Opinion, Times Union, December 16, 2013 -
There's never been any question that implementing the Common Core learning standards would cause significant growing pains. We and the members of the Board of Regents knew we'd encounter a good amount of concern in public forums. That's not discouraging. We want to hear from teachers, parents, and students about what's working and what could work better. but we also know that moving forward with Common Core is essential: study after study shows that our students are lagging behind in the areas of study and reasoning that are key to their future. The Common Core standards, designed by teachers and education experts across the country, begin to change that. Recent data show states that have adopted the new learning standards and raised standards for teaching show significant gains in student performance.
Understandably, much attention has been paid to objections to the standards' implementation. But there have been positive responses, too: At a Brooklyn forum, a principal from Queens praised Common Core for jump-starting schools "to be creative, innovative, and flesh out lessons and units of study that are going to propel student learning." Propel student learning is exactly the idea. We want the classroom experience to be as vital, and exciting, as possible, and yes, we want it to result in meaningful, lasting learning.
Some concerns are based on misinformation. For example, we have not increased testing as part of Common Core. The fact is, all but two state tests in place now are required by federal law. We're also reducing the time students spend taking tests. And though some have called for banning standardized testing for pre-K through second grade students, the truth is we don't test those learners, and we strongly recommend against it.
Of course, we can do better. The New York State Educational Conference Board recently released a report supporting Common Core and making five recommendations to improve implementation. The State Education Department is moving forward in each of those five areas:
- Increasing understanding. We've just completed a series of 20 forums across the state, including five broadcast on public television. We're expanding our web site about Common Core, EngageNY.org, which includes a toolkit for parents and other instructional resources. We're highlighting the good work on Common Core happening in schools through an educators' blog and videos of great instruction.
- Professional development. We've trained thousands of teachers and principals in best practices for implementation, and we'll hold more events on the regional level. More than $70 million in Race to the Top professional development grants is headed to high-need districts. The Board of Regents is proposing a $125 million (increasing to $200 million per year in subsequent years) Core Instructional Development Fund to support professional development and parental involvement.
- Ensuring adequate funding. The Board of Regents State Aid Proposal expected to be approved this week includes a $1.3 billion total funding increase request for school districts, including additional funding for new instructional materials, while improving funding equity.
- Concerns with testing. We've reduced the number of questions and testing time on the federally required assessments for grades 3 to 8, and our state budget request will include funding to further reduce testing time and eliminate standalone field tests. We are also asking the U.S. Department of Education for adjustments to assessment policies for English language learners and students with disabilities.
- Review and refinement. As high schools phase in Common Core, students will have the option of taking the old form of certain Regents exams, alongside the Common Core-aligned version, to help ensure fairness. And we're strengthening the role of the department's Content Advisory Panels — composed of educators from across the state — to guide professional development and state-created optional instructional materials in different content areas.
No one change is going to satisfy everyone, but these five elements are a meaningful step. We'll be making more adjustments in the future as warranted.
We hope that parents, teachers, students, and administrators continue to be open about their concerns, and partner with us to make Common Core a continuing success.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Merryl H. Tisch is chancellor of the state Board of Regents. John B. King Jr. is the state's education commissioner.