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.

Test tweaks

Tennessee will halve science and social studies tests for its youngest students

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday plans to slim down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders as she seeks to respond to complaints of over-testing in Tennessee.

McQueen has been mulling over that option since meeting last summer with her testing task force. The State Department of Education received more public feedback on testing during the last eight months while developing the state’s new plan for its schools in response to a new federal education law.

Tennessee already has eliminated a state test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as shortened TNReady, the state’s end-of-year tests for math and reading.

It’s uncertain just how significant the latest reductions are, since McQueen also said that some “components” would be added to English tests in those grades.  

And the trimming, while significant, falls short of a suggestion to eliminate the tests altogether. Federal law does not require tests in science and social studies for those grades, like it does for math and English.

Parents and educators have become increasingly vocal about the amount of testing students are undergoing. The average Tennessee third-grader, for instance, currently spends more than 11 hours taking end-of-course tests in math, English, social studies and science. That doesn’t include practice tests and screeners through the state’s 3-year-old intervention program.

McQueen noted that more changes could be on the horizon. Her testing task force has also considered eliminating or reducing TNReady for 11th-graders because they already are required to take the ACT college-entrance exam. “We will continue to evaluate all of our options for streamlining assessments in the coming years, including in the 11th grade,” she wrote in a blog post.

McQueen also announced that the state is tweaking its schools plan to reduce the role that chronic absenteeism will play in school evaluation scores.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to evaluate schools based off of a measure that’s not directly tied to test scores. Tennessee officials have selected chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent of school days for any reason, including absences or suspension. McQueen said the measure will be changed to count for 10 percent of a school’s final grade, down from 20 percent for K-8 schools and 15 percent for high schools.

Some local district officials had raised concerns that absenteeism was out of the control of schools.

early adopters

Here are the 25 districts committing to taking TNReady online this spring

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

One year after Tennessee’s first attempt at online testing fizzled, 25 out of 140 Tennessee school districts have signed up to try again.

About 130 districts were eligible to test online this year.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday the number is what she expected as districts prepare to administer the state’s TNReady assessment in April.

Although all districts will make the switch to online testing by 2019 for middle and high school students, they had the option to forge ahead this year with their oldest students.

The Department of Education is staggering its transition to online testing — a lesson learned last year when most of the state tried to do it all at once and the online platform buckled on the first day. As a result, the department fired its testing company, derailing the state’s assessment program, and later hired  Questar as its new test maker.

Districts piloted Questar’s online platform last fall, and had until Wednesday to decide whether to forge ahead with online testing for their high school students this spring or opt for paper-and-pencil tests.

McQueen announced the state’s new game plan for TNReady testing in January and said she is confident that the new platform will work.

While this year was optional for high schools, all high schools will participate in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the test on paper to its youngest students.

Districts opting in this spring are:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Bedford County
  • Bledsoe County
  • Blount County
  • Bristol City
  • Campbell County
  • Cannon County
  • Cheatham County
  • Clay County
  • Cocke County
  • Coffee County
  • Cumberland County
  • Grundy County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hancock County
  • Knox County
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Moore County
  • Morgan County
  • Putnam County
  • Scott County
  • Sullivan County
  • Trousdale County
  • Washington County
  • Williamson County