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State task force finds Common Core needing reforms

There will be less “teaching to the test.”

The tests themselves will be shorter.

More input will be sought from individual school districts, teachers and parents.

The standards will be relaxed for younger students and more flexible for those with disabilities and who are still learning English.

And, according to a 55-page report by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s task force, the results of tests aligned to Common Core Learning Standards won’t be used for teacher evaluations, at least until 2019-20.

The report released Thursday acknowledged that many mistakes were made in the rollout of Common Core since 2009 and that reforms are necessary.

It came on the same day that the federal “No Child Left Behind” law was officially set aside and replaced with a new education law that still requires testing but no longer requires school districts to use standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

Unlinking test results from teacher evaluations marks a huge victory for teachers unions, especially in this state, where the New York State United Teachers lobbied hard against the practice and encouraged parents across the state to opt their children out of the tests.

“Today we celebrate momentous developments at the state and national level that open the door for a much needed transformation in public education,” NYSUT said in a statement. “The recommendations of the state task force signal a commitment to restore the joy of teaching and learning in our classrooms.”

Area schools, particularly in Erie County suburbs, along with school districts on Long Island, were hotbeds in the opt-out movement this spring. About 70 percent of students of students in the West Seneca Central School District refused to take the standardized tests.

The task force is not abandoning Common Core, according to the report, but owned up to botched efforts getting the program into classrooms. It recommended revisions for the future, according to a letter from Richard D. Parsons, chairman of the task force, who is senior adviser at Providence Equity Partners and former Citigroup chairman and Time Warner CEO.

“In the press to implement the Common Core standards in New York beginning in 2009, the task force found that numerous mistakes were made,” Parsons wrote.

“Repeatedly, testimony and public comments to us focused on the fact that educators were inundated with confusing information and new material without having first been brought into the process of developing how these new approaches were to be integrated into curricula and taught to students. And some of the new standards were simply inappropriate for certain student populations.”

21 recommendations

Parsons continued in the letter at the beginning of the report:

“The Common Core standards must be revisited to reflect the particular needs and priorities of state and local school districts and, building upon the foundation established by the Common Core standards, high-quality New York State standards must be developed where necessary to meet the needs of our kids.”

The 16-member task force found:

• The state’s original process to adopt the more than 1,500 Common Core standards failed to include meaningful input by educators and was not done in a sufficiently open and transparent manner.

• There are concerns that students are spending too much time preparing for and taking tests and that teachers were only “teaching to the test.”

• The Common Core standards may not be age-appropriate at the early stages of education, including kindergarten through second grade.

• Common Core standards do not adequately address unique student populations, such as English language learners and students with disabilities.

• The standards are too rigid and need to be adaptable with more local school district and educator input.

• There was not enough time for teachers to develop curriculum aligned to Common Core because much of the sample curriculum resources were not available until after Common Core had already been adopted in schools.

• The curriculum created by the state Education Department is complicated and difficult to use.

• There is widespread belief that the curriculum does not allow for local district input, lacks breadth and is too much one-size-fits-all.

• There was a lack of state Education Department transparency and of parent, educator and other stakeholder engagement in the development of Common Core-aligned tests by the corporation hired by the state Education Department.

• Tests do not properly account for students with disabilities and create unnecessary duplicative testing for English language learners.

The task force offered 21 recommendations for fixing the Common Core that call for more input from districts, teachers and parents; more flexibility; the establishment of a transparent, open process for review; and more accommodations for students with disabilities and who are non-native English speakers.

Other recommendations include better training for teachers in the new standards, the launch of a digital platform that allows teachers to share resources across the state and a reduction in the number and time of tests.

‘A good start,’ teacher says

“We believe that these recommendations, once acted on, provide a means to that end,” Parsons wrote. “It is our belief that these recommendations provide the foundation to restore public trust in the education system in New York by improving what needs to be improved and building on our long history of excellence in public education.”

The findings in the report pleased many in education circles.

“The task force heard clear and convincing evidence that the state needs to step back, review the standards for their age-appropriateness, and engage local stakeholders,” Timothy G. Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said in a statement. “While this process plays out, we should remove any negative consequences tied to Common Core-aligned tests for students and educators. Importantly, the report does not retreat from high academic standards, but does acknowledge that curriculum decisions rightfully belong at the local level.”

Christopher J. Cerrone, a local teacher who is a member of New York State Allies for Public Education, called the changes “a good start.”

“I’m not jumping up and down yet,” he said. “There are some positive changes. It still doesn’t change the fact that there are students who will be taking flawed tests this year.”

Cerrone, who testified via phone conference before the task force, said the state should go back to issuing standardized tests written by teachers and “not corporate entities.” He advocated using portfolios that show a range of work to evaluate students’ progress and teachers’ effectiveness.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore also wasn’t ready to call it a total victory.

“Until there is concrete action, I’m not going to celebrate,” he said. “Right now, we’ll wait until there’s actually concrete action. But I don’t think anyone should be satisfied until we stop abusing our students by forcing them to take standardized tests that have been shown to not have any correlation to good teaching and learning.”

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said that many of the recommendations mirror those that the Regents made earlier this year.

“The most important message in the task force report is the renewed commitment to adopting and maintaining higher standards,” she said. “We cannot turn our backs on our students at a time when the world is demanding more from them – more skills, more knowledge, more problem-solving.”

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who served on the task force, said she shares the concern of New Yorkers she met “for improving the education of our children. And as a member of the Common Core Task Force, I’ve heard those same stakeholders express those same concerns.”

She said: “Now it’s time to move forward and deliver on the promise we’ve made to our students and give them the best schools possible.”

Elia has dealt with the debate somewhat down the middle line. She has said she supports the Common Core standards, and using the accompanying tests to evaluate teachers. Educators’ reactions

Elia vows inclusiveness

At the same time, Elia acknowledged the need for a review of New York’s implementation, and vowed to include teachers as part of that process.

Shortly after Elia became commissioner, the department announced a contract with a new company to develop test questions, and Elia said that she would ensure that New York teachers are part of the process.

“We’ve been changing standards in schools since 1647,” Elia told The Buffalo News, referencing the year that Massachusetts passed a law leading to the creation of the country’s public education system, shortly after she was appointed earlier this year. “I think it’s a very important process that education goes through. It looks at what is being delivered in our classrooms by our teachers, and what needs to be delivered so that kids can be successful.”

News Staff Reporter Tiffany Lankes contributed to this report. email: