Boys are catching up in reading

Girls do better than boys at reading, especially as they get older, but the gap is narrowing, writes Tom Loveless in the 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education.

It’s not just the U.S. “Across the globe, in countries with different educational systems, different popular cultures, different child rearing practices, and different conceptions of gender roles,” girls read better than boys, writes Loveless. 

However, gender gaps are closing, he writes. “On an international assessment of adults conducted in 2012, reading scores for men and women were statistically indistinguishable up to age 35.” After that age, men had higher scores in reading.

Still, women are much more likely than men to be avid readers.  Of those who said they read a book a week, 59 percent were women and 41 percent were men. By age 55, the ratio was 63 percent to 37 percent. “Two-thirds of respondents who said they never read books were men,” notes Loveless.

The report also found that fourth grade reading scores improved more in states with strong implementation of Common Core standards than in non-Core states. Last year’s report found an edge in eighth-grade math for strong Core states. However, the differences are quite small and may be due to other factors.

Opting out gets press — or is it hype?

Grassroots resistance to Common Core tests — the  “opt out” movement — is getting more press than it deserves, argues Alexander Russo in Columbia Journalism Review.

. . . much of the media’s coverage of this spring’s Common Core testing rollout has been guilty of over-emphasizing the extent of the conflict, speculating dire consequences based on little information, and over-relying on anecdotes and activists’ claims rather than digging for a broader sampling of verified numbers. The real story—that the rollout of these new, more challenging tests is proceeding surprisingly well—could be getting lost.

He hits John Merrow’s PBS NewsHour report on resistance to Core-aligned exams in New Jersey and elsewhere.

Merrow responds here.

A look at Eureka’s Core math exercises

In Old math vs. Common Core math: See how it’s done, the Times-Picayune shows how Louisiana teachers are using Eureka math to teach to Common Core standards.

Eureka includes problem-solving “sprints” (students solve as many math problems as possible within a certain time) and fluency-building activities where they clap their hands and stomp their feet to count by fives, 10s, etc.

Will new tests live up to the hype?

Muslim Alkurdi, 18, of Albuquerque High School, joins hundreds of classmates in Albuquerque, N.M, Monday, March 2, 2015, as students staged a walkout to protest a new standardized test they say isn't an accurate measurement of their education. Students frustrated over the new exam walked out of schools across the state Monday in protest as the new exam was being given. The backlash came as millions of U.S. students start taking more rigorous exams aligned with Common Core standards.

Muslim Alkurdi, 18, of Albuquerque High School, joins hundreds of classmates, as students staged a walkout to protest a new exams.

In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan promised teachers that Common Core-aligned Assessments 2.0 would be the tests they had “longed for.”

Millions of students are taking those new tests this spring, writes Emmanuel Felton on the Hechinger Report. Enthusiasm for the new tests has waned.

The federal government put $360 million into the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which developed Core-aligned tests.

This spring, of the original 26 states that signed up for PARCC, just 11 plus Washington, D.C. are giving the test. Of the original 31 signed up for Smarter Balanced, only 18 are still on board. (In the early years, some states were members of both coalitions.) Several of the states will give the PARCC or Smarter Balanced test for one year only, before switching to their own state-based exams next year. Another Common Core exam, known as Aspire, produced by ACT, has stolen away some states from the federally sponsored groups; this spring students in South Carolina and Alabama will take that test.

On the old state tests, only 2 percent of math questions and 21 percent of English questions assessed “higher-order skills,” such as abstract thinking and the ability to draw inferences, concluded a 2012 RAND study of 17 state tests.

Two-thirds of PARCC and SBAC questions call for higher-order skills, according to a 2013 analysis by the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing.

“In the old tests a student would just get a vocabulary word by itself and would be asked to find a synonym,” said Andrew Latham, director of Assessment & Standards Development Services at WestEd, a nonprofit that worked with Smarter Balanced and PARCC on the new tests. “Now you will get that word in a sentence. Students will have to read the sentence and be able to find the right answers through context clues.”

The new tests require students to answer open-ended questions, which takes more time.  Smarter Balanced will take eight and a half hours, while some PARCC tests will take over ten hours.

Duncan had promised teachers would get quick feedback from the new tests, but it takes time to grade students’ writing. The only way to get fast feedback is to use robo-graders instead of humans.

What if Core scores go down and stay down?

Test scores will drop in Common Core states this year, writes Eduwonk. It’s a harder and unfamiliar test. Reasonable people get that.

The risk for Common Core will come in a few years, if scores remain low, he writes.

A lot of places are “adopting” Common Core but without really doing the instructional shifts or big changes in classroom practice to up the bar for teaching and learning.

. . . in a few years when more ambitious standards collide with inadequate capacity and classroom practice and scores haven’t, overall, moved upwards a lot is when the political bill could come due. Common Core will be declared another “failed” reform idea and something else will come along.  In fact, what Common Core will have in common with a lot of prior reform efforts is a diluted implementation, inadequate support, and half-measures.

Something else is likely to be “a lot more choice,” predicts Eduwonk.

Colleges not ready for ‘college ready’ Core grads

Students who pass Common Core-aligned tests in high school could end up in remedial college classes, writes Allie Grasgreen on Politico.

The new standards are supposed to represent “the knowledge and skills necessary for students to be college- and career-ready.” But most university systems won’t use Common Core proficiency to decide who’s placed in college-level courses.

State universities in California and Washington plan to use students’ test scores to guide college placement, writes Grasgreen. Colorado and Ohio are moving in that direction. But most universities are holding back. They’re not sure what “proficient” will mean.

If a book says it’s Core-aligned, is it really?

EdReports.org, a non-profit that aims to be the“Consumer Reports” for Common Core finds learning materials, isn’t impressed with allegedly “Core-aligned” math materials, reports the Washington Post.

Angie Todd uses Eureka Math to teach kindergarteners about place values in Pinesville, Louisiana. Photo: Tia Owens-Powers Town Talk

Angie Todd uses Eureka Math materials to teach kindergarteners about place values in Pinesville, Louisiana. Photo: Tia Owens-Powers, Town Talk

Out of 20 sets of K-8 math materials in widespread use, only one series — Eureka Math — was aligned with the Common Core for all grade levels, the report concluded. Teachers and math experts analyzed the texts.

Next will be English Language Arts and high school materials.

Educators need “a trusted resource for rigorous, independent and public reviews of the alignment and usability of classroom curricula,” said Eric Hirsch, EdReports.org’s executive director.

“Several recent analyses have found that while many academic publishers slap a “Common Core aligned” label on their books and teaching materials, few actually follow the new standards, notes the Post.

Eureka was created by a nonprofit called Great Minds, which won a contract with the New York Education Department to develop Eureka/Engage New York math. Education departments in Louisiana and Tennessee have praised Eureka/Engage NY, reports Jessica Williams in the Times-Picayune.

Great Minds, which had to change its name from “Common Core” to avoid confusion with the standards, developed its English Language Arts and math curricula for Core classrooms. Eureka is not an update. It’s new.

20 states raise proficiency standards

Twenty states strengthened their student proficiency standards from 2011 to 2013, while eight states weakened standards, according to a study in Education Next.

All the states showing strong improvements have adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the authors note.

There remains a 30-point differential between the percentage of students defined as “proficient” by the average state and the percentage of students considered proficient by NAEP.

In many states, taxpayers have been funding tests that are a “weapon of mass deception,” writes Matthew Ladner. “Regardless of where you stand on the Common Core project, and we’ve beat the horse into hamburger on it here, state tests with the approximate rigor of a My Little Pony coloring book — look Mommy I colored this unicorn blue-I’m PROFICIENT!!! — deserve no one’s support.”

Saying no to tests — and to the Core

Opt Out Tonight on PBS Newshour, John Merrow reports on the Opt Out Movement.

Fifteen million students are taking — or refusing to take — the first round of Common Core-aligned tests this month. What happens to the new standards if too many students opt out?

Teachers of the year on Core teaching

The National Network of State Teachers of the Year has released 12 videos of “teachers of the year” discussing how Common Core standards have affected their classrooms.

Here’s Jane Schmidt, Iowa teacher of the year in 2014: