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Editorial: 2014 results can help Common Core teaching

Classroom chalkboard.

Classroom chalkboard. Credit: iStock

The results released this past week for standardized math and English tests given to third- through eighth-graders in Long Island's public schools are the second set we've seen based on new Common Core standards, but they're the first set that can actually tell us something meaningful.

Unfortunately, they could have provided an even better roadmap to improvement if about 10 percent of the 200,000 Long Island students slated to take the exams had not skipped them this past spring. That ill-advised move skews the data in ways we can't define and deprives these students of individual snapshots of their strengths and weaknesses.

Both statewide and on Long Island, there were broad gains in math compared with 2013, but the English results were less positive -- basically flat across the state and down a bit in Nassau and Suffolk. Overall on Long Island, 43.4 percent tested proficient in math, and 36.8 percent in English. These numbers, meant to show how far students are from readiness, are much lower than we were accustomed to seeing before last year.

These broad statistics tell us a few things. On Long Island, for instance, every grade that took tests showed improvement in math, and every grade slipped in English. Experts believe younger students, who have been less exposed to pre-Common Core curricula, are picking up the new methods faster than older children.

And state officials say progress may be coming easier in math because while the methods have changed, the actual questions aren't more difficult than before. English assignments, on the other hand, have definitely changed to stress deeper and more complex thinking. That's information that educators need to keep in mind as they adjust lessons and strategies.

But viewed district by district, and by grade and subject within the districts, the results are even more telling. They can show educators and parents where to focus energy.

Many parents and teachers found last year's results disheartening, as the percentage of students graded proficient was cut practically in half in the first tests based on the Common Core standards. It seems the biggest lesson of this year's results is that where students got the right lesson plans, teachers and support, they made significant gains. This was true even in English, where many districts showed large gains in specific grades even though the overall trend was down a bit.

Common Core standards became the law in this state more than four years ago. The upcoming school year will be the third in which the curricula based on those standards are mandated.

Teachers unions fought for and won reprieves on how the tests affect their evaluations. Parents, in many cases motivated and co-opted by the education establishment, fought for and won reprieves on how the results affect student records and advancement. Now everyone involved needs to fight to make this new, more rigorous system work, because we're clearly seeing that it can. They should stop fighting changes to the way we educate kids that are both necessary and positive to prepare them for the challenges of a 21st-century economy.