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State announces revisions to Common Core learning standards

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in East Moriches

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in East Moriches on Feb. 25, 2016. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

The Common Core label may be on its way out of New York State’s education glossary.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced new revisions Tuesday in English and math standards that apply to public elementary and secondary schools statewide and acknowledged that the Common Core moniker might be dropped from those academic guidelines.

The revamped standards seek to strike a balance between fictional and nonfictional readings in English classes and to ensure that English and math lessons are “age appropriate,” especially in the early grades, Elia said. Some of the revisions already were revealed in September.

One math standard for second grade, for example, had required students to identify triangles, quadrilaterals, pentagons, hexagons and cubes. That was changed, for the sake of coherence, to a new requirement that students classify two-dimensional figures either as polygons (usually straight-sided) or non-polygons (for example, circles).

The commissioner’s announcement came on the same morning that hundreds of thousands of students in grades three through eight began taking yearly Common Core math tests on Long Island and across the state. The exam is given during three days.

Tens of thousands of students in districts across Nassau and Suffolk counties boycotted the exam Tuesday, according to a Newsday survey. Widespread opt-outs also accompanied the English Language Arts test administered in late March to the same grade levels — especially on the Island, which had among the state’s highest levels of opt-outs in 2016 and 2015.

Elia, in a teleconference, responded to a reporter’s question about the timing of the agency’s announcement, saying it was part of the state’s long-scheduled revision process and was not connected to the current round of testing.

The commissioner noted, however, that she and her aides have sought to make teachers and parents feel more comfortable with the state’s assessments, through frequent regional meetings on the subject and by encouraging teams of teachers to help write test questions.

“I do think you’re going to see more people feel they’re part of what’s happening,” Elia said.

Some opponents of the tests also questioned the timing of the news conference, however.

“This was no coincidence,” said Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore parent and leader of the Island’s boycott movement. “It’s certainly a diversion for State Ed to be talking about anything other than opt-out numbers.”

Deutermann said parents would continue to complain about standards if those guidelines remain “linked to high-stakes testing.”

The state refers to its current guidelines as “Common Core,” which are the standards adopted by the National Governors Association and most states beginning in 2010.

The label has become unpopular with many parents, teachers and politicians, who associate it with intensified testing, classroom drills and government interference with their children’s education.

A news release accompanying Tuesday’s teleconference referred to the guidelines as “New York State P-12 English Language Arts and Mathematics Learning Standards.”

Elia said any permanent renaming of the standards will be decided by the state Board of Regents, the education policymaking board to which she reports.

The Regents are scheduled to review the standards’ proposed revisions at their meeting Monday in Albany, and possibly approve them in June.

New York State United Teachers, a statewide union umbrella group that sometimes has joined parent groups in criticizing certain aspects of Common Core testing, complimented the Education Department on Tuesday for involving educators in the tweaking of the standards.

Andy Pallotta, recently elected president of the 600,000-member union group, said that demonstrated “a commitment to getting it right.”

High Achievement New York, an advocacy group based in Manhattan that supports state testing, said the draft revisions “keep intact” rigorous academic standards.

“That’s smart,” said the group, which is backed by business organizations, “because the hard work of educators, parents, students and communities is paying off — with scores and graduation rates on the rise and deeper learning in classrooms.”

Common Core’s testing times

Here’s a brief history of state attempts to address parent and teacher concerns over Common Core tests:

July 2015 — State Education Department brings in Questar Assessment Inc. to produce tests for grades three through eight. Previous contractor Pearson Education had been criticized for poorly written questions and technical gaffes.

December 2015 — Board of Regents approves a four-year moratorium, until 2019-20, on use of student “growth” scores from tests to rate job performance of teachers and principals.

March 2016 — Betty Rosa of the Bronx, newly elected chancellor of the Regents, says at her first news conference that she would pull her own children out of state tests if she were acting simply as a parent. The former chancellor, Merryl Tisch of Manhattan, strongly supported testing.

September 2016 — Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announces many preliminary revisions in Common Core academic standards in English and math. There is no significant change in 33 “anchor” standards setting broad instructional goals in English or in eight broad “practice” standards in math. One English anchor is removed.

April 2017 — Elia informs local school administrators that the state has dropped plans to raise passing scores on Common Core Regents exams by the year 2022. The decision applies to English and algebra exams, both graduation requirements.

John Hildebrand

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