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Report: New York has kept Common Core standards strong

Third-graders at Charles E. Walters Elementary School in

Third-graders at Charles E. Walters Elementary School in Yaphank, in the Longwood school district, take the state English Language Arts test on March 30, 2017. Credit: Randee Daddona

New York and other states that recently overhauled Common Core academic standards in response to public protests have generally managed to keep guidelines strong, especially in English, a national advisory group concluded.

Academic experts at Achieve, a nonprofit group based in Washington, reported that 22 of 24 states that have revised the standards kept all English Language Arts benchmarks essential to preparing students for citizenship, college and careers.

The report, released Monday, especially commended New York for specifying that students in each age group should be encouraged to read at or above grade level. New York received only partial credit for its guidelines on student research, however.

Mike Cohen, president of Achieve, described the overall maintenance of quality in both English and math standards in the states surveyed as “a testament to the courage and dedication of state education leaders and the educators in each state.”

Achieve faulted a sizable number of states for unclear or incomplete revisions in math standards. New York, for example, was cited for less-than-stellar benchmarks in elementary mathematics, eighth-grade algebra and high school statistics.

Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the New York State Education Department, said the agency is reviewing Achieve’s findings.

“The report was just released, but a quick review appears to indicate that New York was identified as a leader in retaining strong standards,” Burman said.

Common Core standards were adopted by New York and 44 other states after the National Governors Association released the guidelines in 2010. Achieve, which was established earlier by a bipartisan group of governors and business leaders, partnered in the standards’ development.

Two years later, state education officials rolled out new course curricula and tests based on the Common Core standards, which became a focal point of strong criticism by teachers and parents. A grassroots movement opposing the exams sprang up, and Long Island became the epicenter of the opt-out movement — the nation’s largest test boycotts.

Initial opposition from educators in New York sprang largely from the state’s rushed rollout of the new curricula, with teachers saying they did not have needed guidelines and material before administering Common Core tests. Parents opposed to the exams said they were not developmentally appropriate, and they objected to the pressure placed on students.

Last spring, more than 90,000 students in grades three through eight across Nassau and Suffolk counties refused to take both the English Language Arts and math tests. It was the fourth straight year of large-scale opt-outs, involving about 20 percent of eligible students statewide in those grades.

In September, after a two-year review, the state Board of Regents adopted an amended set of more than 1,400 English and math standards. The package revised under the leadership of Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia jettisoned the Common Core name and is called the Next Generation Learning Standards.

Achieve, in its review, found more deficiencies in math standards than in English among the 24 states making revisions.

New York, for example, was among seven states cited for falling short in the group’s expectations of what students should achieve in algebra by the end of eighth grade. That grade level is considered a key to success in high school.

Analysts at the Fordham Institute, another Washington-based education group, said they were in the midst of their own study of states’ Common Core revisions and were troubled by some of the changes they had spotted so far.

“I don’t think it’s all a good news story,” said Amber Northern, Fordham’s senior vice president. “The math side seems to be one area where states potentially didn’t get things right, at least in a handful of areas.”

On the Island, some school administrators credited Elia for doing her best to revise standards and deal with the controversy that developed before she took over the Education Department in the summer of 2015.

“New York went through a pretty lengthy process,” said Charles Russo, superintendent of East Moriches schools and former president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. “I think the commissioner tried to be as inclusive as possible.”

Parent leaders of the test-boycott movement have criticized Elia and the Regents for not doing more to relieve academic pressure on students, especially in the earliest grades.

The revisions put more emphasis on the need for student play in preschool and kindergarten, while maintaining much of the Common Core’s requirements for academic preparation.

“We didn’t see as many shifts there as we would have liked,” said Jeanette Deutermann of North Bellmore, a founder of the Long Island Opt Out network of parents and educators.

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