whom could undermine the standards or their accompanying tests—common-core backers appear to be trying to persuade them that the better part of "political courage" is keeping standards, and cutoff scores, high.
–Catherine Gewertz & Holly Peele
| NEWS | Marketplace K-12
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has launched Teachers Know Best, a website for companies that want to know what educators want in digital resources.
The site consolidates research the foundation has conducted with 3,000 teachers and 1,200 students, organizing it by subjects like "opportunities," "product preferences," and "reports."
More than 500 digital resources are listed, with information about what the product does, its ranking in the survey, the most frequently identified student benefit, according to teachers, and what students identified most often about the product's benefit to them.
The four most important gaps in current product offerings, according to the foundation's research, are elementary language arts, middle school social studies, high school math, and all levels of science.
(Education Week receives grant funding from the foundation to support coverage of implementation of college- and career-ready standards.)
| NEWS | Teaching Now
Carol Burris, a nationally recognized principal and a vocal opponent of the Common Core State Standards, has announced that she will resign from her position after this school year, citing test-heavy teacher-evaluation processes as a key reason for her departure.
Burris, the principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, N.Y., has been recognized by several state and national associations and was named the New York high school principal of the year in 2013. Known as a proponent of a rigorous curriculum, she's drawn attention for mandating that nearly all students in her school take advanced classes.
In explaining her decision to resign, Burris said she was morally opposed to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to make student test scores count for as much as 50 percent of teachers' evaluation ratings.
"I did not feel, in good conscience, that I could come back the following year and participate in that evaluation system," she said, according to a Newsday report.
Provisions to create a more rigorous evaluation system were included in New York state's recently passed budget legislation. While Cuomo had originally proposed making student performance count for half of a teacher's evaluation, the details of the new system have yet to be fleshed out, though test scores are expected to be a central component.
Once a supporter of the common core, and even a co-author of a book on working with the standards in schools, Burris has become an oft-cited critic of the framework, arguing that it is unclear, untested, and overly complicated.
Though she is leaving her school position, Burris is not expected to retire from the K-12 scene. She said she plans to devote more of her time to fighting the changes she sees as harmful to education, including the standards and the new teacher-evaluation system.
| NEWS | Politics K-12
The U.S. Department of Education will allow New Mexico to use results from its teacher-evaluation system to count toward the goal in the No Child Left Behind Act of staffing all core-content classes with a "highly qualified" teacher.
The move marks the first time the department has granted a state waiver from the teacher-qualification provisions. It also opens the door to a multitude of questions about states' teacher-distribution plans, which are due next month.
Under the waiver, New Mexico will be able to count a teacher who received a rating of "effective," "highly effective," or "exemplary" on his or her evaluation as highly qualified under the law.
The biggest change from the current law is that veteran teachers deemed effective or better would not have to demonstrate subject-matter competency via the state procedures known as HOUSSE. (It historically has been burdensome for teachers of multiple subjects—English and history, for instance—to earn highly qualified status in all of them.)
In the waiver-approval letter, Assistant Secretary Deborah S. Delisle said the additional flexibility will enable the state and its local districts to emphasize the impact of teachers on student outcomes as a primary focus of staffing and teacher development. Additionally, the loosening of the definition will allow small districts to increase the number of courses they can offer, she said.
"I believe this waiver will increase the quality of instruction and improve the academic achievement of students by focusing on a teacher's effectiveness in impacting student outcomes," Delisle wrote.
The added flexibility does come with some strings. Each school and school district must publicly report the total number of teachers considered "highly qualified" under the new, expanded definition, and districts must report the number of teachers who maintained the rating of effective or better after the first year of using the new definition.
The state education department must also provide a list of districts taking advantage of the new definition, as well as a breakdown of the number of teachers using the new flexibility in various categories, including special education and the stem subjects.
In 2012-13, New Mexico reported that 98.6 percent of its core-content classes were being taught by a highly qualified teacher.
–Lauren Camera & Stephen Sawchuk
| NEWS | State EdWatch
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, vetoed a common-core-repeal bill this month, citing support from the business community for the standards and the need to improve the Granite State's workforce.
It's the first time a governor has vetoed a bill that would require a state to ditch the Common Core State Standards. Last month, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, vetoed a bill that would have required a review of the common core in that state. Bryant said he thought the Mississippi bill was ultimately toothless because it didn't contain a firm commitment to dropping the common core.
Districts in New Hampshire already have the option of using standards other than the common core, which the state school board adopted in 2010. (Districts in Wisconsin have that option as well.) Hassan noted the local option for districts in her veto message regarding Senate Bill 101.
"Legislation like Senate Bill 101 undermines the importance of high standards in education and the work that New Hampshire's department of education and board of education do every day to ensure that our students are college-ready and prepared to enter the workforce. It undermines similar locally led efforts as well," Hassan said in her message.
The Union Leader of Manchester, N.H., reports that it's highly doubtful that supporters of the repeal bill in the state legislature will be able to muster enough votes to override the governor's May 8 veto.
| NEWS | Curriculum Matters
It's final: Texas has a new law that will allow students to graduate from high school by passing three end-of-course exams, instead of five. This is the second time in just a few years that Texas has rolled back graduation requirements.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the measure May 11, according to the Dallas Morning News. The measure got strong support in the Texas legislature.
The new law, Senate Bill 149, takes effect with this year's graduating class, allowing an estimated 28,000 high school seniors to graduate who otherwise might have been denied diplomas.
In addition to passing three of the five end-of-course tests, students will have to pass their core classes. Those who can't pass the three tests can still get diplomas by demonstrating in other ways that they've mastered the required skills. A school-based "graduation committee" made up of teachers, parents, and administrators will decide such cases.
Vol. 34, Issue 31, Pages 8, 20Published in Print: May 20, 2015, as Blogs