Here we go again.
A new year brings a new round of state assessments for third- through eighth-grade students and parents must decide what is best for their children. Only, this decision not only affects your child, but more importantly, all children in public schools.
This fight has never been about the tests themselves, rather the standards behind the tests.
I’ve seen first-hand the difference, having one child who missed most of the implementation and a younger one for whom there was no escaping the negatives of the Common Core reforms.
I don’t blame our teachers or administration; it was the rush to implement Common Core by the state and federal governments with the promise of additional money at a time when the economy was in a free fall.
In its rush to adopt the standards and lead the nation by instituting Common Core as quickly as possible, New York never vetted the standards. It rushed into place a new curriculum for kids through eighth grade, basically overnight.
As parents became aware of the changes, a movement of critics started to rise up and speak out.
Education leaders would have none of it. Rather than listen to critics, New York state unleashed a public relations campaign standing behind its decision, providing the “facts” to the public.
In one example, the Capital Region BOCES put together a presentation in 2013 titled, “Common Core Learning Standards: Fact versus Fiction,” authored by Jennifer Wells and Dr. Lynn Wells.
The purpose was to arm local school districts with information promoting Common Core while silencing critics of the new standards. Similar documents were used throughout the state.
These so-called “facts” presented just a few years ago by the state Education Department have summarily been debunked by the recent Common Core Task Force.
For example, when critics claimed New York teachers weren’t involved in the development of the Common Core, BOCES claimed that hundreds of teachers who served on state review teams and the development of the standards was an open process involving many teachers over several years.
The task force concluded, however, that educators had limited input into the Common Core before their formal adoption in New York.
Critics also claimed the standards were age-inappropriate, to which BOCES responded that teachers were responsible for determining “developmentally appropriate ways for young students to reach them.”
Others had a deep concern the focus of the standards was too narrow. The task force has since acknowledged the narrow nature of the standards.
Many parents and teachers have expressed concern that the Common Core standards have led to the reduction of time devoted to other subjects as well as about the emphasis on non-fiction at the expense of literature, creative writing and reading for pleasure.
Contrary to BOCES’ claims that teachers would have as much or more control over what they teach, the task force found they did not.
The key here isn’t that kids are spending too much time on “test prep” or the tests themselves. Rather, it’s that the standards upon which the tests are based are flawed and must be fixed.
It took a massive opt-out for the state to actually discuss correcting the problems they created.
New York state has admitted there are serious problems with the standards and it took four years to get to this point. The Education Department either lied to us or they were grossly negligent when rushing into Common Core.
Either option does not inspire parents to place our trust they will now do what is in the best interest of the students.
Up to this point, New York has addressed this problem in one way: changing vendors from Pearson to Questar. Unfortunately, removing a toxic name from the vendor list does not constitute real change.
This year’s new tests will still be three days long for both ELA and math this year, despite the task force recommendation of reducing the time.
In addition, the Education Department has put together a new public relations campaign in a “tool kit,” similar to the earlier BOCES document. School administrators are instructed to use the information advising parents all is well and that change will eventually happen over time, all in an effort so you will have your kids take the tests.
Really, we are supposed to trust the state this time?
Our seventh-grader will opt out this year not for himself, not because the tests are “too hard” or “too long,” but because we don’t want all children getting short-changed.
The only act making the state address parents’ concerns was the massive opt-out last year.
If it slows this year, what is the impetus for the state Education Department to change direction?
They lied to us for years before. Their track record is not good. Our kids, your kids, deserve better. Please consider opting out, as it’s not too late.
William Farmer is a member of the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Board of Education. The column represents his personal views, not that of the school board.