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Better learning standards

New York Teacher

Standards are important measures we use to compare and evaluate. Olympic judges use a set of performance standards to award points. Educators use standards to recognize skills students should have and use at each grade level. Standards are aspirational; they do not guarantee performance, whether in an Olympic event or in a classroom.

There were myriad issues with the Common Core Learning Standards — their genesis, their emphases, their deficiencies in certain areas and the manner in which they were imposed on schools and classrooms. Principals insisted on adherence to the Common Core, but there was little professional development to instruct teachers on implementation. Nevertheless, teachers were observed and evaluated on these standards.

In response to these concerns, the New York State Education Department scrapped the Common Core and developed the Next Generation Standards. More than 130 educators and parents worked for two years deconstructing, writing and revising draft standards before making recommendations to the state for new English language arts and mathematics learning standards. You can examine the standards the state adopted in 2017 at

In ELA, for example, a 1st-grader should know how “to decode regularly spelled one-syllable words.” And a 9th-grader should know how to “determine one or more themes or central ideas in a text and analyze its development, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; objectively and accurately summarize a text.”

In mathematics, a 1st-grader should be able “to use properties of addition to add whole numbers” and a 9th-grader, by the conclusion of Algebra I, should be able to “rationalize numerical denominators of the form aa√bb where a is an integer and b is a natural number.”

Unlike the Common Core, the new standards include more emphasis on play in the lower grades and a balance of informational reading and literary texts to encourage the joy of reading for pleasure. There are more examples, charts and illustrations, and there is better coherence from one grade to another. The state also decreased the number of standards.

Probably one of the most significant improvements is the requirement that school districts develop curricula aligned with the standards and design the training required to properly implement the curricula.

Implementation of the new standards began in 2017, and the state will administer the first student assessments linked to the Next Generation Standards in the spring of 2021.

Educators and parents still have concerns about the new standards because they do not adequately address the needs of English language learners and students with disabilities. The standards are not written in user-friendly language. Parents, students and early childhood educators continue to question the developmental appropriateness of some of the standards and the entry-level skills the standards assume students have.

Too many schools are substituting the standards for a curriculum. A curriculum consists of a list of content and topics; a scope and sequence; and a list of what students are expected both to know and to be able to do after studying each topic.

The DOE-UFT contract requires the city Department of Education to provide educators in core subjects with appropriate curriculum aligned with the standards. If the DOE fails to provide the curriculum, a grievance can be filed.

Under the proposed contract, the UFT consultation committee can also raise issues concerning curriculum with the principal and escalate it to the UFT district rep and the superintendent if it’s not resolved. If you or your colleagues are asked to write curriculum, you must be given sufficient time during the workday to do it or be paid for after-school work.

As vice president for education, I will vigorously pursue, with both the state and the city, the twin issues of professional development on the new standards and the availability of appropriate curricula.

Your voice is one of the most powerful tools available. Please let me know how the implementation of the new standards is going so I can continue to represent you and make sure the people in charge know what’s happening in our schools.