Common Core Task Force Report and the Response of the Board of Regents
Jan 4, 2016
The Common Core State Standards have been a frequent subject of conversation for both the media and individuals involved in public education since they were first introduced in 2009. The Standards were adopted by nearly every state with the purpose of preparing students for post-high school graduation pursuits. They were formally released and adopted by the New York Board of Regents in 2010, and include more than 1,500 Common Core standards in grades kindergarten through 12. New York formally implemented the Common Core at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.
The Standards were developed through the concept of back mapping. This process determines what students should know and be able to do upon high school graduation, and then breaks down those skills into discrete components by grade level. Students in third through eighth grades must take new standardized state assessments aligned to the Common Core in reading and mathematics to measure their progress toward meeting the Standards. Similarly, the Regents examinations were modified to reflect the new Common Core Standards. Student performance on these assessments is one measure used for the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) of teachers and principals. These ratings must be a significant factor in employment decisions and can result in professional discipline for consistently poor outcomes.
The Standards are controversial because many educators and parents believe they are not developmentally appropriate, especially for students in the earlier grades. It is also commonly believed that the Standards and subsequent evaluations place undue pressure on teachers and students. This led to the parent-initiated “opt-out movement,” in which students refused to take State Common Core tests.
Common Core Task Force
The New York State Education Department received considerable backlash from educators and parents since implementing the Common Core and its standardized assessments. In response to this, the governor commissioned a New York Common Core Task Force, which is comprised of educators at the local and state level, parents, and other stakeholders. The Task Force was asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the Common Core and to provide recommendations for developing future state education standards, curriculum, and assessments. It gathered and reviewed data from across the state by holding public sessions with testimony, interviewing students, conducting surveys, and reviewing written commentary from educators, parents, students, and academics.
The Task Force submitted its Final Report on December 10, 2015. The overall tone was critical of the state’s adoption and implementation of the Common Core. It provided that the state improperly adopted the Standards without the input of educators and other experts. This resulted in a lack of transparency and of “parent, educator, and other stakeholder engagement” in the development of both the Standards and their state assessments. Further, teachers were expected to implement the Standards without adequate training and before the state made appropriate sample curriculum resources available. The Standards do not allow for teachers to differentiate instruction, especially for students with disabilities and English Language Learners. They are developmentally inappropriate for younger students in kindergarten through second grade. The annual testing required teachers to spend an inordinate amount of time “teaching to the test,” rather than engaging in other meaningful instruction.
The Task Force made 21 recommendations for improving the state’s educational standards, developing curriculum and resources, and reducing the burdens caused by standardized testing. It stressed the importance of implementing “rigorous, high-quality education standards” that lead to appropriate curriculum and meaningful assessment techniques. However, the overall system is so faulty that it requires a complete “overhaul.” There were several commonalities in the three recommendation areas. First, standards, curriculum, and assessments should be age-appropriate and developed transparently with the input of school districts, educators and parents. Teachers should have the flexibility to account for individual learning and assessment needs of students while also fostering a “love of reading and joy of learning.” SED should provide a meaningful curriculum that allows teachers across the state to share their resources. Teachers should be engaged in ongoing professional development to assist them with implementing the standards and curriculum in their classrooms.
The Task Force indicated that it will take considerable time to develop and implement the recommended changes. Therefore, its final recommendation provided that until a new system is ready, “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 and students.” Essentially, the Task Force has said that the system is so broken that it should no longer be used for its initial purpose, but rather as a place-filler until a more appropriate system is in place.
SED Response to Task Force Recommendations
In response to the Final Report, SED’s Board of Regents enacted emergency regulations to delay the test-based teacher evaluation system until the 2019-20 school year. Teacher and principal effectiveness will continue to be calculated pursuant to their APPR plans, but ratings will now exclude scores on the grades 3-8 English Language Arts and Math assessments and Regents examinations. The Board of Regents adopted these regulations without the governor or the legislature amending the Education Transformation Act of 2015, and in particular Education Law §§3012-c and 3012-d, which specifically require APPR to be calculated using only student growth and teacher observations. Consequently, districts will now measure student growth using Student Learning Objectives based on assessments that are approved by SED. Student performance on these assessments will result in “transition scores” that will be used for APPR calculations. SED has promised to provide additional guidance regarding transition scores.
The decision by the Board of Regents coincides with the federal government’s recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, which tied federal money to each state’s adoption of standards-based evaluations. ESSA now allows states to have more control over their standards, curriculum, and evaluations without losing federal funding. However, federal funding continues to be tied to annual student testing, and requires that 95 percent of eligible students participate in state exams. The opt-out movement resulted in New York falling below that requirement last school year, and caused New York to be one of 12 states that have recently received warning letters from the U.S. Department of Education. New York could lose a portion of its federal education funding if it does not implement a plan to address the low participation rate on its State Common Core tests.
These recent legislative developments appear to indicate that the federal and state governments are listening to the overwhelming criticism of both parents and educators regarding the Common Core and high stakes standardized testing. However, the Board of Regents’ emergency regulations are the state’s only response to the Common Core Task Force Report. Indeed, neither the New York State legislature nor the Governor have adjusted State laws pertaining to the Common Core or teacher and principal APPR. Accordingly, although student scores on state assessments will no longer be used to calculate APPR, other methods of measuring student performance will continue to be part of teacher and principal evaluations. Further, the recently passed ESSA legislation continues to provide that federal education funding will be linked to all students within the designated grades taking state assessments.