Regents’ response to Common Core backlash gets mixed reaction - The Buffalo News
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Regents’ response to Common Core backlash gets mixed reaction

Today’s fourth-graders would be the first required to meet higher new state graduation requirements tied to the Common Core learning standards.

And teachers in school districts that were slow to roll out the new learning standards would get some protection against being fired because their students performed poorly on state tests in the last school year and this one.

Both proposals are part of a package of adjustments the state Board of Regents unveiled Monday in attempt to address months of complaints about the way the state rolled out the new classroom learning standards.

The reaction was mixed. While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo blasted the changes as an attempt to delay the state’s new teacher-evaluation system, other lawmakers offered tepid praise for the efforts to alleviate pressure on teachers and students. The state’s largest teachers union said the Regents only “skimmed the surface” of what parents and teachers had sought.

The changes are aimed at reducing the stakes of new tests aligned with the Common Core learning standards, which seek to raise the level of what students learn in each grade. The state Department of Education has faced widespread criticism that it botched the rollout of the new standards by rushing to test students at the new levels as educators adjusted to teaching them.

“We are absolutely committed to the Common Core, absolutely committed to its successful implementation,” Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. told reporters Monday. “And absolutely committed to moving forward in a way that balances the concerns we’ve heard with a sense of urgency about the needs of our students.”

Among a series of adjustments is a five-year extension of the rollout of the full Common Core program. Under the proposed extension, the first students that would need higher grades on Regents exams tied to the Common Core to graduate would be the Class of 2022, which is currently in fourth grade. The proposed changes also seek to reduce the amount of local testing time connected to teacher evaluations and to delay a new statewide student data system until privacy concerns are addressed by the State Legislature.

But the reprieve for teachers who face possible termination under the new evaluation system because of poor student performance on new state tests drew prompt criticism from Cuomo, who has created his own education review panel. Cuomo, in a statement, called it “yet another excuse to stop the teacher evaluation process.”

“The Regents’ response is to recommend delaying the teacher evaluation system and is yet another in a long series of roadblocks to a much-needed evaluation system, which the Regents had stalled putting in place for years,” the governor said.

Legislative leaders, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and the state’s largest teachers union, New York State United Teachers, had called on the Board of Regents to create at least a two-year moratorium on what they described as “high-stakes consequences” for teachers and students from exams aligned with the new learning standards.

Under the proposed changes, the Regents would allow teachers who face being fired because they received “ineffective” ratings due to student test results in 2012-13 and 2013-14 to argue that the failure of their school districts to “timely implement the Common Core” was the cause.

But King said the teacher-evaluation system would remain a priority for the Department of Education.

“That change will ensure that a teacher would not be removed unfairly as a result of the Common Core assessments,” King said.

State Sen. John J. Flanagan, a Long Island Republican who heads the Senate Education Committee and had been threatening the Regents with legislative action if they did not make corrections to the Common Core, downplayed Cuomo’s criticism.

“It’s obvious that they’re listening,” Flanagan said, noting that the Regents addressed a number of areas he and other lawmakers were concerned about, including prohibiting local standardized tests for kindergarten through second-grade, considerations for students with disabilities and English language learners, and pushing back Common Core Regents exam graduation requirements.

Flanagan and Silver did not rule out additional legislative steps to address concerns about the Common Core implementation.

Silver, whose fellow Democrats control appointment of the Regents, said the board members did what they could administratively to “alleviate some of the tensions that parents have expressed” about Common Core.

Among the proposed changes are:

• Extending the phase-in for high school Regents exams aligned with the Common Core so that the Class of 2022 would be the first required to pass new English and math exams with higher scores. Earlier classes would still take Regents exams tied to Common Core but would face a lower threshold for passing.

• Delaying the sharing of student names and addresses with inBloom Inc., a private data service provider that will manage a new statewide student information system, until the Legislature can address student privacy concerns.

• Preventing school districts from using traditional standardized tests to measure the progress of kindergarten through second-graders for teacher and principal evaluations and give more flexibility for school districts to reduce local testing connected to the evaluations.

• Capping the amount of time school districts can spend on local standardized tests that are used for teacher and principal evaluations.

The Regents also reiterated their support for more state funding for professional development for teachers and parent outreach. They have sought $125 million for that work next year in the state budget, but the money was not included in Cuomo’s initial budget proposal.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to vote today on the changes after a committee approved the proposals Monday.

“We regret that the urgency of our work and the unevenness of implementation have caused frustration and anxiety for some of our educators, students and their families,” a Board of Regents report detailing the changes stated.

Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, said the proposals, to a large extent, only addressed problems with the Common Core rollout that have already happened, not issues that are still coming up. “In my opinion,” he said, “it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg.”

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