Cuomo’s Common Core Move Draws Cheers, Critics

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The governor's Common Core timeout comes just a few months after he pushed to make student scores from tests based on the Core a bigger part of teacher evaluations.

Office of the Governor

The governor's Common Core timeout comes just a few months after he pushed to make student scores from tests based on the Core a bigger part of teacher evaluations.

Tacitly acknowledging the enormous voter pressure on him, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called last Thursday for a major reevaluation of the state’s rigorous math and English Language Arts exams, calling the current Common Core curriculum “flawed” and seeming to cite the state’s massive one in five student opt-out movement as a motivator in his review.

“We must have standards for New York’s students,” the governor said in a prepared statement on Sept. 3, “but those standards will only work if people—especially parents—have faith in them and their ability to educate our children. The current Common Core program does not do that. It must.”

Cuomo’s comments, coming less than a week before the start of the 2015-2016 school year, only further muddied the waters on how teachers are being evaluated in response to the state tests, and, according to some critics, only sends confusing signals to teachers in bringing themselves, and their students, up to speed on the new standards

According to the State Education Department, one in five students statewide opted out of the 2015 math and ELA tests. In an August 12 press release, the SED said the data on students who opted out of the 2015 tests indicated that those students were more likely to be white, to come from a low or average need district, were less likely to be economically disadvantaged and “slightly more likely” to have scored poorly, a level 1 or 2, on the state tests in 2014.

“We don’t interpret the results, we just release them,” said a spokeswoman for the state Education Department, when asked whether the data on the opt-outers revealed a “sour grapes” moment among parents.

The opt-out movement has been smaller in New York City, but it too is growing. While about three hundred students opted out of state exams in New York City in 2014, according to Chalkbeat, this year, according to the NYC DOE, approximately 2 percent or 7,000 children opted out of the 2015 math and ELA tests.

The governor’s comments seem to fly in the face of his own successful push last April to hold teachers more accountable, pushing for 50 percent of teacher evaluations to be based on measurable progress in student learning—test scores—and decreasing the role of principal observations as a factor evaluating teacher performance in the classroom.

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, two days before the governor’s comments, New York City teachers received the results of their overall ratings by email—ratings based in part on how well their students did on the 2015 state tests. While the ratings will probably not be publicly released until December, and then only in raw percentages — how many teachers scored highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective — last year more than 82 percent of New York City’s 62,000 teachers who were evaluated were rated “effective” or “highly effective,” while only a third of the city’s school children scored “proficient” or above on the state math and ELA tests.  That was one reason Cuomo sought the tougher evaluation standards, which are being imposed this year.

While UFT President Michael Mulgrew has defended the Common Core in the past, the UFT welcomed the governor’s comments last week, as the union has been vocal in its frustration over the implementation of the Core, first adopted in 2010, and the effort to tie student progress to teacher ratings.

Said Mulgrew: “Governor Cuomo has started listening to teachers and parents who know firsthand how flawed the implementation of the Common Core has been in New York State.  We’ll be happy to work with the new group to help fix the problems created by the Common Core rollout and to help restore the public’s faith in state education policy.”

But not everyone is pleased with the governor’s plan to send the Common Core curriculum back to the drawing board. Kowtowing to unhappy parents and telling teachers the curriculum needs to be revamped means slowing down the critical changes in how children are taught, insisted one DOE insider.

“There are deep shifts that have to go on in how children learn and they are all being delayed,” said the long-time DOE employee. While acknowledging the difficulty of getting teachers up to speed on the Common Core while testing kids on their proficiency of the same, the DOE insider says, “The tests are acknowledging that kids need to be original thinkers. That’s what is needed. They need to be problem solvers rather than regurgitating facts.  Our teaching has to make a huge shift.”