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Common Core Task Force is setting its sights on a high-quality education for every student

High expectations for every student. Accountability. Parent engagement. Educator involvement. Student feedback. Transparency.

As I listened intently to New York parents, teachers, experts in child development and learning, and stakeholders around the state provide testimony to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force, these themes stood out to me and my fellow members.

Over the past two months, the task force hosted forums across the state and heard input on what is working, what needs revision and what is broken. We heard about the bungled implementation of previous policies and aspirations to get them right for the future. We heard from speakers at public forums, thousands of people who submitted their stories and ideas to the task force website, and task force members who advocated for the interests of their respective colleagues and constituents.

Throughout the course of our work I expressed my expectations, interests and concerns related to the current reform efforts in New York. Particularly the need to protect the integrity of the voice of elected parent representation via enforcement of Commissioners Regulations 100.11. Those who know me know I bring the voice of parents, the voice of the underserved and the voice resisting low expectations. As I listened to others, I became keenly aware that schools and regions across the state have different approaches to the challenges and opportunities in public education.

Hearing from other regions helped me to recognize that we are not a one-size-fits-all state. I now realize that more must be done to ensure that public education in New York works for every student regardless of ZIP code and that we must all work together if we are to make progress and see results. I believe we addressed our interests and concerns with all that is “the Common Core” and we found common ground.

As the task force has reinforced in its recommendations, academic standards must be strong, age appropriate and guides for high-quality curriculum and instruction.

Curriculum should be challenging, flexible and locally designed or selected with necessary resources available to all across the state. Standardized testing is necessary to hold our districts and schools to high standards and ensure they are accountable for the success of all students – but the testing should not handcuff teachers and curriculum or take many days to administer. And critically, parents and educators must have a voice in the design and review of these standards, curriculum and assessments.

The task force never lost sight of the goal of ensuring that New York has high academic standards that expect students to graduate from high school and be ready for college or a career. Such a goal requires our schools and districts to step up to ensure strong academic performance, and requires our teachers and administrators to have the support and professional development they need to provide our students with the best education possible.

The task force believes that the standards can provide local districts with flexibility to meet the needs of their students while also raising the bar even higher for students and districts that need that extra push. We believe there is a way to test students that does not take away from instruction or force teachers to teach to the test, yet gives parents, districts and the State Education Department the data to hold educators accountable for student performance.

At the same time, the task force acknowledged that sufficient time is needed for the state to fully review and amend the academic standards, develop a new curriculum that teachers must then learn and adapt to meet the needs of their own students, and create a new series of shortened standardized tests. To ensure that we get the system right before we attach consequences, the task force recommended that Common Core test scores be used only on an advisory basis for individual students and teachers until the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

This transition period allows the state to still measure student subgroup, school and district performance while allowing time to get the system right.

I encourage all residents, parents especially, to read the task force recommendations closely and to be engaged in their local communities. It will take everyone working together to find common ground and accomplish a common goal with common sense.

Sam Radford is president of the District Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo and a member of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force.