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State Board of Regents takes step back on Common Core

Ryan Delaney
WRVO/file photo
State Education Commissioner John King testifies during a public hearing in October. (file photo)

The state Board of Regents is poised to delay some requirements of the federal Common Core standards. But some state lawmakers are still questioning whether the Regents are going far enough to remedy what critics say is a flawed rollout of the new standards.

The Board of Regents, facing pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature, is recommending that the effects of the new high stakes testing on students, designed in response to the Common Core, be delayed for five more years.

Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch, in a statement, offered an apology.

“We’ve heard the concerns expressed at the hearings and forums, and we regret that the urgency of our work, and the unevenness of implementation, have caused frustration and anxiety for some of our educators, students, and their families,” Tisch said.  

High school seniors were required to pass new Regents exams in English and math that incorporated the new Common Core standards by 2017. Now, says Education Commissioner John King, passing those tests will not be a requirement for graduation until 2022.

King says if the high stakes tests are used for determining student placements in the lower grades, then the students will not be penalized if they do poorly on the exams.

The Regents would also grade the student’s test results on a curve. Currently, those who scored a two or lower on the exam were judged to be not meeting the required standards. Now children who receive a score of two or higher will be considered on track for meeting the new Regents requirements for high school graduation.

The Regents also plan to work with local school districts to cut down on unnecessary tests and develop a different curriculum for mentally disabled children, instead of holding them to the standards of non-disabled students.

While students will be given a break under the Regents' changes, teachers will not. Instructors will still be held to the new Common Core standards for their recently designed teacher evaluations. But now if they are fired within the next two school years, they will be allowed to argue that they were unfairly judged by the Common Core standards, and that their school district had not given them the resources to properly prepare.

The teachers unions had sought to delay the impact of the new tests on their evaluations for another three years. A spokesman for New York State United Teachers says the proposal falls short.

Earlier this month, legislative leaders called for a two year moratorium on all effects of the Common Core, for both students and teachers, and said if the Board of Regents did not act, they would.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, says he and his GOP members need to mull over the Regents' actions before deciding whether to continue to push for a moratorium.

“And then I would make a determination as to whether there should be a moratorium or not,” Skelos said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says the Regents have taken steps to address some of the concerns of parents and lawmakers.

“I think today’s actions alleviate some of the tensions that parents have had,” Silver said. “There may be some things that have to be done statutorily.”

But even before the state Board of Regents made the decision to delay the implementation of the Common Core standards, Cuomo had announced appointments to his own panel, established to reevaluate the state's implementation of common core. The panel is about evenly split between supporters and critics of the new, more rigorous teaching standards.

Cuomo formed the Common Core panel after calling its rollout flawed, blaming New York's Board of Regents. All over the state, Common Core has been lambasted by parents, teachers, and administrators as being unfair and costly.

Both Skelos and Silver were allowed to appoint representatives to that panel. Silver says he wants to wait for the recommendations from that panel before deciding what, if any laws need to be passed.

The panel will be chaired by Stanley Litow, president of the IBM Foundation and a former deputy chancellor for New York City schools.  Litow has written alarmingly about low education levels in the U.S., and as recently as August said New York should stay the course on Common Core. Litow didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Another panelist who has made public comments in support of Common Core is Charles Russo, superintendent of East Moriches School District, on Long Island.

Of the eleven panel members, four have made public comments in obvious support of the new standards. Four have made comments suggesting Common Core should either be delayed or done away with. The remaining three didn't stake an obvious public position.

The panel is tasked with recommending before June how to move forward with implementing Common Core. That said, legislative leaders in both the Assembly and the Senate have called for a moratorium on using Common Core tests to evaluate teachers.

Cuomo, in a statement, reacted harshly to the Regents' actions, calling them too little too late, and saying the actions are yet another excuse to delay the teacher evaluation process.

The governor even questioned the Board of Regents' competence, saying "the time has come to seriously reexamine its capacity and performance."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, a National Murrow, and he was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.