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Lots of education news swirling around out there, so here are a few stories to keep you up to date as you enjoy your midday meal.

First, the great reporters over at WUNC have a few really interesting education stories up this week.

Dave DeWitt demystifies the complicated EVAAS system for evaluating North Carolina’s teachers, which some say is a big fat secret in terms of how it truly measures whether or not a teacher is doing a good job.

DeWitt also has a story today about all of the various teacher pay proposals on the table – and why merit pay plans may not work.

And WUNC’s Reema Khrais has fact-checked seven claims about the Common Core State Standards. See what she found here.

Kansas is having a rough week. Lawmakers took a page out of North Carolina’s book and decided enact a series of education reforms, including:

• Foster school choice by allowing corporations to receive tax credits for contributions to scholarship funds so children with special needs or who come from low-income households could attend private school.

• Make it easier to fire teachers by eliminating their due-process rights.

• Relax teacher licensing when hiring instructors with professional experience in areas including math, science, finance and technical education.

In Texas, a school teacher was suspended for being transgender.

And to end on a happier note, a couple of Guilford County Schools ranked pretty high in school rankings released by The Washington Post. Penn-Griffin School for the Arts made it into the top 100, and Grimsely High wasn’t far behind at 128.

Earlier this week Indiana’s governor signed a law opting out of the Common Core State Standards. As NC Policy Watch’s Lindsay Wagner noted, Indiana – one of the very first state’s to adopt the standards – had just become the first to pull out.

Today ThinkProgress reports that the committee appointed to draft new standards for Indiana is close to embracing some of the very same guidelines they earlier rejected:

‘A ThinkProgress comparison of the education guidelines reveals numerous instances where the draft Indiana standards are copied word-for-word from the Common Core.

For instance, both sets of 12th grade standards seek to “Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics” and “Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.” Numerous similarities exist at other grade levels as well:
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State education officials admit that the Indiana guidelines are modeled on “several sets of previous expectations, including the Common Core,” potentially undermining opponents’ claim that the standards themselves are inappropriate. Instead, the drafting process seems to imply that concerns about the federal guidelines are more political in nature.’

For an in-depth look at how the Common Core is being received in North Carolina, be sure to read Wagner’s piece: Dissatisfaction with Common Core State Standards crosses political lines.

The committee charged with reviewing the CCSS in our state will make their final recommendations to North Carolina’s General Assembly by April 25th.

People_16_Teacher_BlackboardThere are no doubt many legitimate criticisms of the national education initiative known as “Common Core.” Progressive historian Diane Ravitch has put forth many of them. But as an editorial this morning’s Greensboro News & Record aptly notes, the recent critiques offered at the General Assembly by the tin foil hat crowd and egged on by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest are mostly absurd and a testament to the pernicious influence of the far right conspiracy kook movement:

“There may be some valid reasons to worry about the Common Core academic standards. Communism, pornography, social engineering, sex education and the Muslim Brotherhood are not among them. Yet, those were among the horrors cited at a legislative research committee hearing in Raleigh last week.

That people believe such nonsense demonstrates the power of disinformation campaigns aimed at derailing an honest effort to raise the level of instruction in our public schools.

The initiative wasn’t even begun by President Barack Obama, as many of its critics think. It was devised by the National Governors Association to introduce greater consistency across the country. One of its strongest proponents is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016. North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory also endorses Common Core….”

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.

North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction has been warning the public for weeks that student performance on standardized tests this year will be dramatically lower than in years past, reflecting the state’s move to align with the more rigorous Common Core standards as well as other college and career readiness standards in all subject areas.

Only 32 percent of students in grades 3-8 were proficient in reading and mathematics in 2012-13 — that’s almost a 27 percent drop from 2011-12, when 58.9 percent of students were proficient. The overall composite proficiency score for all state tests is 44.7 percent, down from 77.9 percent in 2011-12, a 33 percent drop.

The executive summary of the scores can be read here.

“Today we expect student mastery that demonstrates students are on their way to being career and college ready,” said State Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson, who explained that as a result of the higher standards, 2012-13 should be regarded as a transitional year and comparisons to previous years cannot be made.
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The State Board of Education convened for its monthly meeting today in Cullowhee, where members decided they will release 2012-13 test scores without adjusting them to reflect last year’s new rigorous standards.

Last year was the first in which students were subject to curricula and exams based on the state’s revised Standard Course of Study, which incorporates more rigorous learning goals. Academic achievement standards, or “cut scores,” are the scores that determine whether or not a student’s performance on End-of-Grade tests is considered passing.

Statewide, test scores for 2012-13 were significantly lower than in years past, which was expected and typical when states introduce tougher educational standards.

Board members considered implementing transitional cut scores for 2012-13 that would have allowed a phase-in of expectations for more rigorous standards. Today members decided against doing that.

Educators and board members are worried that the message sent to parents and students will be that schools are not doing a good job of educating their students. At September’s meeting, board member and vice chairman A.L. Buddy Collins said that the new, raw cut scores “will be a tremendous blow to our teachers.”

Based on NC Department of Public Instruction analyses, schools and parents will see drops as high as 30 to 40 percentage points in terms of the percentage of students scoring proficient or above.

“North Carolina students didn’t lose ground in their learning last year, but they are being measured against a higher standard with more rigorous expectations for applying knowledge and skills to real-world problems,” said State Superintendent Atkinson. “In order for our students to be competitive upon graduation, we have an obligation to expect more from them.”

Local and school district scores will be released Nov. 7 at next month’s Board meeting. For a look at the statewide impact of the standards, click here.