Iannuzzi: Slow down the testing and get Common Core right
As the school year begins, talk has returned to the role of testing. Standardized tests have a place in education. Well-designed tests, tied to high academic standards and aligned with classroom lessons, can be one of the many tools used jointly to evaluate teachers, assess student progress and inform instruction. Fair tests that measure the right knowledge and skills help teachers see how far their students are on the path to success, while flagging weaknesses and identifying areas where young learners need more time or support.
Unfortunately, the state test scores released last month miss the mark and are of little help -- to teachers who are barred from seeing all the test questions and using them to improve instruction, and to parents who recently learned their children's scores and are justifiably outraged to learn the state believes they have veered off the road to college and career-readiness.
The lower test scores were the predictable result of the first year of new standardized tests, more challenging Common Core standards and a rocky implementation that, in many instances, was so rushed and seriously flawed that students were tested on material they hadn't yet been taught. While the state has made it clear the scores represent a resetting of the bar -- what it sees as a new baseline -- and not a step backward by students or teachers, that hasn't provided the assurances parents and teachers want and need.
If there is any chance to rectify these missteps, parents and teachers must work together to insist state education policy-makers get it right.
To be clear, "getting it right" doesn't mean abandoning standardized testing altogether or jettisoning the Common Core, as some propose. Rather, it means the state must listen, and respond, to the deeply held concerns of parents and teachers about the overreliance on standardized testing and how it is shortchanging instruction in music, the arts and other subjects students need to be well-rounded citizens.
The Common Core standards have the potential, if rolled out properly and with enough support and resources, to raise student achievement over time.
Adequate resources for public education are essential if students are to achieve at even higher levels. The test scores released in August once again spotlight the distressing, persistent and unacceptable achievement gap that continues along racial and socio-economic lines. Yet, as classes begin, school districts are hobbling along with less state aid than in 2009 and under the constraints of a restrictive and undemocratic tax cap. If New York is serious about raising achievement by all students, it must invest far more in public education.
Teachers, through their local and statewide unions, and parents will continue to press for a more thoughtful and smoother transition to the Common Core and accompanying tests. Their collective voice is critical to ensure that testing and the upcoming redesign of Regents exams are implemented with enough time for students and teachers to adjust, and enough resources to ensure success.
Restoring confidence in testing and the Regents' education agenda must be a priority. Policy-makers must respond to parents' concerns and develop a system that recognizes the knowledge and experience of teachers. It means providing teachers with the time, professional development and instructional materials needed to help all students meet higher expectations. It means greater transparency, including providing teachers with access to all exam questions so they can review them and inform their instruction. And it means an independent analysis of the Common Core tests to ensure they are age-appropriate and fair measures of the new standards.
The recent test results reflect the many problems associated with moving too fast and without adequate preparation for students or teachers. New York must learn from this experience and include parents and teachers in thoughtful conversations based on trust, collaboration and respect. As school bells ring in the new year, education policy-makers should be guided by the voices of parents and experienced educators. If they are, they increase their chances of improving the state's already high level of educational performance.
Richard C. Iannuzzi, who taught in Central Islip for 34 years, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.