• Team Baesler

GRAND FORKS HERALD: Give Common Core time to close the ‘honesty gap’

For the first time in a long time, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction is addressing head-on some of the key challenges facing K-12 education in the state.

Also for the first time in a long time, the department isn’t mincing words about the situation. Nor are high officials pretending that North Dakota is better off than it actually is.

Those are real changes for the better. And they build trust among observers that the department will solve the problems it has identified.

A key component of those solutions? The Common Core standards.

The department’s honesty is welcome, and its efforts deserve time to work.

State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler is the driving force behind these changes. To Baesler’s credit, she has spoken out repeatedly about the fact that North Dakota’s old statewide testing system delivered misleading and overly upbeat results.

As Forum News Service reported last month, “Baesler said an ‘honesty gap’ has existed in the nation ‘and most certainly in our state.’ She pointed out that past North Dakota assessment scores showed students were between 70 and 80 percent proficient, yet 40 percent of them needed remedial courses in college.”

Which should have been expected, given that “when those same students took other standardized tests, the results painted a less rosy picture,” as the Bismarck Tribune reported in its own interview with Baesler.

“For example, North Dakota’s ACT scores show that only 40 percent of students are proficient in math, Baesler said.

“The Smarter Balanced test closes that gap.”

The Smarter Balanced test, of course, is North Dakota’s new test that’s more aligned with the Common Core and other national standards, notably those of the “Nation’s Report Card.” That would be the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only statistically valid measure of K-12 achievement between states, and by far the best gauge of North Dakota and other students’ achievement.

Sure enough, when the Smarter Balanced results came out last month, they showed some 46 percent of students proficient in English and 40 percent in math. Those numbers are much closer to the NAEP results, which for years have found about 40-plus percent of students to be proficient in reading and math.

That’s not as upbeat a finding as North Dakotans are used to. But it has the powerful advantage of being true—and that’s an advantage Baesler now intends to use:

“So, this gives us a much more honest and accurate assessment result, so we can determine what we need to do to help our students,” Baesler told Forum News Service.

Baesler’s frank assessment is appreciated. And given that Baesler is convinced the Common Core standards can help ratchet up students’ achievement, North Dakota taxpayers should let her try.

— Tom Dennis for the Herald

Read the Editorial at www.GrandForksHerald.com



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