timesunion.com: Report Fails to ‘Fix’ Common Core
Sen. John Flanagan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, released his report on the Regents' Reform Agenda following months of hearings on the Common Core, testing and student privacy. Clearly, the committee listened. Their report reminds us that it is "prudent" to leave decisions of teaching and curriculum at the local level. It advises that we must adopt a student-centered focus to testing. It is highly critical of the rollout of the Common Core. It also acknowledges that our children's privacy is "sacrosanct."
The issue at hand, however, is not whether parents were heard, or whether the committee felt their pain, but rather how we fix the problems associated with the Regents Reform Agenda. When it comes to "the fix," the report falls short.
Let's begin with the Common Core. The report's critique focuses on the availability of the curriculum modules. Flanagan recommends that the State Education Department administer test questions based on state-provided modules as of September 2013 — which means that some questions would be from Common Core while others would be from older state curriculum. Teachers would be teaching a hodgepodge of old and new standards, leading to even greater confusion and student frustration. When educators ask for a phase-in of Common Core, they mean by grade level, not by test questions.
More importantly, the report does nothing to address parent complaints about the Common Core curriculum itself and the stress on students caused by its rapid implementation.
The problems associated with testing are also not adequately addressed. The time spent on state testing, which has ballooned since 2010, is a primary parent complaint. The report avoids that concern. What it does propose is hardly a fix. Flanagan's bill (S6008) is designed to prohibit standardized testing below Grade 3, except for diagnostic purposes. However, it allows assessments that are "rigorous and comparable across classrooms" — the definition of standardized tests — if they are developed by districts, BOCES or regionally, for the purposes of teacher evaluation. In the end, all that is prohibited are tests created by vendors.
For a 4-year-old, it matters little whether the "rigorous" test is developed by the a school district or by Pearson.
A second bill, S6006, allows schools to update their teacher evaluation plans to exclude pre and post-testing. But the bill skirts the problem: There are no valid measures of teacher performance based on student achievement to substitute.
Lastly is the issue of student privacy. Although the report calls for a one-year delay in uploading student data to an outside company, InBloom, the proposed legislation, S6007, does not. That legislation has no requirement for parental consent, nor does it allow parents to "opt out" of the state sharing of personal data. It is weaker than the two proposed bills that have bipartisan support.
The real solutions are simple but courageous. First, follow the lead of California and do not engage in grade 3-8 testing this year. Have early childhood experts review the standards and curriculum to determine whether they are indeed appropriate for young children, and fix what is not. Then roll back testing time to 2010 levels.
Second, admit the hastily enacted teacher evaluation plan is a root cause of both overtesting and teaching to the test. After the first year of the evaluations, 92 percent New York State teachers were found to be effective or high effective. Is this worth the cost?
Third, stop the contract with InBloom. The parent portals to their children's data that the firm was to develop should be kept within the districts.
It is obvious that the state Education Department leadership has badly botched these reforms. Shortly, the terms of four Regents are up. The Legislature must choose candidates who will responsibly set reform and manage change.
If the Legislature is serious about the concerns they heard, this may be the most effective "fix" of all.
Burris is a high school principal in Rockville Centre in Nassau County. She was School Administrators Association of New York State's High School Principal of the Year this year.
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