Common Core plan takes time
By Maria Neira, Commentary
Published 6:28 pm, Monday, October 7, 2013
Standardized test scores being distributed to parents paint a worrisome picture. According to the state Education Department, nearly 70 percent of students are not "proficient" in English language arts and math.
There are many good reasons to dismiss these scores as meaningless, and the data produced on student growth and teacher effectiveness as useless. After all, the state required students to be tested on Common Core learning standards before teachers, in many cases, had even taught Common Core lessons. We all know most of New York's students are successful. Our public education system, despite a troubling achievement gap that must be closed, is one of the highest-achieving in the nation.
Yet, many parents reading their child's test scores are going to be alarmed and confused — and rightly so. The state is now labeling the majority of children as "failing" based on April's tests. Yet, in a decision that challenges rational thinking, the Regents voted to allow districts "flexibility" in deciding which students get extra help in their struggle toward proficiency — and which ones don't. "Flexibility" means students who need assistance won't get it, and they will fall further behind.
In its rush to carry out its "reform agenda," the state clearly miscalculated. The Regents didn't take into account the time, resources and professional development needed to fully implement the Common Core; how long it would take the system to adjust to a sea change in education policy; and the costs associated with providing the supports that students need.
Giving the system time to catch up — in a way that is sustainable — is why the state must now adopt a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences for students and teachers resulting from state standardized testing. The state must give teachers — and districts — more time to implement the Common Core; make necessary changes in instruction; and build stronger ladders of academic support for students who need it.
Students and teachers should not be punished for the rocky implementation of the Common Core standards. If students need additional support to meet more rigorous standards, they should get it. And, while Education Commissioner John King has already declared no additional schools will be placed on "watch lists" because of last spring's tests, and no more students than before identified as "failing" because of the rushed implementation of the Common Core, this year's teacher ratings are still based on their students' lower scores. While the state has made it clear the scores represent a resetting of the bar or a new baseline — and not a step backwards — parents and teachers alike need assurance that accountability measures will be accurate, valid and reliable over time.
Parents and educators want a high-quality and thoughtful implementation plan. They are concerned how the state's overreliance on high-stakes testing is narrowing the curriculum and cheating students out of instruction in art, music and other subjects.
Educators are open to new standards, but changes cannot come at warp speed, before districts can adjust or budget for them. Teachers need time to 'unpack' the Common Core standards; receive appropriate professional development; and become comfortable teaching the new material. Students must adjust to higher expectations and, like teachers, should not be unfairly labeled based on questionable performance measures. Districts operating under the burden of an undemocratic tax cap need additional funding. All this is especially vital as the state continues to move toward Common Core tests at the high school level.
As the Regents' ill-conceived decision to allow districts to ignore student academic needs shows, many of the key prerequisites and safeguards are still missing. A three-year moratorium would give the system time to make adjustments and to finally get it right.
Neira is vice president of New York State United Teachers.