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The Answer Sheet: Principal: Time to Hold NY Education Leaders Accountable for Core Mess

New York Principal Carol Burris has chronicled the flawed implementation of school reform and the Common Core State Standards across the state for some time (here, and here and here and here, for example), and, in the following post, she tells us more. Burris, who leads South Side High School, was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010,  tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by thousands of principals teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here. 

By Carol Burris

New York State Education Commissioner John King, (Mike Groll/AP File Photo)

New York State Education Commissioner John King, (Mike Groll/AP File Photo)

The New York Regents are the masters of the non-response response.  The day after they published their recommendations entitled Adjustment Options to Common Core Implementation, this was the Newsday headline: Pullback on Common Core: Regents Delay Tougher NY Test Requirements for High School Students Until 2022. That headline on Tuesday came from the Regents’ third recommendation: “Give students more time to meet the Common Core standards.”

That sounds impressive until you discover that nothing was pulled back at all. The press was led to believe the Regents pulled back the passing scores on the Common Core English Language Arts and math exams for the Class of 2017 from 75 and 80 to a score of 65 on both exams.  The State Education Department claims that scores of 75 and 80 indicate “college readiness”—a metric they created.

Here is the reality.  They had no intention of raising the scores from 65 to 75/80 in three years.  Back in the fall, the Regents made it clear that for graduation purposes, students would still be able to earn a 65 on new standardized tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards in order to graduate. You canread that document here.

Here is the recommendation that was approved last fall:

It is recommended that the Board direct Department staff to develop for the new Common Core Regents Examinations an aspirational performance goal for college and career readiness (similar to the 75/80 scores on the existing English Language Arts (ELA) and math Regents Exams, respectively) that is different from the performance level required for graduation purposes (similar to the 65 cut score on the existing Regents Exams). In addition, it is recommended that the Board direct staff to provide a conversion of the new Common Core reporting scale to score bands in the 0-100 range.

In a phone interview with EdWeek reporter, Andrew Ujifusa, King expressed disappointment that the scores were not raised, all the while knowing that his State Education Department had recommended that they continue with the score of 65 for passing.  His signature is on the recommendation memo.

King and the Regents know that raising the passing scores will result in a precipitous drop in graduation rates. Based on last year’s results, the graduation rate would drop from 74 percent to 35 percent.  If you believe that they had any intention of letting that happen in three years, I can sell you a bridge to nowhere in Alaska.

What the Regents did on Monday was actually set a date for when students would have to meet these “aspirational” scores (75/80).  The long-term plan, however, is that the Regents exams, as we know them, will be long gone by 2022, replaced by computer based PARCC tests.

In short, the Regents are “rolling back” what they never did in the first place. Right now, ninth-grade students, the Class of 2017, are mandated to take the Common Core Algebra Regents.  The passing score on this exam is 65.

Like Lucy holding the football for poor Charlie Brown, the Regents and Commissioner King have repeatedly set up parents and educators.  First there was the rushed implementation of an evaluation system that they likened to a “plane being built in the air.”  Then we found out that teachers and principals could be rated ineffective overall, even without one ineffective rating in any of the three components.  (This has yet to be acknowledged and addressed outside of New York City). After that, the commissioner predicted a failing rate of 70 percent on the new 3-8 Common Core exams, before New York’s kids even opened a test booklet.  And now we have a set of recommendations that appear to address concerns, when they hardly make a dent at all.

Over 50 percent of the approved recommendations pass the work on to another agency—governors, the federal government and districts.  For example, the first recommendation is that the National Governors Association review the Common Core standards.   Why deflect responsibility?  The Board of Regents should be conducting its own review of the New York State Common Core standards.  They approved them.

Perhaps the oddest recommendation is that if a teacher or principal is brought up on 3020a dismissal charges, based on an ineffective rating on Common Core assessments, the teacher or principal can blame the local Board of Education for not “providing adequate professional development.” Huh?  It was the Board of Regents that did not meet their Race to the Top commitment to provide materials before implementation.  Further, as New York State United Teachers President, Dick Ianuzzi, observed,, “…On teacher evaluations, what the Regents put on the table – allowing teachers to point out failures in their district’s implementation of the Common Core – is nothing new. It is a provision that already exists in state law and which we planned on pursuing with or without ‘permission’ from the State Education Department.”  According to Ed Week, that recommendation was not approved.

When one reads the 18 recommendations, it is apparent that nothing of substance will change.  Recognizing that, two Regents, Betty Rosa and Kathleen Cashin, had the courage to vote ‘no’ on all recommendations.

For a deliberative body that insists on holding students, schools and educators “accountable,” the Regents’ unwillingness to assume responsibility for their blunders and then respond by correcting course is breathtaking.  The tinkering with dates and semantics about college-ready scores at the high school level provides no relief for our K-8 students from testing.

It is time the Regents be held accountable as well.  The voters have no say in the selection of the Regents. The State Legislature appoints them to five-year terms that are unlimited; the tradition has been that they are re-appointed until they decide to leave. Four incumbents are presently up for re-appointment in March. Our New York legislators—both assembly and senate–will have the opportunity to select four Regents from over 20 candidates. The time has come for the public to tell their representative that the appointment of Regents must be more than pro forma. The fate of a generation of New York students hangs in the balance.

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Valerie Strauss

Valerie Strauss is the Washington Post education writer.

Carol C. Burris

Carol Corbett Burris became Executive Director of the Network for Public Education Foundation in August 2015, after serving as principal of South Side High School...