survey says

New York’s Common Core review begins with a survey and a new name

A new day in the court of public opinion awaits New York’s Common Core standards.

New Yorkers wishing to register their complaints or praise for the Common Core can now do so through an online survey launched on Wednesday. The 2,000-question form allows respondents to weigh in on every one of the Common Core’s math and English standards, spanning pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade.

The survey’s launch marks the start of a long-awaited review, which is required by a new state law. It also comes after years of criticism about how the standards, meant to make teaching more rigorous, were introduced into classrooms across the state.

“This is a chance for anyone interested in our students’ education, especially those who are closest to our schools, to give real, substantive feedback on the standards,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a statement.

The structure of the survey makes clear that the state is not looking to collect broad critiques of the Common Core. Participants have to pick if they want to keep, eliminate or change a specific standard for each question, and may explain their vote in an open-ended comment box. Even the name of the review process, “AIMHighNY,” seems designed to underscore officials’ desire to keep the standards from being watered down.

The survey will end Nov. 30 and the results will be analyzed by a group of educators that will be chosen by the State Education Department. Officials said final recommendations will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose office is planning its own review.

New York is one of nearly 20 states that has begun some type of review since adopting the Common Core in 2011. Along with 45 other states and the District of Columbia, New York backed the national movement in response to the vast gap between the number of students graduating from high school and the number of students unprepared to succeed at college coursework.

Criticism of the standards has ranged from conservative concerns about a government overreach to liberal concerns about how the changes will affect students and teachers in low-income schools. A unifying gripe is that the standards contributed to an overemphasis on standardized testing, a complaint bolstered by the state’s introduction of the new standards, new state tests, and new teacher evaluations in quick succession.

Elia, who started as commissioner in July, has vowed to be more open to feedback from teachers and parents than her predecessor John King. The survey is a first step, she said Wednesday.

“I firmly support high learning standards for all students, but I realize that our current set of standards isn’t perfect,” Elia said. “Together we can make them stronger.”

The survey is designed so that respondents don’t have to opine on every standard. They can search for a specific standard or browse based on grade or subject.

Once a standard is selected, respondents are presented with five choices. They can “agree” with how the standard has been written or respond that it should be discarded, rewritten, moved to a different grade level, or broken up into multiple standards. There is also a box for open-ended feedback.

Similar types of surveys administered in other states have yielded mixed feedback and resulted in some small changes.

In Tennessee, more than 2,000 people logged 130,000 reviews of specific standards during its review process, with just over half endorsing no changes. A subsequent committee opted to keep most of the English standards, but has recommended adding or rephrasing to offer better clarity and guidance to teachers.

TNReady snag

Tennessee’s ill-timed score delivery undercuts work to rebuild trust in tests

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
The Tennessee Department of Education worked with local districts and schools to prepare students for TNReady, the state's standardized test that debuted in 2016.

After last year’s online testing failure, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen pledged to rebuild trust in Tennessee’s new TNReady assessment, a lynchpin of the state’s system of school accountability.

A year later, frustration over TNReady has re-emerged, even after a mostly uneventful spring testing period that McQueen declared a success just weeks ago.

Preliminary TNReady scores are supposed to count for 10 percent of students’ final grades. But as many districts end the school year this week, the state’s data is arriving too late. One by one, school systems have opted to exclude the scores, while some plan to issue their report cards late.

The flurry of end-of-school adjustments has left local administrators to explain the changes to parents, educators and students who are already wary of state testing. And the issue has put Tennessee education officials back on the defensive as the state works to regain its footing on testing after last year’s high-profile setbacks.

“We just need to get more crisp as a state,” said Superintendent Dorsey Hopson after Shelby County Schools joined the growing list of districts opting to leave out the scores. “If we know that we want to use (TNReady scores), if the state says use them on the report card, then we got to get them back.”

The confusion represents one step back for TNReady, even after the state took two steps forward this spring with a mostly smooth second year of testing under Questar, its new test maker. Last year, McQueen canceled testing for grades 3-8 and fired Measurement Inc. after Tennessee’s online platform failed and a string of logistical problems ensued.


Why TNReady’s failed rollout leaves Tennessee with challenges for years to come


But the reason this year’s testing went more smoothly may also be the reason why the scores haven’t arrived early enough for many districts.

TNReady was mostly administered on paper this time around, which meant materials had to be processed, shipped and scored before the early data could be shared with districts. About 600,000 students took the assessment statewide.

After testing ended on May 5, districts had five days to get their materials to Questar to go to the front of the line for return of preliminary scores. Not all districts succeeded, and some had problems with shipping. Through it all, the State Department of Education has maintained that its timelines are “on track.”

McQueen said Wednesday that districts have authority under a 2015 state law to exclude the scores from students’ final grades if the data doesn’t arrive a week before school lets out. And with 146 districts that set their own calendars, “the flexibility provided under this law is very important.”

Next year will be better, she says, as Tennessee moves more students to online testing, beginning with high school students.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen

“We lose seven to 10 days for potential scoring time just due to shipping and delivery,” she said of paper tests. “Online, those challenges are eliminated because the materials can be uploaded immediately and transferred much much quicker.”

The commissioner emphasized that the data that matters most is not the preliminary data but the final score reports, which are scheduled for release in July for high schools and the fall for grades 3-8. Those scores are factored into teachers’ evaluations and are also used to measure the effectiveness of schools and districts. 

“Not until you get the score report will you have the full context of a student’s performance level and strengths and weaknesses in relation to the standards,” she said.

The early data matters to districts, though, since Tennessee has tied the scores to student grades since 2011.

“Historically, we know that students don’t try as hard when the tests don’t count,” said Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for Wilson County Schools, a district outside of Nashville that opted to issue report cards late. “We’re trying to get our students into the mindset that tests do matter, that this means business.”

Regardless, this year’s handling of early scores has left many parents and educators confused, some even exasperated.

“There’s so much time and stress on students, and here again it’s not ready,” said Tikeila Rucker, a Memphis teacher who is president of the United Education Association of Shelby County.

“The expectation is that we would have the scores back,” Hopson agreed.

But Hopson, who heads Tennessee’s largest district in Memphis, also is taking the long view.

“It’s a new test and a new process and I’m sure the state is trying to figure it all out,” he said. “Obviously the process was better this year than last year.”

Laura Faith Kebede and Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.

Not Ready

Memphis students won’t see TNReady scores reflected in their final report cards

PHOTO: Creative Commons / timlewisnm

Shelby County Schools has joined the growing list of Tennessee districts that won’t factor preliminary state test scores into students’ final grades this year.

The state’s largest school district didn’t receive raw score data in time, a district spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The State Department of Education began sharing the preliminary scores this week, too late in the school year for many districts letting out in the same week. That includes Shelby County Schools, which dismisses students on Friday.

While a state spokeswoman said the timelines are “on track,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the timing was unfortunate.

“There’s a lot of discussion about too many tests, and I think anytime you have a situation where you advertise the tests are going to be used for one thing and then we don’t get the data back, it becomes frustrating for students and families. But that’s not in our control,” he said Tuesday night.

Hopson added that the preliminary scores will still get used eventually, but just not in students’ final grades. “As we get the data and as we think about our strategy, we’ll just make adjustments and try to use them appropriately,” he said.

The decision means that all four of Tennessee’s urban districts in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga won’t include TNReady in all of their students’ final grades. Other school systems, such as in Williamson and Wilson counties, plan to make allowances by issuing report cards late, and Knox County will do the same for its high school students.

Under a 2015 state law, districts can leave out standardized test scores if the information doesn’t arrive five instructional days before the end of the school year. This year, TNReady is supposed to count for 10 percent of final grades.

Also known as “quick scores,” the data is different from the final test scores that will be part of teachers’ evaluation scores. The state expects to release final scores for high schoolers in July and for grades 3-8 in the fall.

The Department of Education has been working with testing company Questar to gather and score TNReady since the state’s testing window ended on May 5. About 600,000 students took the assessment statewide in grades 3-11.

State officials could not provide a district-by-district listing of when districts will receive their scores.

“Scores will continue to come out on a rolling basis, with new data released every day, and districts will receive scores based on their timely return of testing materials and their completion of the data entry process,” spokeswoman Sara Gast told Chalkbeat on Monday. “Based on district feedback, we have prioritized returning end-of-course data to districts first.”

Caroline Bauman and Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.