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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: common core

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April 3, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Cheating on standardized tests? State to keep closer watch

When Washington state switches to the new, Common Core tests in spring 2015, it will, for the first time, do the kind of post-test analyses that many experts recommend to detect any cheating, like the problems that have cropped up in Georgia and a number of other states.

On Wednesday, the Inspector General’s office at the U.S. Department of Education joined those urging all states to do such analyses, saying neglecting them would be a “missed opportunity to detect and prevent cheating.”

That recommendation was part of an audit of test security in five states:  Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina and Texas. Here’s a report from Politico, and the full audit can be found here.

While Washington was not one of the states studied, it has been one of a declining number that don’t routinely do any post-test forensic analysis, such as looking for suspicious erasure patterns on answer sheets.

But that’s about to change, a spokesman for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said Wednesday.  When Washington starts using the new Common Core tests, he said, the state will also do forensic analyses that could detect potential problems at the state, district and school levels.

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0 Comments | More in News | Topics: cheating, common core, standardized tests

March 3, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Not ready for college: Will Common Core help?

One of the most well-known obstacles to college completion in Washington is a lack of preparation, particularly in math. A new state council says a fix to the problem is coming soon. But one group of researchers warns that the state’s solution is a risky one that is generating controversy elsewhere.

First, some background: A high percentage of Washington’s high-school graduates fail to meet college standards for math and writing skills, deficiencies that are revealed when they take college placement tests. This is an especially common problem in community colleges, where more than 50 percent of incoming students require pre-college math classes — or developmental math — before they can advance to college-level math. And educators know that being assigned to developmental classes raise the risk that a student will drop out without ever finishing a degree.

Most educators agree that the problem ought to be fixed in high school, by making sure students are college-ready before they graduate. And one of the ways to do this is to test student skill levels in 11th grade, then use 12th grade for catch-up classes if needed.

The Washington Student Achievement Council, a new state agency that makes policy recommendations on higher education, embraces the idea of testing 11th graders, and using the senior year of high school to correct any deficiencies. The council believes the fix is already on its way; 11th grade tests are a part of the new Common Core academic standards, which are designed to prepare students for college or a job by the time they graduate from high school.

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0 Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: common core, higher ed, Washington Student Achievement Council

December 12, 2013 at 4:03 PM

Guest: Common Core offers promising alternative to letter grades

Joan Tornow

Joan Tornow

As we adapt to the Common Core, our traditional grading system of A-F is on the chopping block, and rightfully so. This system, grading on a curve, has tended to perpetuate the status quo.

Because of socioeconomic factors, students with access to fewer educational resources have made lower grades, and students with greater access to educational resources have made higher grades. There are numerous exceptions, but this method has not championed equal opportunity and upward mobility — at least not in accordance with the American dream we tout.

A bell curve on a graph describes random variations in naturally occurring outcomes. But education is not a random undertaking, so critics have rightfully begun to question whether a grading curve is appropriate. In other intentional efforts — such as building a bridge or removing an appendix — we do not expect or tolerate a bell curve. If a bridge collapses into a river, or a patient dies from surgery, we do not chalk it up to a bell curve. Rather, we examine the situation to determine what went wrong and how we can prevent future calamities.

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0 Comments | More in Guest opinion | Topics: assessment, common core, guest opinion

October 28, 2013 at 2:40 PM

Editorial calls for better understanding on Common Core

Paul Tong / Op Art

Paul Tong / Op Art

It’s time for the public to do its homework on Common Core.

That’s the argument made by The Times’ editorial board in Sunday’s paper. Citing a Gallup poll that found two in three Americans had never heard of the new national standards, the editorial argues that a lack of understanding is contributing to unfair scrutiny surrounding the program, which is expected to be implemented locally next fall.

The board writes:

Parents need a firm understanding about what Common Core is and what it is not. Otherwise critics will distort it.

Political conservatives are already making mischief by casting Common Core as a federal intrusion upon local control of schools. Nice try, but the Obama Administration did not play a role in creating Common Core, which grew out of a bipartisan effort by state governors and education leaders to raise academic standards nationwide.

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0 Comments | More in Opinion | Topics: common core, standards