Hammered again and again by teachers and parents over the Common Core, the State Education Department responded Wednesday by proposing changes to more than half of the state learning standards for math and English language arts.
Two committees of more than 130 educators and parents helped draft the revisions, which recommend changing 60 percent of the ELA standards and 55 percent of the math standards for students in grades pre-school through 12.
In some cases, the changes mean replacing one standard with another the committee felt was more relevant, said Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. In other cases, it may simply mean defining a standard more clearly – answering a complaint the commissioner heard several times.
“Some of the language was confusing and could be interpreted differently,” Elia said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.
Whatever the change, the state’s top educator reassured reporters that the revisions would not water down the standards, but instead clarify and streamline them to help teachers develop a curriculum that meets the needs of students.
Initial reaction Wednesday from stakeholders on all sides of the issue was generally positive.
However, some critics were reserving judgment until they thoroughly review the changes. There also was still some skepticism that the revisions might be just a rebranding of the existing standards.
Elia highlighted a few of the revisions, including:
• Emphasizing the “whole child” and recognizing the importance of “play” or classroom interaction as an instructional strategy for students in grades pre-K through two;
• Ensuring a healthy balance of reading for information and reading literature;
• Using a variety of reading material to ensure students read both full-length passages and shorter pieces, as well as read for pleasure;
• Clarifying standards for math so students, parents and teachers understand the expectations, but doing so without limiting the flexibility of the instruction.
“A big area of focus is to more clearly communicate the standards so the teachers can tailor their curriculum to their own students’ needs,” Elia said.
The commissioner also stressed that she wanted to give teachers the time and support to digest and understand the changes, one of the big failings when the Common Core was initially rolled out.
“One thing we don’t want to do is to rush this,” Elia said.
The State Education Department is accepting public comment on the draft standards through Nov. 4. The expectation is that the revisions will be presented to the Board of Regents for consideration in early 2017. The target is for the revised standards to be reflected in the state assessments during the 2018-19 school year.
The draft standards come after a year’s study by Elia, who logged thousands of miles crisscrossing the state to meet with the public, parents and teachers.
It also comes after several years of growing dissatisfaction with the Common Core standards and state assessments that propelled the large “opt-out” movement across New York.
In fact, many of the proposed changes to the standards were recommended by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force, which was formed in the face of the opt-out movement and issued its report last December.
“These changes reflect what I have heard from parents, teachers and administrators over the past year in my travels across the state,” Elia said. “Now, we want to hear from educators and parents so we can develop the best learning standards to prepare New York’s children for their futures.”
New York State United Teachers, which worked with the State Education Department over several months reviewing standards, said the draft was a “good start in the long process to set new, New York standards.”
“The next steps, however, are crucial to getting this right,” NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said in a prepared statement. “Parents and educators from throughout the state will have the opportunity to review this draft of the new standards and help determine whether they fully meet the needs of educators, school districts and, most importantly, students. The state’s fidelity to that process is essential if the state is to win back the trust and confidence of parents and educators.”
High Achievement New York, a statewide organization representing business and community leaders who support the Common Core, were pleased that high standards remain intact and weren’t watered down.
“Our key takeaway is while there were a number of clarifications and simplifications made to the standards, these aren’t ‘major changes’ since the vast majority of the standards were not eliminated and the anchor standards on which the others are based remained unchanged,” said Stephen Sigmund, executive director of the organization, which includes the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Buffalo Urban League and Buffalo’s District Parent Coordinating Council.
School superintendents also were encouraged by what they saw Wednesday, but said the state still needs to work to avoid the “missteps” that hurt the implementation of the Common Core.
“Superintendents found value in the current standards but want changes,” said Charles Dedrick, executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. “They were most troubled by rushed and flawed implementation of the standards and other major initiatives all at once, including new state tests and teacher evaluations.”
“The thoughtful and inclusive approach the Education Department is following to revise the standards this time can help avoid past mistakes,” he said.
Meanwhile, parents at the forefront of the opt-out movement were still trying to delve into the lengthy revisions on Wednesday and had more questions than answers.
“Other states have completed a ‘rebrand’ of Common Core,” said Chris Cerrone, a teacher and member of the New York State Allies for Public Education. “I hope that did not occur in New York.”