The governor’s Common Core task force has proposed overhauling the Common Core standards and pausing test-based teacher evaluations, paving the way for significant changes to policies that have dominated state education for years.
The recommendations were part of a report, released Thursday afternoon, that reflects parent and educator concerns about state tests, evaluations, and the rollout of the standards that have been brewing for years. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has pushed for tough academic standards and teacher ratings tied to test scores, has said he will pay close attention to the group’s recommendations — indicating that he is ready to back a broad shift in the state’s education policies.
“The Common Core was supposed to ensure all of our children had the education they needed to be college and career-ready — but it actually caused confusion and anxiety,” Cuomo said in a statement. “That ends now.”
The Common Core standards are lists of math and reading skills that students must master by the end of each grade. They form the basis for the state’s annual tests, which have grown increasingly unpopular: This year, one in five students across the state refused to take them.
The report calls for the standards to be revised in a limited way, with plenty of teacher input and adjustments to the standards aimed at the state’s youngest students. It also nods to concerns that the state has already begun to address about the content of tests and the time students spend taking them.
Its most dramatic suggestion, though, is a freeze until 2019 on factoring students’ state test scores into teachers’ ratings — the focus of years of policy wrangling that resulted in a revamped teacher-evaluation system that was introduced in 2013. Earlier this year, Cuomo successfully pushed for the scores to weigh more heavily in the ratings. If he accepts the recommendation, Cuomo will be making a significant retreat from his earlier position.
The proposal to pull back from test-based ratings marks a major victory for teachers unions, who have long argued that the tests are an unreliable measure of teacher performance.
“It validates what we have been saying for years,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said of the report, adding that Thursday was a “historical day.”
Whether the recommendations become reality is up to the state Board of Regents, which sets education policy. But Cuomo has indicated that he will heed the suggestions, which he said Thursday could be adopted without making changes to state law.
“It seems for the most part, the ball is now in the education department’s court and they are already at work on some of these ideas,” said Bob Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
The report does not call for replacing the standards, which the state adopted in 2010 as it began a fast-moving series of policy changes sparked by a $700 million federal “Race to the Top” grant. That gave Common Core supporters a minor victory to celebrate Thursday.
“The report makes clear that the current standards and assessments will stay in place,” said Stephen Sigmund, the executive director of High Achievement New York, a coalition of groups that promote the standards.
The report proposes a number of changes to the standards, such as making them more age-appropriate for young students and letting parents and teachers review them on a regular basis. For the assessments, it suggests reducing test time, publishing more of the test questions, and giving additional leeway to students with disabilities.
New York joins several states in backing away from the Common Core. A number of states have reviewed, renamed, or tweaked the standards, and a few have completely dropped them.
However, most of the reviews did not yield significant changes, said Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of education at USC’s Rossier School of Education.
“There’s been a number of states now that have done this kind of review and I think unanimously, the outcome has been relatively modest tweaks of the actual content of the standards,” Polikoff said.
Cuomo appointed the 15-member task force in September, partly in response to the unprecedented wave of testing opposition this spring. At that time, he called the state’s Common Core’s roll out “deeply flawed” and pledged to consider the committee’s recommendations when setting his agenda for next year’s legislative session.
The task force was comprised of educators and advocates from around the state, including New York State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. The group spent three months collecting public testimony and reviewing written comments, ultimately consulting about 2,100 people, according to Cuomo’s office.
Still, a full reboot of standards would take far longer than was allotted to the task force, said Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Fordham Institute who also works at Democracy Prep, a charter school in Harlem.
“Creating standards is not something that you do quickly, easily, overnight,” Pondiscio said.
The latest recommendations mirror ones proposed by Elia at last month’s Board of Regents meeting. The state education department said it received generally positive feedback on a survey it conducted of the standards, though some critics have questioned those findings.
Cuomo’s task force was not tasked with reviewing teacher evaluations, but during the process its members decided that the standards and assessments could not be separated from the evaluations, since they are based partly on test results.
New York introduced the Common Core-aligned tests in 2013, at the same time as the test-based evaluation system. That combination put significant pressure on teachers, who were suddenly judged based on standards that many said they were unprepared to teach.
In January, Cuomo again raised the stakes for teacher evaluations. Calling the current system “baloney,” he successfully pushed for a revised law that makes tests account for around 50 percent of teachers’ ratings.
By embracing the committee’s report, he is set to abandon the position he staked out earlier this year.
“Today, we will begin to transform our system,” Cuomo said in his statement Thursday, “into one that empowers parents, teachers, and local districts and ensures high standards for all students.”