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Common Core comes under scrutiny

New York Teacher

After an unprecedented one in five New York State students refused to take state tests tied to the Common Core Learning Standards last spring, elected leaders and state education officials are once again reviewing the standards and the tests aligned with them.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 28 launched his new Common Core task force and charged it with making recommendations to overhaul the current Common Core system and the way students are tested. “The agenda of the task force is straightforward and clear: To overhaul the Common Core system — to do a total reboot,” Cuomo said in a video message.

Kishayna Hazlewood, a 3rd-grade teacher at PS 156 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, will be a member of the task force.

The governor said the group must deliver its findings by the end of December, in time for the next state budget, which Cuomo has used as a vehicle for changing education law.

“We appreciate that the governor has put together a task force to deal with the debacle that was the rollout of the Common Core standards,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Parents’, students’ and teachers’ voices have been heard, and it is imperative that tests and evaluations are used to inform and help teachers improve their craft, and not serve as a ‘gotcha’ system.”

In April, state legislators ordered the State Education Department to review all items on state tests, and Commissioner MaryEllen Elia launched a panel of her own in the summer.

The union’s state affiliate NYSUT is also reviewing the tests and the state’s EngageNY curriculum, focusing on whether teachers have received adequate resources and professional development to teach to the standards.

The Common Core standards were developed under the auspices of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. After the Obama administration tied the new standards to eligibility for Race to the Top funds, 43 states, including New York, adopted them between 2010 and 2012. The standards do not mandate curriculum. Instead, they lay out the skills that students should master to be ready for college and career, but leave it to states to develop curriculum.

One area where the standards appear open to serious criticism is the early grades. Many educators say early-grade academics aligned with the standards have too much paper-and-pencil instruction and are too difficult.

Opposition to the Common Core standards is tied to anger at the Common Core-aligned tests. New York State rolled out its new tests far in advance of the curriculum, scope or sequence needed to teach to the new standards. Many city teachers found the tests too long, badly designed and developmentally inappropriate. And new scoring rubrics resulted in more children failing — with all the associated consequences for schools and teachers.

Elia told the Board of Regents on Sept. 16 that the state will shorten next year’s math and ELA tests for 3rd–8th graders. “One of the things that’s been a constant comment is that the assessments are long,” she told the Regents.

The following year a new test maker, Questar Assessment, will take over the state exams, replacing Pearson LLC, which was widely criticized for missteps.

“We still have a long way to go to reduce testing, to make sure that the new curriculum is age-appropriate for every grade, and to restore the public’s faith in the process,” said Mulgrew.