Thursday, November 7, 2013

About the Common Core Standards

The Common Core standards and testing regimen are receiving a lot of attention here this week.  Monday night the two local members of the Board of Regents took questions from a large gathering of school administrators, superintendents, teachers, and school board members.  The local newspaper is running a lengthy article explaining the Common Core standards and school testing.  And one local television station is administering the 3rd and 4th grade state exams to a group of adults to get their reaction to the controversial tests. 

Today the Commissioner is holding a community forum here for the public. This particular forum is one of the recently arranged public meetings scheduled in response to the outcry after the Commissioner abruptly cancelled all his public forums following a particularly contentious evening.

With all that in mind, what follows is a guest post, a perspective on the Common Core standards, submitted by Sherry Johnson, MCSBA Assistant to Executive Director.

From Sherry:

There has been a lot of fallout from the recent cancellation of Commissioner John King’s PTA forums.  People angry with the State Education Department’s (SED) current reform agenda have become angrier and misinformation abounds, much of it associated with the Common Core standards.

The issues around New York’s education reform agenda are many, but the Common Core standards themselves shouldn’t be the target.  Most teachers, administrators and other education leaders who have dedicated their own education and careers to helping children learn and succeed believe that these standards do offer a better opportunity for students to become higher achievers.  The Fordham Institute compared every state’s current standards to the Common Core standards.  In NYS for English Language Arts, the state received a “C” whereas the Common Core standards were given a B+.  In Math, the state was graded a “B” and the Common Core standards an A-.  While you can argue whether this is or isn’t a large enough grade variation to make the change, it was primarily the desire for “Race to the Top” dollars that drove SED to adopt them.

The real issues causing all of the uproar are about implementation and testing.  On the SED Engage NY website, the catch phrase has been “we are building the plane as it flies in the air.”    Any pilot will tell you that planes are fully constructed and test piloted before passengers are allowed on board.  Their own lives, the lives of their passengers and the future of the airline company, depend on that plane being delivered safely to its destination.  So why such an analogy?    

SED made the decision early on, that regardless of where schools were with their implementation, they would test kids on these new standards, knowing full well that scores would be dismal.  They believed people would accept and support this “work in progress” agenda.  But at the district level, educators were trying desperately to get curricular gaps identified, new curriculum written and teachers trained while simultaneously negotiating APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) agreements with their teaching units.   This work was further complicated by a steady stream of changing guidance from SED; some of it even after their own deadlines had passed.  

The work of the reform agenda has also been extraordinarily expensive, far exceeding anything districts were led to expect when they signed on.  Leaders in the education field, pleading for more time and resources to do this right so that new curriculum could be delivered in a quality manner were told no, and thus the poor results are not surprising to them.

Imagine signing up for a course at your local college and after taking the time and energy to complete the course, you are given a test with questions about information you haven’t been taught.  Now imagine that the results of this same test which your instructor didn’t develop, didn’t know what questions would be asked and can’t determine whether you have passed or failed is used to measure their competence as an instructor. 

That is what teachers and their students endured this year.  Logic and experience tells us that a plane being built in the air while flying can’t deliver its precious cargo safely to its destination.  The Common Core standards are not the problem here.  The natural consequence of not listening to the professionals in the field who asked simply to be allowed to finish building the plane before putting children in it, has placed Commissioner King and SED in the uncomfortable position of having to explain to many upset parents and others why they thought this was a good idea in the first place.


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