by Marion M. Walsh, Esq.
The Common Core standards had a laudable goal – to make education more rigorous and better prepare students for college and a global marketplace. However, the implementation in New York was not optimal. Teachers and students did not receive preparation and only approximately 33 percent of students achieved proficiency. Governor Cuomo created a Common Core Task Force to undertake a review and to recommend reforms.
The Task Force, in a report issued in December 2015, found that the implementation of the Common Core Standards in New York was “rushed and improperly implemented.” As a result, students,parentsandeducators have faced disruption and anxiety and lost trust in the system.
21 Recommendations for Reform
The Task Force called for “a modification, elimination, or creation of standards” to come up with “rigorous New York-specific standards.” It recommended 21 steps for reform and New York aims to develop the new standards by 2018-2019.
These recommendations create more flexibility. The Every Student Succeeds Act and the federal reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act should give New York state more latitude to implement the recommendations.
Recommendation 1: Adopt high quality New York education standards with input from local districts, educators, and parents through an open and transparent process.
Recommendation 2: Modify early grade standards so they are age-appropriate.
Recommendation 3: Ensure that standards accommodate flexibility that allows educators to meet the needs of unique student populations, including Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners.
Recommendation 4: Ensure standards do not lead to the narrowing of curriculum or diminish the love of reading and joy of learning.
Recommendation 5: Establish a transparent and open process by which New York standards are periodically reviewed by educators and content area experts.
Recommendation 6: Ensure educators and local school districts have the flexibility to develop andtailorcurriculum to the new standards.
Recommendation 7: Release updated and improved sample curriculum resources.
Recommendation 8: Launch a digital platform that enables teachers, including pre- service teachers, and teacher educators, to share resources with other teachers across the state.
Recommendation 9: Create ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers, teacher educators, and administrators on the revised State standards.
Recommendation 10: Involve educators, parents, and other education stakeholders in the creation and periodic review of all State standards-aligned exams.
Recommendation 11: Gather student feedback on the quality of the new tests.
Recommendation 12: Provide ongoing transparency to parents, educators, and local districts on the quality and content of all tests, including, but not limited to publishing the test questions.
Recommendation 13: Reduce the number of days and shorten the duration for standards- aligned State standardized tests.
Recommendation 14: Provide teachers with the flexibility and support to use authentic formative assessments to measure student learning.
Recommendation 15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new State standardized tests aligned to the standards.
Recommendation 16: Provide flexibility for assessments of Students with Disabilities.
Recommendation 17: Protect and enforce testing accommodations for Students with Disabilities.
Recommendation 18: Explore alternative options to assess the most severely disabled students.
Recommendation 19: Prevent students from being mandated into Academic Intervention Services based on a single test.
Recommendation 20: Eliminate double testing for English Language Learners.
Recommendation 21: Until the new system is fully phased in, the results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.
What This State of Confusion Means for Your Child
Educating your child while the system is in flux represents a challenge. However, the changes are likely to be positive and will not shift the curriculum dramatically.
There are interim changes as well. This year, the New York State Education Department shortened the tests and let children take them untimed. Meanwhile, by 2018-2019 New York aims to develop new standards still based on the common core but with response to stakeholders’ concerns. New York is also switching testing vendors: from Pearson to Questar Assessment, Inc. For this year, Pearson will still be developing the tests, but educators will be more involved.
Here are five tips to navigate the storm.
1. Maintain Close Communication with Teachers/District. During parent-teacher conferences and other communications, share your perspective on the assessments.
2. Keep Assessments in Perspective. Assessments make up only a small part of teaching and learning. Do your best to help reading become and remain a joy.
3. Focus on the Big Picture and Growth. Although New York’s standards are in flux, they still represent some of the most rigorous and strongest standards in the country and are likely only to improve.
4. Be Careful About Untimed Tests. Untimed tests led to some children sitting for the tests for many frustrating hours. Talk to your child and his/her teacher in advance about any recommendations.
5. Consider Opting Out Very Carefully. Students do need to learn to take standardized tests. Unless your child faces severe anxiety, it may be best to encourage your child to participate. The assessments give the school information on how your child is doing as well as to provide a more complete picture about how the school is performing overall and how specific groups perform.
Marion Walsh, an attorney with the law firm Littman Krooks LLP, focuses her practice on special and general education advocacy, with a particular expertise on assisting children with anxiety. She is certified as an impartial hearing officer for children with disabilities by the New York State Education Department. She is also certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid. Littman Krooks’ attorneys and advocates handle educational advocacy, special education litigation, transition planning and advocacy, school disciplinary matters, special education due process, private school reimbursement, and Section 504 accommodation advocacy.