The New York State Board of Regents has approved a plan to delay the full implementation of the state’s Common Core graduation requirements until the Class of 2022 — current fourth-graders — instead of the Class of 2017 — current ninth-graders — as had been originally intended.
The shift means that those students currently in fourth grade across the state will have to take and pass five Common Core-aligned exams in order to graduate. Students now in ninth grade will have to take five Common Core exams, but they won’t have to meet what the state calls “college- and career-ready standards” in order to graduate; they’ll just have to pass the tests at a level similar to getting a 65 on current Regents exams.
On an instructional level, the Regents’ move will have little impact, according to local administrators.
“There won’t be a remarkable change. We’re still teaching and using and referring to all of those resources, including the State Education Department’s modules. We’re using those national standards for learning. We won’t be changing that,” said Dr. Maureen Patterson, Liverpool’s assistant superintendent for school improvement. “What we really interpret this as is delaying when students will be held accountable for the Common Core assessments and requirements for graduation. This year’s third-graders, by the time they graduate in 2022, they’ll be taking all Common Core assessments. Right now we only have ELA and math. There’s no science or social studies.”
In fact, both Patterson and North Syracuse Superintendent Annette Speach said they were glad to see the change implemented.
“In a global way, we’re relieved that at least some changes have been made. It’s clear that the commissioner has listened to the concerns voiced throughout the state,” Speach said. “Here in North Syracuse, we’ve kind of looked at Common Core as a positive thing, as movement in the right direction. Our concern was with the way it was rolled out in terms of not having enough time to do it the right way. We’re pleased with the idea that we’re going to have more time to do this in a way that will allow us to rework our curriculum and have proper training.”
“It gives us a chance to continue doing what we’ve been working on already,” Patterson said. “Our teachers have been working really hard to use the right standards. For them, it’s not about the assessments. It’s about meeting the standards.”
In addition to the delay in implementation of graduation requirements, the measures approved by the Regents came from a report issued by a 17-member task force and included the following:
Rejection of any teacher evaluation system that contains standardized testing for children in kindergarten through second grade.
A 1 percent cap on the percentage of time districts can spend on student testing used for teacher evaluations.
A one-year delay in providing student names and addresses to third-party data management vendors such as the controversial non-profit company inBloom.
A request for a federal waiver so students with severe disabilities can take exams based on their instructional level rather than their chronological age.
A request for a federal waiver allowing English language learners to take a language acquisition test rather than the English language arts test in their first two years.
A request for $8.4 million in the state budget to develop enough test questions so more questions that have been used on tests can be released to teachers and parents.
The committee had also recommended that teachers be allowed the opportunity to appeal termination in the case of two “ineffective” evaluations, allowing them to argue that they shouldn’t be held accountable for poor student test scores if their district didn’t provide them with adequate training and materials to comply with the new standards. However, given the controversy over the provision — NYSUT, the largest teachers’ union in the state, says state law already provides that protection for teachers, and they along with state legislators are seeing a moratorium on the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations and student placements — the Regents have tabled the teacher evaluation item until April.
The trouble with Common Core
Common Core learning standards are a more rigorous benchmark initially approved by the New York State Board of Regents in 2010. The requirements, which have been adopted in states across the country, are aimed at helping children acquire sophisticated reasoning skills. The goal behind these standards is to move the schools away from rote learning to a writing-intensive curriculum that emphasizes problem-solving skills. They were rolled out statewide last year, but in many cases schools and teachers weren’t provided with the necessary materials to implement the curriculum. That didn’t stop the state from using said curriculum in the most recent round of state assessment tests, resulting in record-low scores statewide.
The rocky rollout led Gov. Andrew Cuomo to convene a task force to look into fixing the implementation of the curriculum. Though he has been a staunch supporter of Common Core, Cuomo acknowledged that the Board of Regents and the New York State Department of Education erred in the manner in which they put the curriculum into effect.
“The way Common Core has been managed by the Board of Regents is flawed,” Cuomo said during his 2014-15 executive budget presentation in January. “There is too much uncertainty, confusion and anxiety. Parents, students, and teachers need the best education reforms – which include Common Core and teacher evaluations – but they also need a rational system that is well administered. We will assemble a panel that includes education experts and Members of the Legislature to make recommendations for corrective action by the end of this session on how Common Core should be implemented.”
That panel had just been named when the Board of Regents, which works independently of Cuomo’s office, made its recommendations on Feb. 10, earning stern remarks from the governor, particularly concerning the state’s teacher evaluation system.
“Today’s recommendations are another in a series of missteps by the Board of Regents that suggests the time has come to seriously reexamine its capacity and performance. These recommendations are simply too little, too late for our parents and students,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Common Core’s implementation in New York has been flawed and mismanaged from the start… There is a difference between remedying the system for students and parents and using this situation as yet another excuse to stop the teacher evaluation process… The Regents’ response is to recommend delaying the teacher evaluation system and is yet another in a long series of roadblocks to a much-needed evaluation system which the Regents had stalled putting in place for years. I have created a commission to thoroughly examine how we can address these issues. The commission has started its work and we should await their recommendations so that we can find a legislative solution this session to solve these problems.”
But Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said she felt a sense of urgency after the statewide forums held over the last server months.
“It is really important for us to have listened at the forums and to give a response in a timely way,” she said.
Tisch also said she wanted to enact a solution so that Cuomo’s administration could work it into the 2014-15 budget.
Locally, school administrators did have questions about the changes to the Annual Professional Performance Review system (APPR) that they said would likely remain unanswered for some time.
“It’s still very new. It raises more questions in terms of the specifics involved,” Speach said. “We have yet to learn more information about how the teacher evaluation system may be impacted. A lot of pieces still need to be ironed out.”
Patterson said she hoped APPR remained largely unscathed.
“We do have a good evaluation system, and I hope some of the big pieces of that don’t go away, because they’re leading to better conversations about how people are teaching students.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.