another round

Cuomo says Common Core ‘must be fixed,’ will begin (another) review process

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin-Office of the Governor/Flickr
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference in 2014.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued another sharp critique of New York’s implementation of new learning standards on Thursday, saying he understood the concerns of parents who opted their children out of taking state tests and would convene another group to examine the Common Core.

In a lengthy statement, Cuomo said he will task a team of advisors to review policies tied to the Common Core standards and make recommendations by January — in time for him to direct another round of legislative changes to state education policy. The announcement comes as political pressure has mounted on state officials to address its opt-out movement, which grew to one in five eligible students this year.

“The fact is that the current Common Core program in New York is not working, and must be fixed,” Cuomo said. “To that end, the time has come for a comprehensive review of the implementation of the Common Core Standards, curriculum, guidance and tests in order to address local concerns.”

It’s unclear how this review of the Common Core will differ from the one Cuomo convened in 2014, or a separate review being directed by new State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. Spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said the goal will be to “pass a new law that revamps the system” with input from school administrators, teachers, parents, legislators, and the State Education Commissioner.

Cuomo said he was responding to growing rancor from parents who oppose the state’s testing policies. After adopting the standards in 2010, New York rushed ahead of many states in tying its standardized math and English exams to the standards in 2013 and simultaneously introducing a new teacher-evaluation system that used student test results. Critics have said the state moved too quickly, providing too little training for teachers, botching textbook deliveries to schools, and not communicating clearly enough with families.

Cuomo — who was governor during that transition — criticized the State Education Department but steered clear of pointing a finger at Elia, saying she has “inherited this problem” and acknowledging her efforts to meet with state testing opponents.

But Cuomo implied that comments Elia has made since taking over the department, including saying teachers who encouraged the opt-out movement were “unethical,” have done little to reduce frustration.

“We must have standards for New York’s students, but those standards will only work if people – especially parents – have faith in them and in their ability to educate our children,” Cuomo said. “The current Common Core program does not do that. It must.”

In response, Elia said she was moving forward with her own review because “it’s the right thing to do for our students” and that she looked forward to input from the governor’s commission.

The statement created a rare moment of unity between the governor and the city teachers union. “We’ll be happy to work with the new group to help fix the problems created by the Common Core rollout and to help restore the public’s faith in state education policy,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement.

Cuomo has often convened education commissions and panels to exert influence over the State Education Department, which is overseen by the 17-member Board of Regents, not his office. In 2012, the governor tapped an “education reform commission” whose recommendations spurred a series of competitive grants for districts.

Cuomo tapped a “Common Core panel” in the winter of 2014, as calls mounted for the state to pause tying state test results to consequences for students and teachers. The panel included Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, IBM executive and former deputy city schools chancellor Stan Litow, and some teachers, including New York City teacher Nick Lawrence. A few months later they released a report that called for an end to a student data warehousing initiative and less test preparation, but did not call for changes to teacher evaluations.

Here is the governor’s full statement:

“There has been an ongoing discussion about Common Core Standards nationwide, and in this state as well. I have said repeatedly my position is that while I agree with the goal of Common Core Standards, I believe the implementation by the State Education Department (SED) has been deeply flawed. The more time goes on, the more I am convinced of this position.

“A growing chorus of experts have questioned the intelligence of SED’s Common Core program and objective educators across the state have found the implementation problematic, to say the least. The new Commissioner of Education has inherited this problem and I understand has been meeting with parents, educators and students, and has heard the same concerns. Recently, SED has made comments about organized efforts to have parents choose to opt out of standardized tests. While I understand the issue and SED’s valid concern, I sympathize with the frustration of the parents.

“We must have standards for New York’s students, but those standards will only work if people – especially parents – have faith in them and in their ability to educate our children. The current Common Core program does not do that. It must.

“The fact is that the current Common Core program in New York is not working, and must be fixed. To that end, the time has come for a comprehensive review of the implementation of the Common Core Standards, curriculum, guidance and tests in order to address local concerns. I am taking this action not because I don’t believe in standards, but because I do.

“In the past, I employed an Education Commission to make substantive, unbiased recommendations on reforms to our education system. It has worked very well. I will ask a representative group from that Commission, including education experts, teachers, parents, the Commissioner of Education and legislative representatives to review the issues raised above and provide recommendations in time for my State of the State Address in January.”

rules and regs

State shortens length of ‘gag order’ on teachers discussing Regents questions online

PHOTO: G. Tatter

After pushback from teachers, the State Education Department has changed a new provision that temporarily prohibits teachers from discussing Regents exam questions online.

The original rule stated that teachers could not use email or a listserv to discuss test questions or other specific content with other teachers until a week after the exam period ended on June 23. As Chalkbeat reported Tuesday, teachers objected, arguing that they sometimes needed to discuss questions in order to properly grade the tests or to challenge questions that seems unfair.

Under the change, tests taken between June 13 and June 16 can be discussed online beginning June 23. And for those taken between June 19 and June 22, teachers can discuss content online beginning June 27.

According to education department officials, the provision was intended to ensure that testing material did not spread online before all students had completed their exams, particularly among schools that serve students with special needs, who qualify for multiple-day testing.

“We believe that nearly all students who are testing with this accommodation will have completed their exams by these dates,” Steven Katz, director of the Office of State Assessment, wrote in a memo to school principals and leaders.

Still, longtime physics teacher Gene Gordon and former president of the Science Teachers Association of New York State noted that, to some extent, the damage was done since the amendment to the rule came out only after many teachers had already graded their exams.

“It did not have any real effect,” Gordon said.

The New York State United Teachers — which criticized the new provision on Tuesday as a “gag order” and called for its repeal — called the amendment a “clear victory” for educators. Still, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Chalkbeat, “it clearly will be more helpful in the future than this year.”

Testing Testing

Calculator mix-up could force some students to retake ISTEP, and Pearson is partially to blame

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

ISTEP scores for thousands of students across the state will be thrown out this year, including at two Indianapolis private schools, according to state officials.

The mishap can be traced back to calculators. Students at 20 schools used calculators on a section of the 2017 ISTEP math test when they shouldn’t have — in at least one district because of incorrect instructions from Pearson, the company that administers the tests in Indiana.

It’s a small glitch compared to the massive testing issues Indiana experienced with its previous testing company, CTB McGraw Hill. But years of problems have put teachers, students and parents on high alert for even minor hiccups. In 2013, for example, about 78,000 students had their computers malfunction during testing. Pearson began administering ISTEP in 2016.

The calculator mix-up involving Pearson happened in Rochester Community Schools, located about two hours north of Indianapolis. About 700 students in three schools received the incorrect instructions.

Molly Deuberry, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said that Rochester is the only district known to have received the incorrect instructions, but the state is also investigating calculator-related problems at 19 other schools.

According to federal rules, students who use calculators on non-calculator test sections must have their scores labeled as “undetermined.” Current sophomores will need to retake the test, since passing the 10th-grade exam is a graduation requirement in Indiana. Students will have multiple opportunities to do so, including during the summer, state officials said.

It’s not clear how the invalidated scores will affect those schools’ A-F letter grades. It is up to the Indiana State Board of Education to handle A-F grade appeals, which districts can request once grades are released.

“The Department and State Board will collaborate to ensure that the State Board receives sufficient detail about this incident when reviewing the appeals,” the education department said in an email.

Pearson spokesman Scott Overland said in an email that they would work with the education department to follow up on the calculator issues and correct their processes for next year.

“In some cases, Pearson inadvertently provided inaccurate or unclear guidance on the use of calculators during testing,” Overland said. “In these instances, we followed up quickly to help local school officials take corrective action.”

Here are the districts and schools the state says had students incorrectly use calculators on this year’s ISTEP:

  • Covington Christian School, Covington
  • Eastbrook South Elementary, Eastbrook Schools
  • Eastern Hancock Elementary School, Eastern Hancock County Schools
  • Emmanuel-St. Michael Lutheran School, Fort Wayne
  • Frankfort Middle School, Frankfort Community Schools
  • George M Riddle Elementary School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Lasalle Elementary School, School City of Mishawaka
  • New Haven Middle School, East Allen County Schools
  • Rochester Community Middle School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Rochester Community High School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Saint Boniface School, Lafayette
  • Saint Joseph High School, South Bend
  • Saint Roch Catholic School, Indianapolis
  • Silver Creek Middle School, West Clark Community Schools
  • St. Louis de Montfort School, Lafayette
  • Tennyson Elementary School, Warrick County Schools
  • Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, School City of Hammond
  • Trinity Christian School, Indianapolis
  • Waterloo Elementary School, DeKalb County Schools
  • Westfield Middle School, Westfield-Washington Schools

This story has been updated to include comments from Pearson.