New York education officials Wednesday kicked off a review of the state’s Common Core standards with an online survey, but some of the standards’ foes say the review doesn’t go far enough — or may even be designed to fail.
The survey established a goal to gather input from teachers, parents, school board members and residents across the state as part of the state Education Department’s review of the standards.
The review — and a separate commission formed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to “reboot” the standards — comes after more than 200,000 students this year opted out of the state’s assessments used to measure the standards.
Parents and school officials in and around Schenectady on Wednesday said the survey poses technical problems and comes late in the process to provide much meaningful insight in time for lawmakers and state officials to consider changes in their established timelines.
“There’s not a lot of time for them to do this,” Schenectady school board President Cathy Lewis said.
Parent and former middle school teacher Alison Bianco of Colonie went even further, arguing the survey and review commission were a “sham” intended to make it look like state officials were listening to concerns with the standards but doing nothing to address those concerns.
She said: “220,000 opt-outs tell us there is a level of dissatisfaction with what is going on. … But they are going to rename it, rebrand it and it’s business as usual.”
Moreover, Bianco and Tim Farley, a school principal in Columbia County, said they tried to take the survey Wednesday, but it was difficult to navigate and didn’t give participants the chance to provide narrative answers or responses about their opinions of the standards. Farley estimated completing the survey could take 20 hours or more.
Bianco said she isn’t bothered that much by the standards themselves — which set general grade-level targets for math and literacy — but more with the process, “shrouded in secrecy,” that led to their adoption and the testing that comes with them. She is also concerned with long-term data collection and monitoring she fears will follow the testing.
The complaints over the standards cut deeper than just the survey, however, and come from different groups with varying interests. The standards are tied to statewide exams that play a major role in evaluating teachers and schools.
Schenectady Federation of Teachers President Juliet Benaquisto said there is a lot to like about establishing standards, but she worries the “high-stakes” testing tied to the standards doesn’t provide teachers with useful information. She also said the testing doesn’t account for other factors students face — home conditions, poverty, special needs and more.
Fifty percent of a teacher’s evaluation is tied to how students do on the tests which, Benaquisto said, places teachers in the most challenging schools and districts under a constant cloud of fear. She said the tests are too long and rigorous to represent a fair measure of a teacher’s success.
“We need to have a system where we are looking at other measures … what gains students have made,” she said. “We need to engage in a process where we look at results and compare how our students are doing compared to districts with similar poverty rates and English-as-a-second-language students.”
Schenectady schools Superintendent Laurence Spring agreed that too much stock is put in the tests when it comes to evaluating teachers, especially tests that are so new and have yet to be statistically validated over multiple years. He also said the focus of the tests and standards should be on students and not teachers.
“Let’s ensure that the test is good for kids first. The test has to be used to improve teaching and learning for children,” he said. “When you use it for a purpose other than that, let’s be careful.”