STEM Beats - STEM & the states

Time to Stand Firm on High Cut Scores

August 8, 2013

A higher bar is exactly that — a higher hurdle to overcome. Yesterday, New York announced the results of its latest round of state testing, the first measuring students against a higher, Common Core-aligned test, and perhaps unsurprisingly, fewer students were able to clear the new bar. Statewide, only 31 percent of students were considered proficient in math; last year, it was 65 percent. In New York City, the largest district, just 30 percent were proficient, down from 60 percent last year and a high of 82 (under a different test) in 2009. 

Many — including the state commissioner of education, John King — have already stressed that the new tests are only a baseline. That fact, however, needs to be reiterated. This test was Common Core-aligned, which is what students will be learning in New York from here on out, but it will only be in place for a few years. In the 2014-2015 school year, New York will begin administering the PARCC exam, along with 20 other states. Many other states will be administering the Smarter-Balanced test, a similar exam. These new tests are more rigorous, aligned to the Common Core, better equipped to measure actual learning — and more expensive. A few states, like Georgia, Alabama, and Oklahoma, have already dropped out, citing costs. Other states, like Kentucky, are wavering. 

Thus, the scores out of New York can easily be used by sabre-rattlers worried about the effects of implementing Common Core. But what the scores actually show is a clearer picture of achievement. It's not a pretty picture — the performance gaps between white and Asian and black and Hispanic students were certainly troubling — but it's a far more accurate diagnosis. The first step in solving a problem is defining a problem. More stringent tests and cut scores allow us to do just that. These tests, and these scores, help us better understand students' learning, and will help us better educate students going forward. 

Tags: standards, Common Core, STEM & the states

GUEST BLOG: The critical next step for the Common Core

June 18, 2013

The forty plus states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have committed to an agenda to prepare all students for success after graduation whether in college or careers.  For most of them, the CCSS represent a significant boost from their previous standards.  Consequently, school districts in these states are busy re-examining curriculum, designing lesson plans, field-testing new assessments, adjusting school schedules and providing professional development to educators to help them make the shift to deeper learning experiences for their students aligned to the new, higher standards. 

I should add that this is happening on an incredibly tight deadline: most states are on schedule to begin testing students on the CCSS in 2014-15. So state and local school leaders have a very full plate right now. But there is one critical step that should not get lost in the hustle. Common Core states need graduation requirements that reflect the new college and career-ready demands. If there’s a mismatch, students cannot be assured their diploma will carry them into postsecondary education or good jobs.

My colleagues and I at NSBA’s Center for Public Education and Change the Equation recently looked at current state high school graduation requirements in math in Common Core states to see how well they measure up to the math CCSS. As recommended by the CCSS authors, this would mean math in each year of high school and include Algebra II or courses with similar content.  We found 11 states where graduation aligns with the new demands, and 13 states that are partially aligned. This leaves 22 states that have adopted the college-career ready standards but have not yet defined a standard diploma that will meet them.

Clearly, there is a lot states need to consider before changing graduation requirements, especially for students who are in middle and high school now and may lack the math foundation for success in higher level courses they were not necessarily expected to take.  At the same time, schools still have a responsibility to prepare their current graduates for life after high school.  Fortunately, school districts don’t need to wait for the state. Nothing precludes them from defining graduation requirements beyond those the state has set. 

Indeed, launching a community conversation about the diploma they award could present a good opportunity for engaging parents, students, local businesses and civic leaders in Common Core implementation.  While non-educators may not feel they have much to contribute to curriculum design and professional development plans, the entire community is nonetheless invested in preparing young people for adult life and thus will have a lot to say about what that should mean.

Business leaders can play a particularly important role by making the case to the public why they need better prepared graduates to fill their jobs and contribute to a vibrant local economy.  They can also assist through meaningful partnerships with public schools by sharing resources, serving as mentors to teachers and students, and even running for school board.  

To be sure, this is a heavy lift.  Courses will need to be both higher level and look different from traditional math through the emphasis on application alongside key math concepts. Many students will need extra help to earn a Common Core aligned diploma. The support of the community and businesses will provide the best assurance this critical next step will land on solid ground.

Patte Barth is Director of the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association.

Check out our guest post by Claus von Zastrow over at the Center for Public Education's blog, The Edifier.

* Want to weigh in on Out of Sync? Join experts from both organizations for a Twitter chat today at 1:00 Eastern at @ChangeEquation and @NSBAComm. Follow along using the hashtag #CCSSGradReq.

Tags: Common Core, STEM & the states, standards

Grad requirements out of line with Common Core, CTEq finds

June 12, 2013

We are happy today to announce that, in partnership with the National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education, we took a deep dive how states' graduation requirements line up with Common Core, which 45 states have signed on to adopting. The results of our study show that we still have far to go in deeply integrating Common Core standards into high schools nationwide. Some of our findings include:

  • Only 11 Common Core states have fully aligned graduation requirements and the Common Core. That is fewer than one-quarter of the Common Core states.
  • 13 states have graduation requirements that are partially aligned to Common Core, leaving 22 states whose graduation requirements do not correspond to the Common Core. 
  • While one would expect the trend to be that states are making graduation requirements more rigorous, that is actually the opposite of the trend we are seeing. States like Michigan, Florida, and Texas (which is not part of the Common Core) have recently started rolling back graduation requirements. 

We're currently in an important moment -- we need to put our money where our mouths are when it comes to defining what college- and career-ready standards mean, and how we can use Common Core to strengthen the education of thousands of students. This report is intended to be a first step in allowing states to see where they are and what they may need to do next. We're proud to share it. Check it out, and let us know what you think. 

Tags: standards, Common Core, STEM & the states

Is Common Core "Dumbing Down" American Education? Hardly!

May 30, 2013

Since 45 states adopted new “Common Core” standards for what K-12 students should know and be able to do in math and English, so many spurious or downright fanciful arguments against those standards keep popping up that putting a stop to all of them can feel like playing a game of whack-a-mole. Still, it’s worth taking aim at the most persistent and dubious claims. One such claim is that the new standards will “dumb down” education in this country.

It’s hard to imagine how an idea so totally estranged from reality could ever take hold.

Common Core standards aim to raise the bar for a large majority of American children. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which has long campaigned for high standards, found that the Common Core was more rigorous than standards in 46 states and on par with standards in another five. When the respected non-profit research organization WestEd compared Common Core to Massachusetts standards, which had long been considered among the nation’s best, it concluded that Common Core “tend[s] to include a slightly higher percentage of standards that reflect higher levels of cognitive demand.”

States have been bracing themselves for what will happen when the new standards take effect. We’ve already had a preview in Kentucky, one of only two states that has tested students on Common Core so far. The rate of students deemed proficient fell by some 30 percentage points. Hardly evidence of “dumbing down.” (New York has also tested its students on Common Core content, but the results of those tests aren’t in yet.)

And what were things like before Common Core? The Fordham Institute noted that math standards in most states lacked rigor. What’s more, more than half of states set the bar for passing their state math tests near or below where the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called “the nation’s report card,” sets the bar for merely “Basic” performance. As a result, 47 states reported that most of their 8th graders were “proficient” in math in 2009. Only one state reached that level on NAEP.

On its own, Common Core cannot guarantee that states will hold students to a higher bar. That still depends on the quality of the common tests states are still developing. It also depends on states’ courage in setting a high bar for passing their tests. Otherwise, there will be little way of knowing how many students have truly mastered the standards.

But Common Core has been a critical first step to raising standards. To suggest that they are “dumbing down” the American education system is just plain wrong.

Tags: Common Core, STEM & the states

Are Texas Legislators Messing with Texas?

May 20, 2013

“Don’t mess with Texas!” That message came through loud and clear when Texas declined to join 46 other states in adopting Common Core State Standards in math and English. We all know how fiercely Texans guard their freedom, so the state’s decision came as little surprise.  But why would Texas lawmakers now want to limit that freedom?

It seems that this is just what’s happening. A bill that would prohibit the state from ever adopting Common Core State Standards is racing through the Texas legislature. The bill would even prohibit local school districts from using Common Core standards as a resource. In essence, state lawmakers have decided to limit their own future freedom to choose what’s best for Texas children. They have also chosen to limit the freedom of their own local school districts.

By asserting their freedom not to adopt Common Core standards in the first place, Texas policymakers proved a point supporters of the standards have been making for a long time: The standards are entirely voluntary and not some sort of federal mandate. In fact, the only unreasonable mandate regarding Common Core seems to be coming from the Texas legislature.

So we have to wonder: do Texas lawmakers really want to do something as decidedly ­un-Texan as limiting freedom of choice?

Tags: Common Core, standards, STEM & the states