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Common Core Still Leaves Room for Improvement

By Assemblyman Will Barclay
The New York State Department of Education recently released the assessment results for third through eighth graders.

The Department of Education reports there were some gains statewide over last year’s results. Statewide the percentage of students scoring on the math exam at or above the proficient level (receiving a score of 3 or 4) increased only slightly from 31.2% to 35.8%.

The English Language Arts exam showed virtually no change, with 31.4% of New York students “proficient” as compared to last year’s score of 31.3% scoring proficient.

This was the first year the state tests were based on Common Core Learning Standards.  Many have heard the term Common Core by now. Common Core is meant to serve as a consistent set of expectations for what students should learn and be able to graduate “college and career ready.” New York was one of the first states to implement these standards.

Whether  Common Core  will achieve its aim is debatable and often depends on who you ask. One thing that is for sure: it’s been one year since the Common Core was introduced to New York’s public school students and I  continue to hear from constituents who are upset at the direction of education. With  test scores  recently being mailed to parents, it has brought the debate back to the forefront.

The introduction of the Common Core curriculum last fall was met with criticism by teachers, parents, students, and administrators.

Hearings were held across the state, with angry and concerned people, urging the Department of Education to slow the process, make changes, and give teachers time to understand the modules themselves before they were pressured to teach the kids and have their job performance tied to students’ test scores.

Some schools have decided on using the modules exactly as they are written, while others have allowed instructors more latitude.  Most lower wealth schools are forced to use the state modules because they cannot afford to develop their own curriculum that meet the new standards.

A lot is at stake for school districts because state funding can be affected by a school’s performance. Parents have the right to “opt out” but are strongly encouraged to have their children take the test. Without a 95% participation, schools will not make “Adequate Yearly Progress” and a district’s Title I funding could be affected. In addition, there are other intervention and consequences for schools in this situation.

It’s especially tricky for low-wealth schools because their budgets are highly dependent on state aid. Some schools  are facing this situation after the Common Core’s shaky rollout and parents rallied in certain districts to “opt out.”

In response to the justifiable outrage over the rollout of the Common Core, the state made some changes and in the legislature, we delayed tying teacher evaluations to student performance by two years. We also prohibited standardized testing for Pre-K through second grades.

Further, we  prohibited promotion or placement decisions of students based solely on state assessments.

Other changes were made by the Regents and the Department of Education. They extended the phase-in so that the Class of 2022 will be the first class that is required to pass English and Math Regents exams at college and career ready levels.

Previously, it was the class of 2015.

The Board of Regents also provided alternative testing for special education students, subject to the receipt of a federal waiver; and further enhanced protections for personally identifiable student information and created penalties for breach of student and teacher data.

Wherever you stand on this issue, it’s important to let your school board members, your school principals, and students’ teachers know your thoughts.

Last year, some of the changes to Common Core were made because people talked to their representatives and made their voices known to the Board of Regents.

I was able to forward testimony and letters to the State Education Department and also act on legislative changes after hearing from many constituents. I plan to continue to work toward improving education in the upcoming legislative year and hope you will take the time to write or call my office with any questions or concerns.

I would also encourage you to write directly to the State Education Department at New York State Education Department, 89 Washington Ave., Albany, NY 12234, by phone at 518-474-3852 or you may find online contact forms at www.nysed.gov/contact-NYSED. You may also write to the Board of Regents at New York State Education Department, 89 Washington Ave., Board of Regents, Room 110 EB, Albany, NY 12234 or email at [email protected]

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.