Common Core and NYS Assessments

Our students are not going to do as well on the state assessments this year as they did in the past. This is what Ken Slentz and others at the New York State Department of Education are saying. Dr. Slentz, who is a deputy commissioner at the department, stated this in a memo sent to the field in March:

“The first New York State tests to measure student progress on the Common Core will be administered in April 2013 for Grades 3-8 ELA and math. Because the new tests are designed to determine whether students are meeting a higher performance standard, we expect that fewer students will perform at or above grade-level Common Core expectations (i.e., proficiency) than was the case with prior-year State tests.”

I’m not exactly sure what to make of this assertion…

On the one hand, I appreciate the candor of the state education department officials in admitting that student scores are going to be low (of course the cynic in me also sees this as damage control before the fact; so that when students’ grades are lower, State Ed can say, “we told you so”.) The memo also goes on to say that the lower student achievement will not affect achievement measures as far as the different ratings used to determine schools’ standings, also referred as Annual Yearly Progress or AYP. This certainly must come as a relief to schools who every year find themselves in the crosshairs of NYSED because of their low achievement scores. Fortunately for us at Jericho Middle School our students consistently outperform students across the rest of New York State; not making AYP does not make us lose sleep at night.

Whether or not you like the common core learning standards, one must admit that New York State has done a good job in putting information out to the field about them. EngageNY is a model for educators across the nation. I was on a twitter chat a few weeks ago and a teacher from another state, I think it was Hawaii, commented that she uses resources from EngageNY to understand and use the common core learning standards.

I agree with many of the positive aspects of the common core learning standards. I like the fact that most states are using the same academic standards now. I like the fact that literacy and numeracy are emphasized throughout the curriculum, not just in ELA and math. I like the emphasis on depth rather than breadth. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Because this is the first year of common core implementation teachers have spent time filling in gaps; parents have commented that it feels as if the curriculum is proceeding too fast. Hopefully over time it won’t feel this way.

On February 7, at a PTSA coffee hour, a very lively discussion took place devoted to the math common core which students are finding particularly challenging. Our curriculum associate for math, Helene Kriegstein, shared with parents comprehensive information about the new standards as well as strategies they could use to help children. You can view the PowerPoint and materials from this meeting at the middle school website. I appreciated the feedback we heard from parents at this meeting. More than a few parents questioned whether the common core learning standards are developmentally appropriate for students in middle school. In other words, are our children being asked to do things that they simply cannot do.

But, I worry that the common core is asking students to do things that they cannot do developmentally. Lebron James can dunk a basketball; the rim is 10 feet high. If I raise the rim to 11 feet he’ll probably still be able to dunk. He could probably dunk on a 12 foot rim. Could Lebron dunk on a 13 foot rim, how about a 14 foot high rim? There’s a difference between raising expectations and setting the bar at a point where children cannot reach it. A parent alerted me to a well-written blog by a teacher of considerable experience about this very issue, I recommend you read it. Its title says it all, Common Core and Suspension of Child Development. The author talks about challenging geometry concepts she was teaching her own children in grades five and seven. These concepts seemed familiar to her and she thought she had notes on it in a box in her attic. When she looked in the box, she found the topic covered in her 10th grade geometry class notes. This is what people have been saying for years about education, we’re teaching things to kids in fifth grade that we used to teach them in eighth grade, and eighth graders are learning what we used to teach 10th-graders and so on and so on. With the common core learning standards, we’re hearing this more than ever.

I’m nothing if not an optimist, I always see the glass as half-full. In order to clarify my own views and offer the best leadership that I can, I will keep an open mind, try to keep my eyes and ears on students’ experiences as learners, read as much as I can, and engage in professional conversations with networks of educators who care deeply about these issues . It’s my hope that over time, as educators across the nation become more conversant in the common core learning standards, whatever changes are necessary to help our children succeed, will be made. I KNOW that everyone in our community here at Jericho cares too much about our children to let them do anything but excel!

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About dfgately

Middle School Principal Jericho, NY
This entry was posted in Educational Focus, Inside the Middle School, Personal Best, Reflections, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Common Core and NYS Assessments

  1. Love or hate the core standards they are here to stay. I believe we, as parents, have always noticed that learning is different we were in school. This is not new.

  2. Left out the “then we were in school.

  3. Susan Katz says:

    This was a most provocative article to read. I also read the references you highlighted, although some were too extensive to read thoroughly. I have always been impressed by the breadth and depth of the teaching in our school system. I have also been skeptical about the depth of understanding when teaching moves as rapidly as I think it does. Teachers often have told me that the topic will be revisited again in another grade so not to be concerned if the concept is not fully grasped.

    It is amazing to see how technical and complex teaching has become. I was unaware of the district’s site for parents. It is comprehensive but I wonder if it is user friendly for the average parent and how many parents actually refer to it. Education has become a higher level science since I taught and even since my sons were in school. The goals are worthy but the process and how realistic it is seems questionable.

    Thank you for sharing all of this information with us. It will be interesting to see how our kids fare on the initial round of tests. I question if this is the most productive way to achieve a better education and success for all learners.

    *Susan*

  4. Dear Mr. Gately & Susan,
    Teaching has indeed become a complex subject, but i think that’s a good thing. There is more and more history and data to draw upon. To make good use of it, teaching is evolving just like many other careers. Continual learning is important for teachers too.
    I also think the CC focus on depth and understanding and how literacy and numeracy are emphasized throughout the curriculum is a good idea, e.g., studying math in isolation can be a turn-off to many kids.
    I also think it is a legitimate question to ask if the material is age appropriate. Obviously some say yes and some say no; and it is easy to find antidotal evidence to support whatever your view is. Of course, the question of ‘age appropriateness’ is a bogus one to begin with. Everyone develops at a different rate. This is true with or without Common Core, and with or without standardized tests of any kind. The real problem is that age decides what grade you are in, rather than your stage of learning development. (i guess this might be hard to change :))
    As I gradually bring myself up to speed on CC, I see a majority of articles are opposed to CC and use inflammatory and hyperbolic language and emotional examples. They also cite problems with CC assessments (e.g., variability in results) which surly exist in any any testing program, but offer little in the way of alternatives. It is hard to know what meaning to really extract from them.

    I’m still navigating my way through CC and its implementation, but so-far it doesn’t sound as bad as the opponents claim.
    Keep up the ‘glass-half-full’ optimism!

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