Common Core Watch

On the campaign trail, Senator Ted Cruz reliably wins applause with a call to "repeal every word of Common Core." It's a promise he will be hard-pressed to keep should he find himself in the White House next January. Aside from the bizarre impracticality of that comment as phrased (which words shall we repeal first? "Phonics"? "Multiplication"? Or "Gettysburg Address"?), the endlessly debated, frequently pilloried standards are now a deeply entrenched feature of America's K–12 education landscape—love 'em or hate 'em.

Common Core has achieved "phenomenal success in statehouses across the country," notes Education Next. In a study published last month, the periodical found that "thirty-six states strengthened their proficiency standards between 2013 and 2015, while just five states weakened them." That's almost entirely a function of Common Core. 

Education Next began grading individual states’ standards in 1995, comparing the extent to which their state tests' definition of proficiency aligned with the gold-standard National Assessment of Educational Progress assessment (often referred to as "the nation's report card”). That year, six states received an A grade. As recently as four years ago, only Massachusetts earned that distinction. Today, nearly half of all states, including the District of Columbia, have earned A ratings....

Editor's note: This post was first published on Flypaper on April 27, 2015.

This is the second in a series of Eduwatch 2016 posts that will chronicle presidential candidates’ stances on today’s biggest education issues. Last week’s inaugural post revealed Hillary Clinton’s views on everything from Common Core to charter schools. Next up is the junior senator from the Sunshine State, Marco Rubio.

Rubio’s been active in his role as a legislator, especially when it comes to school choice. In 2013, for example, he introduced the Educational Opportunities Act—a bill designed to support choice through tax credits—and co-sponsored a bill that would allow billions of Title I dollars to follow kids to whichever school they attend. But those are just pieces of senatorial legislation, and unsuccessful ones at that. Rubio’s dreaming bigger; he wants to jump from lawmaker to leader of the free world, which means a whole lot of talking between now and November 2016. So let’s see what he’s had to say about education:

1. The Department of Education: “If I was president of the United States,...

Editor's note: This post was first published on Flypaper on April 29, 2015.

This is the third installment in our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling the declared presidential candidates’ stances on today’s biggest education issues. I began with editions for Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio. Next up is Ted Cruz, the junior U.S. senator from Texas.

With a midnight tweet on Monday, March 23, Cruz was the first to officially announce his candidacy. He followed that up a few hours later with a half-hour speech at Liberty University. His campaign has emphasized “restoring” America, which includes education. Here’s what he’s said:

1. Education as a foundation: “Education is foundational to every other challenge you've got. If you're looking at issues of crime or poverty or healthcare, if you have education, if you get the foundation of an education, all of those problems by and large can take care of themselves.” March 2014.

2. The Department of Education: “We...

Editor's note: This post was first published on Flypaper on July 21, 2015.

John Kasich announced today that he’s running for president. The current governor of Ohio is the sixteenth Republican to join the crowded GOP primary, dwarfing the five-person field on the other side of the aisle. He’s also the twenty-first subject of our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Kasich entered politics in the late 1970s, when he was elected to the Ohio Senate. He moved on to the House of Representatives in 1983, representing the state’s Twelfth Congressional District until 2001. After taking a break from public life, he returned to take Ohio’s helm in 2011. During his time as the state’s sixty-ninth governor, Kasich has made education a priority, and his efforts have produced some positive results. Here’s a sampling of his views:

1. Common Core: “[The idea behind the standards was for] students in every state to be given the opportunity to compete with every other student….I want kids to jump higher….I’m going to make sure, at least in my state, that standards are high and local control is maintained….Now, some may call that Common Core. I...

Editor's note: This post was first published on Flypaper on May 5, 2015.

Ben Carson announced yesterday that he’s running for president. The retired neurosurgeon has never held political office, but he was the first doctor to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head—so there’s that. He’s also the fifth subject in the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling candidates’ stances on education.

Since his highly publicized speech at the 2013 National Prayer breakfast, Carson has become a popular figure among conservatives. This has afforded him many opportunities to share his views, and education is one of his favorite issues:

1. The importance of education: “Education is the fundamental principle of what makes America a success. It is the foundation of what truly makes our country ‘the Land of Opportunity.’” May 2015.

2. Common Core: “In recent years,...

A new Harvard University study examines the link between Common Core implementation efforts and changes in student achievement.

Analysts surveyed randomly selected teachers of grades 4–8 (about 1,600 in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Nevada), asking them a number of questions about professional development they’ve received, materials they’ve used, teaching strategies they’ve employed, and more. Analysts used those responses to create twelve composite indices of various facets of Common Core implementation (such as “principal is leading CCSS implementation”) to analyze the link between each index and students’ performance on the Common Core-aligned assessments PARCC and SBAC. In other words, they sought to link teacher survey responses to their students’ test scores on the 2014–15 PARCC and SBAC assessments, while also controlling for students’ baseline scores and characteristics (along with those of their classroom peers) and teachers’ value-added scores in the prior school year.

The bottom line is that this correlational study finds more statistically significant relationships for math than for English. Specifically, three indices were related to student achievement in math: the frequency and specificity of feedback from classroom observations, the number of days of professional development, and the inclusion of student performance on CCSS-aligned assessments in teacher evaluations....

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of blog posts taking a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The first three posts can be read herehere, and here.

It’s historically been one of the most common complaints about state tests: They are of low quality and rely almost entirely on multiple choice items. 

It’s true that item quality has sometimes been a proxy, like it or not, for test quality. Yet there is nothing magical about item quality if the test item itself is poorly designed. Multiple choice items can be entirely appropriate to assess certain constructs and reflect the requisite rigor. Or they can be junk. The same can be said of constructed response items, where students are required to provide an answer rather than choose it from a list of possibilities. Designed well, constructed response items can suitably evaluate what students know and are able to do. Designed poorly, they are a waste of time.

Many assessment experts will tell you that one of the best ways to assess the skills, knowledge, and competencies that we expect students to demonstrate is through...

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of blog posts that will take a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The first two posts can be read here and here.

The ELA/literacy panels were led by Charles Perfetti (distinguished professor of psychology and director and senior scientist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center) and Lynne Olmos (a seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-grade teacher from the Mossyrock School District in Washington State). The math panels were led by Roger Howe (professor of mathematics at Yale University) and Melisa Howey (a K–6 math coordinator in East Hartford, Connecticut).

Here’s what they had to say about the study.

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Which of the findings or takeaways do you think will be most useful to states and policy makers?

CP: The big news is that better assessments for reading and language arts are here, and we can expect further improvements. Important for states is that, whatever they decide about adoption of Common Core State Standards, they will have access to better assessments that will be consistent with their goals of improving reading and language arts education....

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of blog posts that will take a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The first post can be read here

Few policy issues over the past several years have been as contentious as the rollout of new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). What began with more than forty states working together to develop the next generation of assessments has devolved into a political mess. Fewer than thirty states remain in one of the two federally funded consortia (PARCC and Smarter Balanced), and that number continues to dwindle. Nevertheless, millions of children have begun taking new tests—either those developed by the consortia, ACT (Aspire), or state-specific assessments constructed to measure student performance against the CCSS, or other college- and career-ready standards.

A key hope for these new tests was that they would overcome the weaknesses of the previous generation of state assessments. Among those weaknesses were poor alignment with the standards they were designed to assess and low overall levels of cognitive demand (i.e., most items required simple recall or...

A decade ago, U.S. education policies were a mess. It was the classic problem of good intentions gone awry.

At the core of the good idea was the commonsense insight that if we want better and more equitable results from our education system, we should set clear expectations for student learning, measure whether our kids are meeting those expectations, and hold schools accountable for their outcomes (mainly gauged in terms of academic achievement).

And sure enough, under the No Child Left Behind law, every state in the land mustered academic standards in (at least) reading and math, annual tests in grades 3–8, and some sort of accountability system for their public schools.

Unfortunately, those standards were mostly vague, shoddy, or misguided; the tests were simplistic and their “proficiency” bar set too low. The accountability systems encouraged all manner of dubious practices, such as focusing teacher effort on a small subset of students at risk of failing the exams rather than advancing every child’s learning.

What a difference a decade makes. To be sure, some rooms in the education policy edifice remain in disarray. But thanks to the hard work and political courage of the states, finally abetted by some...

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