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K-12 Mandated Test Requirements

The Testing Every (mis)Informer
Blames Common Core For

What Tests are we Talking About?

NCLB and ESEA, as well as the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994 in combination with local State exams results in a battery of tests for students these days.
No Child Left Behind requires that, each state must measure every child's progress in reading and math in each of grades 3 through 8 and at least once during grades 10 through 12.

Each state must meet the requirements of the previous law reauthorizing ESEA (the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994) for assessments in reading and math at three grade spans (3-5; 6-9; and 10-12).

States must also have in place science assessments to be administered at least once during grades 3-5; grades 6-9; and grades 10-12.

Further, states must ensure that districts administer tests of English proficiency--to measure oral language, reading and writing skills in English--to all limited English proficient students (this began in the 2002-2003 year)

Students may still undergo state assessments in other subject areas (i.e., history, geography and writing skills), if and when the state requires it.

None of these requirements have change or altered since 2004

All of these testing requirements are designated by law, except perhaps some of the State testing which this page doesn't go into. You can check your own state requirements as you wish.

Common Core was not even an idea in 2004 and was not complete until 2010.

Common Core has no testing requirements other than a Standard of what the school year finals should cover.... Again, Common Core is a Set Of Standards, and that is all it is.

Other Concerns

Implementing the Common Core State Standards does not require data collection. Standards define expectations for what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. The means of assessing students and the data that result from those assessments are up to the discretion of each state and are separate and unique from the Common Core.

When the Obama administration came into office in 2009, the Common Core standards were in development, and gaining momentum. We set out to support states and districts in changing the conditions that were limiting educational opportunity, and raising standards was a vital part of that.

With governors and state leaders making major progress on standards, we gave them all the support we could, within the bounds of what's appropriate for the limited federal role in education.

Our big competitive reform fund, Race to the Top, awarded points—40 points out of 500—to states that were collaborating to create common college- and career-ready standards.

It was voluntary—we didn't mandate it—but we absolutely encouraged this state-led work because it is good for kids and good for the country.

And at the time, no one knew how many groups of states would come together to create their own set of common standards. It turned out to be one big group of 46—but it could have been several, or even many, groups of states uniting around different sets of standards. So this notion of our pushing for one set of standards was never correct. In fact, we were totally agnostic on the number of state consortia. We just didn't want 50 states to continue to work in complete isolation from each other.

Moreover, there's a huge difference between creating an incentive—which was absolutely the right thing to do—and mandating particular standards—which is never the right thing to do, and we never will do. The states choose their standards; they have been free, and always will be free, to opt for different ones.

Did the points, and the dollars, matter to the states? Absolutely. But it's not the only reason or even the most important reason why states adopted the Common Core. To be clear, total Race to the Top dollars were less than one percent of what we spent on K-12 education every single year.

States signed on to the Common Core because it was the right thing to do. They knew that their children were being cheated and they refused to continue to be a part of it—and for that they deserve our deepest praise and gratitude. In fact, dozens of states that didn't get a nickel of Race to the Top money are committed to those higher standards—and American education will be better because of it.

These standards are under attack now.

The Common Core is Under Attack through Misinformation

Unfortunately, not everyone shares that 11-year-old's enthusiasm. The Common Core has become a rallying cry for fringe groups that claim it is a scheme for the federal government to usurp state and local control of what students learn. An op-ed in the New York Times called the Common Core "a radical curriculum." It is neither radical nor a curriculum.

We need to be very clear about definitions here.

Standards—learning standards, academic standards—are the goals, typically set by states, for what students should know by a certain age.

Curriculum—on the other hand—is what teachers teach to help students meet those standards. Curriculum is generally chosen at the district or even the school level—and in many cases individual teachers actually decide on the curriculum and classroom content.

When the critics can't persuade you that the Common Core is a curriculum, they make even more outlandish claims. They say that the Common Core calls for federal collection of student data. For the record, we are not allowed to, and we won't. And let's not even get into the really wacky stuff: mind control, robots, and biometric brain mapping. This work is interesting, but frankly, not that interesting.

The Washington Post laid out the facts in an editorial I will quote:
"Lost in the hysteria being whipped up about Common Core standards is that the movement to infuse new rigor in schools started at the state level... This sensible and badly needed reform should not be derailed by misguided and misinformed opposition."
Now, I don't think the Common Core is going to get derailed. But this misguided, misinformed opposition is making life more difficult in several states, where various forms of anti-Common Core legislation have been introduced. A lot of that legislation is based on false information.

Some of the hostility to Common Core also comes from critics who conflate standards with curriculum, assessments and accountability. They oppose mandated testing and they oppose using student achievement growth and gain as one of multiple measures to evaluate principals and teachers. They also oppose intervention in chronically low-performing schools. Some seem to feel that poverty is destiny.

It's convenient for opponents to simply write it all off as federal over-reach—but these are separate and distinct issues—and they should be publicly debated openly and honestly with a common understanding about the facts.

That's where you come in.

The Role of Journalists: Telling Truth from Fiction

As you know, good journalism is more than just claim and counter-claim. It's investigating what's true and false, what's a responsible statement and what's not. Many of you have done fine work on that front.

You understand the truth about the role of the federal government with respect to common core standards: We didn't write them, we don't mandate them and we don't regulate them.

That's why leaders on the left and the right—Randi Weingarten and Mitch Daniels; Dennis van Roekel; and Jeb Bush—and so many others—support the Common Core standards, even if they disagree on many other issues.

You also understand that the federal government has nothing to do with curriculum. In fact, we're prohibited by law from creating or mandating curricula.

So do the reporting. Ask the Common Core critics: Please identify a single lesson plan that the federal government created, or requires of any school, teacher, or district.

Ask if they can identify any textbook that the federal government created, endorsed, or required for any school, teacher, or district in their state.

Ask them to identify any element, phrase, or a single word of the Common Core standards that was developed or required by the federal government.

If they tell you that any of these things are happening—challenge them to name names. Challenge them to produce evidence—because they won't find it. It simply doesn't exist.

Responsible Conservative Voices

Many thoughtful, strong conservatives are already speaking the truth and showing real courage. Governor Mike Huckabee recently wrote: "I've heard the argument these standards 'threaten local control' of what's being taught in Oklahoma classrooms. Speaking from one conservative to another, let me assure you this simply is not true... They're not something to be afraid of; indeed they are something to embrace."

Columnist Michael Gerson—President Bush's former speechwriter—wrote recently that if the Common Core "is a conspiracy against limited government, it has somehow managed to recruit governors Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush, current governors Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce." Gerson concluded, "A plot this vast is either diabolical or imaginary."

Imaginary is the right word.

In this change, the state chiefs are in the driver's seat. I have talked with virtually every governor in America—and visited almost every state. I've spent time with every state chief—because I know that when it comes to improving public education—the buck does not stop here in Washington. It stops in Albany, in Lansing, in Tallahassee and in Sacramento. In public education, the buck stops with the states.


That's why you have seen this administration devote so much energy to helping our states succeed—at the same time that we continue to try to work with a dysfunctional Congress. I have great, great respect for the men and women serving in Congress today, but the institution is fundamentally broken.

Congress has let six years go by without fixing No Child Left Behind—and the unintended consequences have been devastating for children and for public education.

Fortunately, through the waiver process, we found a way to minimize the damage, while supporting bold and courageous work in states all across America.

We've set a high bar for states on issues like closing achievement gaps, evaluating principals and teachers, and turning around low-performing schools—but we've given them lots of flexibility in how they get there.

Tight on goals, but loose on means—that's our theory of change. It's the exact opposite of how No Child Left Behind was structured.

But I look forward to a day when we don't have to rely on our waivers to support states in their efforts to improve education. I'm pleased to see that Congress has finally begun the reauthorization process—though I worry that the current effort is plagued by the traditional partisan politics that stymies both innovation and creative solutions.

I would urge and beg members of Congress who care about this issue to spend more time talking with governors and state chiefs on both sides of the aisle about the kind of support they want from Washington—and then work together to develop a bipartisan bill to fix NCLB. That's how we will get to the reality of better educational opportunities at every stage of the education journey—from cradle to career.

We're seeing terrific ideas originating from the states as we work with them on flexibility. To name just a couple of examples:

Kentucky is making moves to focus accountability for high schools on a basket of indicators of college and career readiness, ranging from the ACT to preparedness for military service to industry certificates. No longer are they forced to focus on a single test score.

Similarly, Nevada is looking to multiple measures in a rating system that includes not just achievement and graduation rates, but measures like college remediation rates, advanced diploma rates, and participation and performance in college entrance exams.

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