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Education Lab Blog

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

Topic: common core

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October 16, 2014 at 5:00 AM

School chiefs concede: Too much testing crowds out learning

As in politics, education-speak generates incessant reading of the tea leaves. So Wednesday’s statement from state education chiefs calling for more “rationality, coherence and purpose” in student testing sounded, possibly, like an admission that those things are lacking.

In New York, for example, State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. said testing “sometimes even crowds out time for student learning.”

That’s about as blunt as state school officials get. Even U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan took up their call: “In some places, tests  and preparation for them  are dominating the calendar and culture of schools,” he said.

Whoa. Are the backers of Common Core State Standards (and the tests that come with them) waving a white flag? Extending an olive branch to teachers and parents who have pushed back with increasing vigor against standardized testing?


Comments | More in News | Topics: Arne Duncan, common core, standardized testing

October 7, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Common Core tests now a ticket out of college remedial classes

A new agreement among the state’s public colleges will raise the value of a couple of Washington’s high-school exams.

The new math and reading exams, which are called Smarter Balanced and will be given to all Washington 11th-graders this spring, will factor not just into whether students graduate, but whether they need to take remedial classes in college.

The new tests are designed to measure whether 11th graders are on track to meeting the new Common Core state standards  a set of learning goals that most states are starting to use. Students who score at the top two levels will be placed directly into college-level math and English when they enter any Washington public two- or four-year college.


Comments | More in News | Topics: common core, higher ed, Smarter Balanced

August 27, 2014 at 10:56 AM

State test results for 2014: Some ups and downs

Update at 3:30 p.m.:  For a fuller story, see the Associated Press coverage here.

Original post:  Results from this year’s state tests showed ups and downs, in the last year that most students will take them, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction reported Wednesday.

Next year, the state will switch to a set of exams called Smarter Balanced, which are tied to the new Common Core learning standards. Most states have agreed to use the Common Core, replacing a system in which each state has its own learning goals for each grade and subject.


Comments | More in News | Topics: common core, OSPI, test scores

July 16, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Common Core in Wash. schools: tougher testing on the horizon

common core blog graphic

Screen shot from the New America report

So here we are, about to plunge into the era of Common Core, that much-debated matrix of standards outlining what students must know when they leave high school. And what happens if they don’t.

That last aspect – exit exams – is the focus of an exhaustive report released Tuesday by New America, a public policy think tank, which marshals powerful evidence against using standardized tests as a requirement for graduation. Research shows that these graduation benchmarks have done little to improve overall student achievement, while increasing dropout rates – particularly among black and Hispanic students, the report says.


Comments | More in News | Topics: common core

June 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

New course can help vault students into college-level math

Photo by Eric Jacobs for The Seattle Times 2006

Photo by Eric Jacobs for The Seattle Times

One of the most vexing problems for community colleges is the number of first-year students whose math scores don’t measure up.

About half of all students who graduate from Washington high schools and immediately enter community college require remedial math  usually called “developmental math”  before they can begin fulfilling their college-level math requirements.

This fall, though, 11 school districts are piloting a new math class for high-school seniors who have struggled with the subject. Under an agreement with the state’s public colleges, students who get at least a B in the class, called “Bridge to College Mathematics,” will be admitted into college-level math, said Bill Moore, who is overseeing the project for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

The course is being developed in cooperation with the SBCTC, the state’s four-year public colleges and with high-school math teachers, Moore said. Several Seattle public high schools are part of the pilot.


Comments | More in News | Topics: common core, math

June 12, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Gates backs delay in assessing teachers with Common Core tests

A California judge’s decision on Tuesday to throw out some of that state’s teacher tenure and seniority laws seemed to overshadow another piece of interesting news:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it supports a two-year delay in using the new Common Core tests to evaluate teachers, or to decide whether students should advance to the next grade.

Here’s the Washington Post story on the announcement, which has a link to a letter sent out by Vicki Phillips, the foundation’s director of education.

The foundation isn’t backing away from its strong support of the Common Core, a set of learning standards in reading and math that most states have agreed to use. In her letter, Phillips calls the Common Core “an urgent cause.”

But she also said the foundation has heard from teachers who worry that a rushed effort to use Common Core assessments in teacher evaluations “could punish teachers as they’re trying new things, and any hiccups in the assessments could be seen as flaws in the standards.”


Comments | More in News | Topics: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, common core, Vicki Phillips

April 29, 2014 at 3:41 PM

Poll: Will you opt your child out of Common Core testing?

Illustration by Boo Davis / The Seattle Times

Illustration by Boo Davis / The Seattle Times

This spring, thousands of students across Washington are testing out the new Common Core exams. Common Core is a set of federal standards that stipulate what students should learn at each grade level.

Next year, the official Common Core tests will officially be administered throughout the state.

In the Tri-Cities area, where 30 schools are participating in this year’s trial run, some teachers are encouraging parents to opt out of the tests, saying the field tests “are putting an unnecessary burden on students, who sometimes break down in the classroom because of the stress.”


Comments | More in Poll, Your voices | Topics: common core

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.


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.


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.


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

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