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Reforms to the Common Core Learning Standards look worthy, as long as expectations remain high

The findings by the governor’s task force indicating the need for reforms to the Common Core Learning Standards should not be interpreted as a capitulation, rather an adjustment aimed at improving outcomes.

At least, they had better be that.

No plan should remain static in the face of evidence that demands change. The 2009 rollout of the new standards was not perfect. Far from it, as teachers unions and parents have stated. There is always room for adjustment.

The proposed changes do not stray from the goal of higher standards. As with the recent overhaul of the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law, there will be adjustments to the Common Core. Among those, according to the report by the governor’s 15-member task force, are a reduction of “teaching to the test,” shorter tests and more input from individual school districts, teachers and parents.

Standards will be relaxed for younger students and more flexible for those with disabilities, along with those who are still learning English. But perhaps the most notable recommendation in the 55-page report is that the results of tests aligned to the standards will not be used for teacher evaluations, at least until 2019-20.

The change regarding teacher evaluations mirrors an adjustment included in the new legislation replacing No Child Left Behind. That law requires testing but does not require school districts to use standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

Again, the task force report should not be seen as a sort of “buckling under.” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo went toe-to-toe with the teachers unions over this matter and he held his ground. The New York State United Teachers played hardball in winning parents over to its side, and getting them to opt their children out of the tests. This was an especially big issue in Erie County suburban schools, and West Seneca Central School District stood out among dissenters.

As time went on, people on both sides could agree that the rollout was less than perfect. The task force has set forth 21 recommendations to improve the program. Among them, more input from stakeholders; “the establishment of a transparent, open process for review; and more accommodations for students with disabilities and who are non-native English speakers.”

More training for teachers in the new standards should also help the process, along with the launch of a digital platform allowing teachers to share resources across the state and a reduction in the amount of time spent on tests.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch made a point of saying that many of the recommendations “mirror” those made by the Regents earlier this year. “The most important message in the task force report is the renewed commitment to adopting and maintaining higher standards,” she said.

That’s the key. Unless adults expect students to meet high standards, many of them won’t, even though they have the ability. To succeed in an increasingly competitive international job market, New York’s students need to be prepared. That’s what the Common Core Learning Standards were about, and it’s what they must remain about.