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OpinionColumnistsAnne Michaud

Michaud: Don't waste your vote on Stop Common Core

Parents and teachers opposed to state standardized testing

Parents and teachers opposed to state standardized testing and Common Core demonstrate outside Mineola High School. (Nov. 13, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

For the first time, New York voters will be able to register their distaste for education reform depending on how they vote for governor, state senator or Assembly member. This year, Stop Common Core will appear as a ballot line for some candidates.

Most candidates are running on a major-party line -- Republican or Democrat -- in addition to Stop Common Core. Many with this ballot line seem to be spouting the same talking points: Common Core is reducing our kids to test scores. Schools are teaching to the test. Common Core has multiplied the hours students spend test-taking.

It's wonderfully rabble-rousing rhetoric, except that it's completely false.

The number of tests mandated by state and federal officials for graduation has remained the same as before the adoption of the Common Core standards in the 2011-12 school year. Exactly the same: 19. That's math and English Language Arts at the end of third to eighth grades, and one math and English exam in high school; three science exams; U.S. history and global history.

And in fact, state education officials say the time required for their testing has dropped slightly from pre- to post-Common Core implementation -- an hour less each in third and fourth grades.

Surprised? I'm sure many will be -- and others will be simply disbelieving. The waves of education reform arriving in the past few years have followed each other so closely that it's hard to tell the worthy from the ridiculous. The amount of testing isn't related to the Common Core, except that these two changes washed ashore at the same time, both propelled by federal Race to the Top grants.

Common Core arrived at the same time as a new evaluation system for teachers: Annual Professional Performance Reviews, or APPRs. Most school districts added tests at the start and end of each school year to determine student growth. Some of this bordered on the absurd, such as paper-and-pencil tests in gym class.

At the same time, the state Education Department raised "cut scores" for math and ELA exams, meaning more kids scored lower, which was an understandable blow to many.

However, we mustn't throw out higher Common Core standards because we've confused them with teacher evaluation-related tests. Most New York schools are pulling back from so much testing -- with the encouragement of the state Education Department.

"The absolute bottom line is to have the least amount of testing possible and still measure learning," said Ken Wagner, a deputy commissioner of education for New York. "For whatever reason, people have gotten the impression that student learning is reducible to a test score. Nobody believes that. It's about a great teacher in the classroom, moving students from point A to point B."

State Ed has -- belatedly -- been training teachers to use Common Core methods and has given grants to BOCES for school districts to come up with teacher evaluation strategies that don't include so much testing. Wagner mentioned as possibilities using a measure across an entire school, such as literacy or numeracy; comparing student achievement from one year's end to the next; and relying on student projects or performances that don't involve pencil and paper.

Has external pressure reached Albany to make State Ed more flexible? Perhaps. The good news is that, apart from those 19 required tests, change is largely in the hands of local school districts.

I won't be voting this year to Stop Common Core. I've seen my high school-age daughters more engaged by their assignments than ever before. That's not a course I want to reverse.

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.

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