The Common Core initiative just took a hit in New York state: A task force created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to review the curriculum and aligned standardized testing is recommending a total overhaul, saying that there were big mistakes in its implementation and that some of the early childhood standards are inappropriate.
The report released Thursday recommends a thorough review and suggests that a transition period last until the start of the 2019-2020 school year, when a new system is supposed to be implemented. Until then, it recommends, test scores obtained from Common Core standardized testing should no longer be used to evaluate “the performance of specific teachers or students.”
In New York state, up to 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation has depended on student standardized test scores in an assessment system that many have said was haphazardly designed. It created situations in which teachers were evaluated by the test scores of students they didn’t have in class and in subjects the teachers didn’t teach. For example, an art teacher could be evaluated by student math scores.
Why? High-stakes standardized tests are only given in math and English language arts, but because all teachers have to be evaluated by them, districts have found unusual ways to use the scores. Sometimes, school test averages are factored into all teachers’ evaluations. Sometimes, a certain group of teachers are attached to either reading or math scores; social studies teachers, for example are more often attached to English Language Arts scores while science teachers are attached to math scores.
In an introduction to the report released on Thursday, task force Chairman Richard Parsons wrote that mistakes were made in the rush to implement the standards. He said:
Repeatedly, testimony and public comments to us focused on the fact that educators were inundated with confusing information and new material without having first been brought into the process of developing how these new approaches were to be integrated into curricula and taught to students. And some of the new standards were simply inappropriate for certain student populations.
The Common Core Standards must be revisited to reflect the particular needs and priorities of State and local school districts and, building upon the foundation established by the Common Core Standards, high quality New York State Standards must be developed where necessary to meet the needs of our kids. Thereafter, new State curriculum resources and tests must be developed in a manner to better reflect the revised standards. This task will take the collaborative involvement of all the stakeholders in the education process, including the State Education Department, administrators, teachers, and parents alike.
New York has a chance to get it right — and we must.
Cuomo is expected to embrace the recommendations, and was said by some to have created the commission to make recommendations he wanted to implement. After being a strong supporter of the Core and putting emphasis on test results, the governor watched a rebellion grow in his state. Educators and students openly protested, and this past spring, 20 percent of all students refused to take the Core-aligned standardized tests as part of a growing opt-out movement.
Jeanette Deutermann, parent founder of Long Island Opt Out, said:
This was more than we expected from this task force. … Parents and educators from around the state showed up in force at every task force meeting, and their determination paid off. Their voices were heard and hopefully we will now see significant changes for the better for our children’s education. I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the flawed, test and punish, Common Core era of reforms. Good riddance.
Carol Burris, an award-winning high school principal who wrote extensively about the botched initiative over several years on this blog and was a prime mover in the fight against the Cuomo educator evaluation system, was more skeptical:
What remains to be seen is whether the report will have Cuomo’s support, and if it does, will Commissioner [MaryEllen] Elia, who is a great fan of the Common Core, testing and the evaluation of teachers by test scores, cooperate. If the result is a mere tweak and rebrand of the standards, parents will be angrier than before.
It also remains to be seen what “the overhaul of testing” means. The New York State Education Department recently awarded a $44 million dollar bid to Questar to develop new [Grade] 3-8 tests. Questar has no track record of developing state 3-8 accountability tests. I fear we are tossing more taxpayer dollars down the testing rabbit-hole.
In the first of 20 recommendations, the task force says that the changes to the Common Core should be substantial. It says in part:
These revised State standards must be more than a name change – instead, they should contain substantial revisions based on feedback from experts and stakeholders as outlined in this report. The revision process should be educator-driven and expand local educator and other stakeholder input in an open and transparent manner to ensure that the standards are customized to the needs and goals of New York, not the federal government, and incorporate high expectations for every New York student.
The task force issued its report on the same day that President Obama signed a new federal education law that bars the U.S. education secretary from dictating standards or curriculum to the states. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed policies that many say coerced states to adopt the Common Core, and the new law is said to be a rebuke to Duncan.
Here are all of the recommendations from the report:
The recommendations mark the latest hit to the Common Core State Standards, which were fully adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia with unusual bipartisan support. Support began to fall when critics from all sides of the political spectrum began to emerge with various concerns, including problems with the content of the standards and the developmental inappropriateness of those for the earliest grades, the design of the new tests, how the new exams were written and by whom, and the federal government’s funding of new standardized tests aligned to the Core.
Despite the growing opposition, most states are still implementing the standards, or they have adopted similar standards under different names. The report includes the following chart about state action related to the Core: