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Stubborn problems plague school reform in New York State

A fifth-grader at Longwood Middle School in Middle

A fifth-grader at Longwood Middle School in Middle Island was among students taking the New York State math test on May 2, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The battle that has raged since 2010 to reform public education in New York originally centered on two issues: the adoption of rigorous national Common Core learning standards, and tying teacher performance evaluations to how their students scored on standardized tests based on those tougher standards.

Then, arguments over those two issues among the state’s teachers unions, education reformers, politicians and parents spawned a third, unprecedented problem: about one-fifth of the students in third through eighth grades statewide and 50 percent of such students on Long Island now refuse to take the state standardized tests required by federal law.

The war over Common Core standards that had gotten so heated it spawned a statewide political party actually ended fairly well by 2017. As students, teachers and parents got used to the new curricula and learning methods that had initially been enacted too fast and with too little training, the state replaced the name Common Core with “Next Generation English Language Arts and Mathematics Learning Standards.” It also allowed public comment on the standards, tweaking them but leaving them largely intact.

The fight to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations, though, is now dead. State law says the scores have to be part of the evaluations, but there is a moratorium on enforcing that rule which will almost certainly be extended until the law connecting student scores to teacher evaluations is repealed.

And any forceful attempt to make school districts push kids to sit for those tests appears to be dead, too. The state Board of Regents this week retreated on its plan to divert a portion of schools’ federal funds toward encouraging test participation at high opt-out schools, and to make those schools craft plans to reduce those rates.

It’s good news that the state has managed to keep a set of rigorous standards to ensure students are ready for work or college when they graduate high school. But the unions and Regents who claim teachers can be properly and rigorously evaluated without tests scores must craft a plan to do so. And parents and teachers, having won the battle to decouple standardized tests and teacher evaluations, must have the kids take the tests. 

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