Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force report has been released, and while many are celebrating this first step towards saner and more child-centered education policy in New York State, the battle is far from over.
On the positive side, the report suggests that New York State “modify early grade standards so they are age-appropriate.” While most parents and educators would agree with the Task Force’s finding that “education experts agree that children’s brains develop at different rates and not every student will be able to read by the end of kindergarten,” praising this revelation is like praising your doctor for not making you sick. While this is a significant admission from a task force comprised mainly of Common Core supporters, it does not impress.
In some ways, this recommendation seems too good to be true.The standards are a progression. Common sense would dictate that if reading expectations are revised for kindergarten, subsequent grade level standards and lexile benchmarks will have to be revised as well. Given the constant and almost fetishistic references in the report to “high standards,” perhaps we should remain skeptical of any recommendation that would result in a perceived lowering of standards across the board.
The report goes on to state, “The Kindergarten Standards could be revised….to provide pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers with the flexibility to differentiate instruction for students whose brains are rapidly developing.”
Most would argue that ALL teachers should have that flexibility when working with students, yet there are no concrete suggestions in the task force report that signal a true return to child-centered education for all students.
While the report repeatedly mentions the need to maintain high standards, there is little discussion of the non-curricular resources required to ensure that all students can succeed in the face of poverty and lack of adequate funding.The Task Force report’s failure to answer or even raise one of the most pertinent questions is a source of frustration and disappointment. For example, if disadvantaged students were struggling prior to the implementation of the Common Core, how will simply raising the bar increase student achievement?
Most alarming, there are NO new protections for students with disabilities. One of the biggest failings of the CC Task Force was their lack of a recommendation to reduce the duration of tests to ensure that any child with an IEP who receives extended time does not sit for longer than is appropriate for their age. When one considers the fact that NYS will compel many 10-year-olds with disabilities to sit for 18 hours of state testing this spring, this omission is significant.
The Common Core report further misses the mark by failing to address NYSED’s “career and college ready” benchmarks, which are aligned to a score of 1630 on the SAT, a test on which performance is closely aligned with race and income. This benchmark is used to determine passing scores on NYS CC aligned tests. If left in place, the false narrative of failure will continue, disproportionately hurting impoverished students and schools.
While many are celebrating the four year moratorium on the use of CC aligned test scores to evaluate teachers, the truth is that the tests will still count for 50% of teacher evaluations and students will likely be subjected to more tests. If the task force report is implemented, it seems that students will have to take both the NYS CC aligned test and a state approved “local measure” that will be used for the 50% test based portion of teacher evaluations during the moratorium.
Additionally, CC state test scores will still be used to label schools as failing, thrusting them into receivership, and ultimately, privatization. The “test and punish” laws enacted as part of Governor Cuomo’s Education Transformation Act of 2015 still stand, and neither the Common Core Task Force nor Governor Cuomo have given any indication of an intention to rescind or revise the law.
The upshot of all this is that there is absolutely nothing contained in the task force report that will protect children from this year’s administration of flawed, developmentally-inappropriate NYS CC aligned tests. The report does however provide parents with even more reason to refuse the tests. This spring, an unprecedented number of parents will refuse to subject their children to a test that by the Task Force’s own admission has been found by educators and experts to be too long, too difficult, of questionable quality, and lacking in useful information to benefit the individual student.
Ultimately, the opt out movement will continue to grow until test scores are permanently decoupled from consequences for schools and teachers and until the tests are appropriate in terms of content and length. Parents and educators will accept nothing less.
We must demand that the The Education Transformation Act of 2015 be immediately amended or rescinded. While we have seen progress today, failure to change these laws ensures that our children will continue to receive a test-driven education.