Students work on a problem together in the ninth-grade integrated...

Students work on a problem together in the ninth-grade integrated algebra class at Freeport High School, where the lessons are based on national Common Core standards that emphasize using math to solve to real-life problems. (March 7, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

With controversy swelling over the state Education Department's push to impose the Common Core academic standards, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said Monday she will appoint a subcommittee of five Regents to review the process and report back.

The move came during the Regents' monthly meeting in Albany, after friction again surfaced between board members and discussion grew heated over fallout from a series of 20 public forums statewide that featured Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.

Many of the forums were contentious, marked by loud complaints that the department is pursuing too many initiatives simultaneously -- revamping of curricula, tougher testing in the classroom and job evaluations of teachers that are linked to students' test performance. Three of the events, which began in late October, were held on Long Island.

Several Regents voiced apprehension over the emotional impact of the changes, especially on younger children. Roger Tilles, of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the 17-member board, spoke of encounters with parents who have reported their children coming home from tests crying.

"We're trying to do so much so fast that it just can't be absorbed by the public," said Geraldine Chapey, of Belle Harbor, Queens, a Regent who is an education professor.

Tisch and King have acknowledged the complaints, but insist they must continue to press for higher academic standards to prepare high school graduates for colleges and jobs.

One catalyst for the Regents' debate was a report released last week by state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), chairman of the Senate Education Committee. The report, drawn from that committee's own public hearings across the state, concluded that educators generally continue to support Common Core -- at least in principle -- but are increasingly frustrated by the state's flawed implementation of the more rigorous standards.

Harry Phillips III, a Regent for the past 13 years, suggested that the board should apologize for its part in the August release of student test results, which showed far lower passing rates because of revision of test questions and a raising of cutoff scores. At the time the tests were given, the Education Department had posted only a fraction of the curriculum guides, or modules, that it had promised to help teachers prepare students for tests.

"I wish we would admit we made a mistake with the cutoff scores," said Phillips, who lives in Hartsdale in Westchester County.

Another board member, James Tallon of upstate Binghamton, a former state Assembly majority leader, took exception to Phillips' remarks.

"I understand that criticism, but I don't want you to speak for the entirety of us," Tallon said, referring to the full board.

Tisch, even while deciding to appoint the subcommittee, left little doubt that she intends to proceed with the major education initiatives. She and King, in a statement Monday in the Albany Times-Union, acknowledged that the drive has caused "growing pains" but asserted it is crucial to students' success.

"We want to hear from teachers, parents and students about what's working and what could work better, but we also know that moving forward with Common Core is essential," the statement said in part.

In another action, a Regents committee headed by Tallon approved a proposal for a $1.3-billion increase in state aid to public schools for the 2014-15 academic year, which would include $125 million for teacher training. Expanded training to help teachers cope with Common Core lessons was one recommendation of Flanagan's report.

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