When the state’s top education officials meet in Albany next week, don’t expect them to scrap the new Common Core learning standards or to put an end to a teacher evaluation system that has added to the pressure of state standardized tests.
State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. says that the Board of Regents will put forward “a thoughtful plan for adjustments” to its implementation of the new classroom learning standards but that it would be wrong to temporarily halt the teacher evaluation system as some lawmakers and others are urging.
“I think stopping teacher evaluations would be a mistake,” King said. “We know that the teacher evaluation system is working across the state.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and other legislative leaders earlier this week called on the Board of Regents to delay for at least two years “high-stakes decisions for teachers, principals and students” based on the results of tests aligned to the new learning standards.
But King said he is unclear on exactly what lawmakers meant when they called this week for a two-year moratorium.
“There are a variety of perspectives on how best to move forward,” he said.
Educators and lawmakers will be closely watching the Board of Regents when it meets Monday to see if the state’s top education officials will bend to pressure from lawmakers and educators who have complained about the way the state has rolled out the new learning standards. The Regents are expected to put forth a plan in response to a litany of complaints raised by teachers and parents at a series of public forums late last year.
“I imagine the legislators would hope that the Regents would put forth some ideas that would take down the temperature, satisfy parents and people working in the schools,” said Bob Lowry, deputy director of the Council of School Superintendents. “I think the stakes are high for the Department of Education in that sense.”
At the heart of the concerns raised at the public forums are three separate, but related, state initiatives that have prompted pushback from parents and teachers:
• The state in 2010 adopted a new set of learning standards known as the Common Core that set out what students should learn in each grade level. Last year, as the state began testing elementary and middle school students on the new standards, scores across the state plummeted. The state Department of Education has been criticized for failing to provide classroom lessons and other support in time to help school districts prepare for the new standards.
• A new teacher evaluation system required by state law ties teacher performance reviews, in part, to how well their students perform on state standardized tests. The state’s largest teachers union and state lawmakers have called for a moratorium on using the new tests aligned with the Common Core for “high-stakes decisions for teachers, principals and students.”
• Parents and educators are concerned about a new statewide data system for student information that would be managed by a private education group, inBloom Inc.
A working group of the Board of Regents early next week is to deliver its recommendations for addressing concerns raised at the forums. While the board has broad powers to direct state education policy, it is bound by state law that created the teacher evaluation system and by federal policies that require standardized tests, as well as promises the state made when it applied for federal Race to the Top education funds.
“What we want to do is clarify what we heard, what we can and will do about it, and what we really cannot do much about,” said Regent Robert Bennett. “We can’t change the law.”
State law requires that 20 percent of most teacher evaluations be tied to the results of state standardized tests, and a moratorium on using those tests in the evaluations would likely require legislative changes from the governor and legislators.
King noted there are multiple factors that go into evaluating a teacher’s performance beyond student standardized test results. He suggested the Regents, in their meeting Monday, might recommend changes related to high school Regents exams, some of which will be based on the Common Core standards for the first time this year.
King declined to discuss details of what changes the Regents might consider, but he said some recommendations may require immediate action by the Board of Regents, and others “may require discussion over time with stakeholders” – presumably including legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“The teachers are getting more feedback on their practice, better conversations are happening in schools because of the teacher evaluation system, and, of course, we want the teacher evaluation system to provide feedback on how teachers are doing in implementing the Common Core,” the commissioner told reporters after testifying before a legislative panel on the state’s budget plan.
King also said it would be a mistake to give assessments based on old learning standards when teachers are working with students to achieve the new standards set out in the Common Core. He noted that the Regents already have made adjustments to some of the state’s reform efforts but expressed caution about legislative calls for the efforts to be put on hold.
While lawmakers are looking for a moratorium on using the results of standardized tests for teacher employment and other decisions, the Board of Regents will likely look at a variety of recommendations. The regents had sought $125 million for professional development to help better train teachers for the new standards and to increase parental involvement, but the money was not included in Cuomo’s proposed budget.
Cuomo also is moving forward with a review of the state’s implementation of the Common Core standards. On Friday, he named 11 people to a panel that would make recommendations for changes. The appointees include East Aurora High School teacher Todd Hathaway, as well as other educators, business leaders, lawmakers and a parent.
Silver was unavailable for an interview, but an aide said the speaker believes all “high-stakes decisions” for teachers, principals and students should be put on hold for the next two years while the implementation of the Common Core program is improved.
That echoes the stance of the state’s largest teachers union, New York State United Teachers, which has called for a moratorium on high-stakes consequences based on tests aligned to the Common Core.
Republicans and a small group of independent Democrats that together control the State Senate also have backed a two-year moratorium on using the results of tests aligned to the Common Core for such decisions.
The carefully worded statements issued by legislators earlier this week, however, did not call on the Board of Regents to stop implementing the Common Core standards. Instead, they urged the Board of Regents to continue to develop curriculum materials connected to the Common Core and to better help school districts prepare teachers to work with the standards.
“I could never support delaying the learning standards,” said Bennett, the Regents’ chancellor emeritus. “They’ve been around for 3½ years. Most districts have them and are using them – some better than others. But I think the big squawk is, in fact, using tests to evaluate a teacher.”
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