Following through on a resolution from the NYSUT Representative Assembly, a group of educators from around the state this week continued its comprehensive review of the state’s much-criticized implementation of Common Core Standards and curriculum modules.
The task force, which has met three times and communicated online, is critiquing whether the Common Core standards, modules and assessments are grade-level and developmentally appropriate. In addition, the group is looking into whether the State Education Department’s professional development is sufficient, how much practitioners have been involved in local implementation and if SED should change its standardized test development process.
Participants reviewed preliminary results from a survey of more than 400 K-12 English Language Arts and math teachers, representing a cross-section of teachers from all grades and school settings. Detailed findings will be released publicly later this fall but, in general, the survey found a majority of teachers are feeling unsupported and are worried about the increased focus on standardized testing. They expressed particular concern for what the current testing climate is doing to K-2 students, as well as students with disabilities and English language learners. Educators also noted the Common Core standards and new assessments were rolled out without enough professional development or time for teachers and students to make the shift.
“It wasn’t really a roll-out,” said Lori Atkinson-Griffin, a high school English teacher and Copenhagen Teachers Association member. “It was a stinking, rancid dump.”
Task force members also reviewed the findings of a number of focus groups — groups that included educators and parents — held around the state. Many voiced concerns about a narrowing of the curriculum, where subjects like science and social studies are being shortchanged so students can focus on ELA and math test prep. They also voiced concerns about whether it is developmentally appropriate for the youngest students, such as kindergartners and first-graders, to be sitting for long periods of time for academic work — and missing out on play time, arts, music and other areas.
“We’re getting reports that children are acting out more because they’re being asked to do things they’re not ready to go,” said White Plains TA’s Kara McCormick Lyons. “They’re losing out on social-emotional growth, learning how to get along with others, how to self-regulate.”
“These findings really mirror how I feel as an educator and a parent,” said Ogdensburg Education Association’s Mary Willis. “It’s refreshing to hear everyone’s really on the same page.”
Peru Association of Teachers’ Tricia Sardella was heartened to hear how parents voiced such strong support for teachers. “When you look at the media and hear what some of the politicians are saying, it’s easy to forget that.”
The task force report will also include a series of recommendations, a review of research, dialogue with representatives of module vendors, conversations with experts, a review of the State Education Department’s Engage-NY modules, and an analysis of 2014 test items that were released by the SED.
NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino thanked members for their continuing commitment. “This cannot be more timely,” Fortino said, noting she would be meeting soon with new Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. "This is exactly what she needs to hear."
“A lot of locals will be interested in the work you have done,” Fortino said, noting the study was partially funded through an American Federation of Teachers innovation grant. “Your recommendations are not just about Common Core. The lessons learned here are important to note before implementing any systemwide change. This is really critical professional work."