New York

Regents recommend broad changes to Common Core rollout, including delaying graduation standards

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
State Education Commissioner John King was on a committee that recommended changes to the state's Common Core rollout.

New York’s rollout of the new Common Core standards is experiencing a second setback in a week as education policy makers today recommend scaling back what high school students must do to graduate.

The Board of Regents subcommittee charged to review the state’s Common Core implementation is suggesting a five-year “extension” of plans to tie high school graduation to scores on tougher state Regents exams. High school students would still have to pass Common Core exams starting this year under the recommendation, but they wouldn’t have to hit a benchmark billed as signifying “college readiness” until 2022.

Officials said they hope the “extension” proposal would assuage concerns that the State Education Department, led by Commissioner John King since 2011, has moved too quickly in implementing the Common Core. The state formally adopted the standards in 2010 and began testing students in elementary and middle school on them last year. Lower test scores fueled dozens of contentious public forums across the state.

The recommendation follows a call last week from state legislators on both sides of the aisle to delay tying Common Core test scores to teacher evaluations for at least two years.

That push, which caused Gov. Andrew Cuomo to criticize the Regents’ Common Core implementation, is noticeably absent from the Regents’ recommendations. The six-member committee — which was made up of King, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and four other Regents — is not calling for a delay, which would require a significant change to the state’s teacher evaluation law.

Instead, the committee is recommending a smaller change to regulations that guide the law, which members said would give teachers who are deemed ineffective two years in a row extra protection. If districts move to fire such teachers, as state law allows, the teachers could use the district’s handling of the Common Core implementation as evidence in their defense that they weren’t adequately prepared to help students meet the standards. That defense would apply only to the student growth portion of the evaluations, not to the subjective measures such as principal evaluations that make up 60 percent of each teacher’s annual rating.

The recommended change to the graduation standard wouldn’t require any legal tweaks. Instead, the education department would set multiple thresholds for high school state test scoring. The top level would demonstrate “mastery” of the content. Another level would demonstrate college preparation and a third level, similar to what is a 65 on the current Regents exams, would still be good enough for graduation.

There would also be a “safety net” level, similar to the 55 that students with disabilities are allowed to earn on current tests.

In all, the committee is recommending 19 changes, many of which have been floated before in recent months. They include limitations on what kinds of assessments can be used in early elementary grades, extra funding for professional development, and federal testing waivers for high-needs students.

In one key recommendation, the subcommittee suggests limiting the amount of time that students spend on testing for teacher evaluations to 1 percent of their classroom time in school. In another, it recommends prohibiting districts from using state test scores as the sole determinant of whether a student is promoted to the next grade — a practice that New York City has in place but is likely to drop under Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has said he wants to diminish the role of testing in city schools.

The full Board of Regents will discuss the recommendations this week. The report from the subcommittee is below.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.