New York State’s Common Core academic standards appear headed for a name change and tweaks in wording, but supporters predicted Wednesday that the core requirements in English language arts and mathematics would remain essentially unchanged.
The proposed revisions, which would affect classroom activities ranging from preschool rhyming play to high school algebra, are largely a response to massive test boycotts statewide that have included more than half of all Long Island students in grades three through eight eligible to take the exams.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who released the draft amendments Wednesday, emphasized that she has traveled more than 35,000 miles across the state over the past year in an effort to sound out teachers, parents and the general public on their attitudes toward learning standards and assessments tied to the standards. Elia described the proposed changes as “meaningful.”
“Now, we want to hear from educators and parents so we can develop the best learning standards to prepare New York’s children for their futures,” the commissioner said.
Parent leaders of the testing opt-out movement — which set national records, with about 20 percent of students statewide in grades three through eight refusing to take state exams — voiced skepticism that the department’s proposed changes would have much effect in softening opposition to standardized testing.
Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore parent and organizer of LI Opt Out, questioned why the state focused only on alterations to Common Core rather than looking at alternative curriculum guidelines. She cited a well-regarded English curriculum developed under the direction of the state Board of Regents that was discarded in 2010 in favor of Common Core.
“We’re really going to have to take a close look, because there’s a big difference between really revising standards and just changing a word here and there,” Deutermann said after announcement of the draft revisions.
The state Education Department, in a news release Wednesday, pointedly referred to the revisions as “New Draft NYS English and Mathematics Learning Standards” rather than Common Core standards. Elia said during a later news conference that a name change was likely.
The Regents are to adopt final guidelines in early 2017 after the public has a chance to comment. The draft standards are posted on the department’s AIMHighNY website, with the ELA standards here and the math standards here. Members of the public can comment through Nov. 4.
Proposed wording changes were recommended by two committees comprised of more than 130 educators and parents. The department’s release said the changes extended to 60 percent of English standards and 55 percent of math changes. Many proposed revisions appeared minor, however.
Two sets of standards serve as guides for lessons across the state: “anchor” standards for English language arts and “Standards for Mathematical Practice” in math. There are 33 such guidelines in English and eight in math.
“Grade-specific” standards spell out the goals in greater detail. There are more than 1,000 of those for English and 500 for math.
Elia, in answer to a reporter’s question, confirmed that such standards would remain essentially unchanged. Grade-specific standards posted Wednesday on a department website appeared to provide mostly simplifications or clarifications of language, rather than substantial changes in direction.
For example, one kindergarten reading standard that originally called for children to “Count, pronounce, blend and segment syllables in spoken words” was trimmed to “Blend and segment syllables in spoken words.”
Stephen Sigmund, executive director for High Achievement New York, a Manhattan-based group that supports the Common Core standards, praised state education officials for sticking to rigorous academic requirements. High Achievement represents many business and minority groups.
“There are important clarifications and simplifications to the language of the standards,” Sigmund said. “But most important to us is that the vast majority of the standards remain, including the anchor standards for English language arts, which remain unchanged.”
State and local education leaders Wednesday said they were just beginning to sift through thousands of wording changes and could not respond in detail immediately.
Some welcomed Elia’s assurances that state guidelines for preschool through second grade had been revised with an eye toward emphasizing the importance of play as an instructional strategy in the earliest grades. Many educators had objected to the state’s initial standards, saying they put too much emphasis on academic work in kindergarten.
“That was our priority, so we’re happy to see they’re considering this,” said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools and co-chair of a curriculum committee for the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
The Common Core academic standards, issued in 2010 by the National Governors Association, were adopted by more than 40 states, including New York. After years of blowback from educators and parents, many states now are reviewing the academic guidelines. Revisions enacted so far in states such as Tennessee and Kentucky have been mostly minor changes in the early grades.
New York began its review in 2015 in response to test boycotts and protests by parents and teachers of a new state law that tied as much as 50 percent of teachers’ job evaluations to results of tests based on Common Core standards. Both teachers and parents complained that the combination of tests and job ratings exerted too much pressure on students.
Large boycotts erupted again last spring, with more than half of all eligible students in grades three though eight in Nassau and Suffolk counties opting out of state tests in English and math — more than 89,000 students refused to take the ELA and more than 87,000 opted out of the math exam, according to Newsday surveys that brought responses from more than 100 of the Island’s 124 school districts.
Proposed changes in Common Core standards
- Probable name change, reflecting state revisions of national Common Core academic standards. Past suggestions included Empire State Standards or New York’s Higher Standards.
- No significant change in 33 “anchor” standards setting broad instructional goals for English, or in eight broad “practice” standards in math. One English anchor dealing with independent reading was removed.
- “Meaningful” changes — largely clarifications — for 60 percent of more detailed “grade-specific” standards in English and 55 percent of such standards in math.
- Refocus on standards for prekindergarten through second grade, with more emphasis on importance of play as an instructional strategy.
- Merging of standards for reading works in fiction and nonfiction, aimed at ensuring balance across all grades.