changes to the core

New York state recommends changes to over half the Common Core learning standards

PHOTO: Monica Disare
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia at the School of Diplomacy in the Bronx.

New York released its much-anticipated draft of the state’s new math and English learning standards on Wednesday, which officials said are a major departure from Common Core.

More than half of the standards, which specify what skills and knowledge students should be able to demonstrate in each grade, were changed. That could mean anything from wording tweaks to replacing a standard altogether, said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. Some of the most significant changes involve early-grade English standards and a clarified set of expectations for Algebra I and II.

These standards are only a draft, but they offer the first glimpse into what will likely become the basis for a New York state education.

“It isn’t just tinkering around the edges and doing small, little things,” Elia said. “We had a very dedicated committee that met multiple times… [to] make sure that while they were still rigorous standards, that they were more clearly defined for our teachers across the state.”

New York was one of 45 states to adopt the Common Core standards, which were designed to improve college and career readiness. Last year, New York joined a nationwide trend and started backing away from Common Core after one in five students in the state opted out of state tests.

Governor Andrew Cuomo called for an overhaul of the standards in December, which he said led to “confusion and anxiety.”

Since then, the State Education Department has convened committees with a total of more than 130 teachers and other stakeholders to review and revise the math and English standards.

The state’s teachers union praised the changes, saying they are aligned to what students should be learning — and praised the review process.

“New York parents and educators, who worked with these standards every day, had a more meaningful voice in developing these new draft standards, and that represents an encouraging start,” said NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino. NYSUT leaders also pointed out that the process is far from over and the public comment period will be crucial to finalizing the standards.

Others were quick to argue that the standards had not changed very much at all. High Achievement New York, a coalition formed to support rigorous standards, sent a statement celebrating the fact that Common Core remains largely intact.

“Clarifying and simplifying language and combining standards is just common sense – enhancing the standards already in place and helping teachers better use these standards in the classroom,” said the leaders of High Achievement New York. “Most important, the vast majority of the standards … remain in place.”

Though many states have backed away from the official Common Core standards, often their replacement closely resembles the original standards. A New York state survey of each standard provided mainly supportive feedback, suggesting many educators and stakeholders did not want significant changes.

Elia explained that the changed standards were revised to varying degrees. Some were moved to new grade levels, others saw terminology adjustments or were clarified, and some were completely replaced with a “more relevant” standard. Elia said she could not say which type of change was most common.

She also said that while other states had fewer people offering input, or had to finish the revisions quickly, New York had a thorough review process. The extent to which New York state’s proposed standards represent a departure from Common Core will likely be analyzed by policymakers and researchers over the next several weeks and months.

Some of the most salient changes to English standards were centered around the early grades, state officials said. The new standards try to focus on the “whole child” and place an emphasis on learning through play. Officials are also convening a task force to take another look at the early education standards.

In math, the standards have been revised to clarify what students should learn in Algebra I and Algegra II. They also give students more time to develop “deep levels of understanding” for complicated algebra concepts. For both math and English, the state will create a glossary of terms to make sure educators are on the same page about what the standards mean.

Those changes are consistent with statewide survey results, which suggested that early-grade English standards should be more developmentally appropriate and higher-level math standards should be clarified.

In New York, the Common Core standards have also became part of a larger discussion about other policy reforms, such as the use of state standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. Replacing the standards is the first step in redefining what it means to get an education in New York state, which will include revising assessments, teacher evaluations and how the state rates schools.

The standards will now go out for public comment, which will be open until Nov. 4. The Board of Regents are expected to consider the standards in early 2017 and roll out new assessments based on the standards by the 2018-19 school year.

“One thing we don’t want to do is to rush this,” Elia said.

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: