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Education Lab Blog

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

Topic: common core

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January 28, 2015 at 5:00 AM

End-of-course biology exam may go, but tougher standards loom

Corrected version

As Washington schools begin integrating rigorous Common Core standards into their classrooms, the state Board of Education has made several decisions about new tests tied to those standards, and what will happen to existing state exams.

First: They want to abolish the current end-of-course exam in biology, generally taken by 10th graders.

The thinking here is that focusing on biology undermines broader coursework in science-technology-engineering-and-math (the so-called STEM courses). The board voted unanimously on this decision, but it requires approval from the state Legislature — which is pretty busy with other things, like school funding. Sorry, Class of 2015, most likely you’ll still have to pass that test to graduate.

Looking ahead: Passing scores on the much-feared Smarter Balanced Assessment — the new tests based on Common Core standards — have been set.

But those exams, which will be given statewide for the first time this spring, won’t affect graduation — not this year.  The board will determine graduation cut-off scores in August, and those will affect the Class of 2019, this fall’s incoming ninth graders. Initially, the graduation bar will be lower than the passing score, giving teachers and students time to ramp up.


Comments | More in News | Topics: biology end-of-course, common core, State Board of Education

January 27, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Key Democratic committee condemns Common Core

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

The governing body of the Washington State Democratic Party voted to condemn the educational benchmarks known as the Common Core at a party meeting in Olympia on Saturday, saying private and corporate interests pushed the reading and math standards without evidence they will improve student learning.

A resolution, adopted by the party’s Central Committee, asks state lawmakers and schools chief Randy Dorn to revoke the standards, which Washington — like most states — adopted in 2011.

David Spring, a leader in the party’s progressive caucus and a precinct committee officer from North Bend, announced the resolution on a website he and two other teachers created to publicize their viewpoints.


Comments | More in News | Topics: common core, David Spring, Olympia Watch

November 20, 2014 at 5:00 AM

What’s new about Common Core tests? See for yourself

The room fell silent as heads bowed over test booklets.

I flipped to the first page and all the familiar anxieties flooded back. Will I have enough time? Will I second guess what I know is the right answer?

Relax, I told myself. I wasn’t in the school cafeteria sweating over a blue book, I was in a room of reporters, learning about the differences between old exams like the ones we took in middle school and a new set of exams aligned to the Common Core, which testing experts say measure a deeper level of thinking than ever before. The session was part of a conference on testing put on by the Education Writers Association, which Seattle Times reporter John Higgins and I attended this week.

We answered sample questions from a few different tests, including one from an old fourth-grade reading exam from an unidentified state, and another from the Smarter Balanced test, one of the two new tests based on Common Core learning standards. Roughly 20 states are starting to use Smarter Balanced, including Washington. (And you can do a little of the same, in the quiz at the end of this post.)


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

November 18, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Education writers to test the tests — send us your questions on student assessment

Ever wonder how much you remember from your 11th grade math class?

Or how today’s standardized tests differ from the bubble sheets you filled out in middle school?

What about how teachers can explain complex ideas again and again in different ways until eventually, the concept sticks with a student?

These questions and more are behind a conference put on by the Education Writers Association, where fellow Seattle Times education reporter John Higgins and I will hear from experts on learning and testing over the next two days — and get to try out a few exam questions ourselves.


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

November 6, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Students performing their own stories find relevance in school

Students from Scriber Lake High School will perform their own stories in "Behind Closed Doors."

Students from Scriber Lake High School will perform their own stories in “Behind Closed Doors.”

In the search for ways to make schoolwork relevant to students, Marjie Bowker, who teaches English at Edmonds’ Scriber Lake High School, may have hit the jackpot.

Her students — many of them credit-deficient, involved in gangs or otherwise difficult to reach — are now clamoring to participate in Bowker’s “Write to Right” program.

The curriculum, which Bowker created with memoirist Ingrid Ricks after reading her book “Hippie Boy,” teaches ninth graders how to excavate their personal stories, structure them for publication and perform these works for the public. On Friday, at 1 p.m., they will present “Behind Closed Doors: Stories from the Inside Out” at the Seattle Public Theater, located in Bathhouse Theater on Green Lake.

Much of the work covers tough material, including struggles with sexual identity, addiction, self-harm, depression, assault and parents in prison.

“These are edgy stories, as edgy as it gets,” said Bowker, who was searching for a way to teach Common Core standards — in this case, nonfiction narrative — to students who’d previously found little about school that interested them.


Comments | More in News | Topics: common core, Scriber Lake High

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

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