State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, who represents the South Fork in Albany, has joined a growing chorus of state legislators who are calling for a delay in the implementation of the new Common Core learning standards.
“I think there was unanimity on a bipartisan level that we need to hit the delay button,” Mr. LaValle, a Republican, said during a recent interview.
During a Senate Education Committee meeting in Albany on January 23, members of the group, Mr. LaValle among them, informed State Education Commissioner John King that if he and the Board of Regents fail to make changes to address some of the concerns regarding the new education standards that they would take legislative action to force the modifications.
In December, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch appointed a subcommittee charged with reviewing feedback—mostly complaints—from parents and educators surrounding the Common Core standards, and it was scheduled to report its findings and recommendations for changes in February, but has yet to do so.
“There is a crescendo that is coming on this issue, and if there is not appropriate action taken, that’s going to put all of us in a very awkward spot,” State Senator John Flanagan, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said during the committee meeting that was live streamed from Albany. He added that it can be “perilous when the legislature gets involved in education policy.”
Mr. Flanagan, a Republican, represents the 2nd Senate District, which extends east from East Northport to East Setauket, while Mr. LaValle represents a portion of Brookhaven Town and the entire East End.
New York is one of 45 states across the nation that has adopted the new standards, which education officials said were established to help students better prepare for college and careers. Last spring, kindergarten through eighth grade students were tested for the first time using the new standards, resulting in a steep, though predicted, drop in scores on the assessment exams. Members of the Class of 2017 will be the first students required to pass state Regents exams that are aligned with the Common Core standards in order to graduate.
At the end of the committee meeting, Mr. King assured the senators that the Board of Regents would release an action plan that would make adjustments to offset some of the problems raised by educators and parents. He also hinted at the possibility of pushing back the requirement that the Class of 2017 be the first that must pass the Common Core-aligned Regents exams.
Mr. King explained that the State Education Department was working to obtain federal waivers that would allow more flexibility in testing students who are learning English as a second language and would also permit those with disabilities to be tested at their instructional level, rather than chronological grade level.
The education commissioner also questioned what, exactly, the senators had hoped to delay. Reverting state assessments so that they reflected prior standards would be illogical, he said, adding that he thinks it would be a mistake to delay teacher evaluations, as well.
Lars Clemensen, the superintendent of the Hampton Bays School District, said that, in his opinion, the senators involved with the effort to delay implementation were painting the issues with too broad a brush.
He explained that the term “Common Core” conflates a number of different and complex components that, on their own, should require nuanced and complex responses. He also pointed out that much of the stress and anger surrounding the new standards stems from the poor performance of students on the state assessment exams, the results of which are tied to teacher evaluations under the new system. Those critical of the new curriculum note that it was rolled out before teachers had the opportunity to adequately prepare and modify their lesson plans, according to Mr. Clemensen.
He added that the state law tying state assessment results to teacher evaluations creates added pressure and tension, though Mr. King pointed out that altering that policy would require action by the State Legislature.
In December, the Hampton Bays School District supported the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association in recommending that the state make a number of changes, including considering alternating the annual math and ELA assessments. They also want to give students more time to complete the exams, and also allow for a greater margin of error in cut scores, which were used to rate the proficiency of students on a scale of one to four, with four being the highest mark.
“My hope would be that such a strong statement would make the commissioner and the Board of Regents say, ‘OK, let’s get to the table and make some changes,” Mr. Clemensen said.
While he joined many other school administrators and educators in expressing frustration with the rushed implementation of Common Core, Mr. Clemensen also said it is important to separate those criticisms from the merits of the stricter standards. “I don’t want to throw the Common Core out and forget it ever existed,” he said.
Mr. LaValle echoed that sentiment.
“I think people are in agreement that we need higher standards,” he said. “But once again, the roll out on this has been abysmal … It can’t drag on because, ultimately, it’s the students who are affected.”