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Despite growing pains, the goals of Common Core are urgent

Amid empty desks, students at Southside Middle School

Amid empty desks, students at Southside Middle School in Rockville Centre take the Common Core mathematics test on Friday, April 24, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation became the latest player in education reform to apologize for its missteps on Common Core learning standards. It joined the federal government and lots of state education departments, including New York’s, in admitting mistakes and trying to reset the process.

It’s important to understand exactly why the Common Core proponents are apologizing, and how they plan to make up for their shortcomings. But it’s also important to understand what needs no apology, and what has to happen to move schools forward.

The foundation started by Microsoft founder Bill Gates was the leading funder for developing Common Core standards for the National Governors Association. The purpose was to take recommendations from college and industry leaders on the skills high school graduates need to have and define what kids need to master in each grade to graduate with that level of readiness.

These standards, while not perfect, were mostly pretty good. This past year in New York, exhaustive review by teachers of grade-by-grade student learning objectives has turned up a few flaws, but nothing disastrously off.

Washington, Albany and the Gates Foundation admit they failed at implementation: Everything was far too hurried when Common Core was rolled out in New York in 2011. Teachers and parents were not properly educated on the standards, or prepared for their implementation. Worse, lesson plans and curricula the teachers needed were late and lacked quality early on. And in New York, one of the earliest states to jump fully into the Common Core revolution, the process was blown sky high by a new evaluation system that tied teacher performance ratings to student achievement.

Teachers lacked needed tools to teach the Common Core, and tougher standards doubled the percentage of students scoring poorly on state tests. The result was empowered teachers unions fighting the changes alongside infuriated parents. Last month, more than half of students in the third through eighth grades on Long Island refused to take their state standardized tests in English and math. And a moratorium on rating teachers based on student performance is in effect until 2020.

Again, even educators agree the Common Core standards are now mostly on target. New York has replaced the company that provided faulty tests, and every question on the new tests is reviewed by at least 20 New York teachers. Lesson plans are up to speed, and more teacher tools to help struggling students are on the way.

Study after study shows we fail too many kids. The Gates Foundation and the National Governors Association got that part right. Last year, only 40 percent of U.S. students who took the ACT entrance examination were found to be college-ready in at least three of four subject categories. Students graduate unprepared even on Long Island, where taxpayers fork over a fortune to provide great schools.

It’s time for everyone to get past the mistakes and work together to give students the education they need. That’s the war that all sides in this battle must band together to win. — The editorial board