Changes in Educational Rules Welcomed by Local School Superintendents

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By Robert Kimmel

New York State and congressional actions in December altering two major educational programs are drawing mostly positive responses from Dr. Daniel McCann, Interim Superintendent of the Union Free District of the Tarrytowns and Dr. Kristopher Harrison, Superintendent of Irvington Public Schools.

Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which, in effect, replaces the 2002 No Child Left Behind program. That move, coupled with the New York State Board of Regents’ vote to overhaul the state Common Core program, will change rules that have stirred controversy within the academic field.

McCann described the State Regents’ Common Core changes, supported by Governor Cuomo, as “a release…a move more progressive in nature,” adding that they were, “…a recognition that they had tried to push a system that was based on failure. While we always have had progress monitoring students, the apprehension caused by the tests and evaluation scores based on tests – tests with high standards- but unreachable for so many children, were more harmful than good,” the superintendent said.

Harrison saw the changes, as “…presenting some responsible action that could have positive effects on education in general. Through the pause in the implementation of the common core and the increased involvement of teachers, there is the possibility for Albany to enhance the learning standards and to employ a testing model that better informs the work that is done in schools,” he stated.

Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, Common Core had set guidelines using specific national academic standards, concentrating on math and English, and setting forth what students should be taught and know as they progressed through each grade. Having each student prepared for college or employment is the goal. The program originated from a panel of experts the National Governors Association established in 2009 to set guidelines and standards.

The Board of Regents’ revisions call for more locally developed New York State standards, created within a more “open and transparent” process. It also called for “minimizing student testing anxiety by reducing the number of test days and test questions and providing ongoing test transparency to parents, teachers and districts on test questions and student test scores.” And it also wants to ensure that the tests, “….account for different types of learners including Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners,” whose difficulties, some critics believed, were not properly dealt with.

“You set the mark so high some of the kids couldn’t make it, whether it was because of limitations due to a disability or lack of knowledge of English,” McCann explained. He sees more sensitivity now to children in those categories. As for the Tarrytown School District, “We have wonderful results,” he stated.” Fifty-seven percent of our kids are Spanish speaking, and 83 percent of our seniors take a college or AP course, and those courses are in English. We are proud of that.”

“Had the state and SED (State
Education Department) been more
thoughtful in their approach to
Common Core rollout and the development
of the related tests and
possessed the foresight to recognize
how it impacts daily teaching and
learning, not to mention teacher
evaluation, we would be in a very
different place today.”
—Dr. Kristopher Harrison

Current Common Core tests “should not count for students or teachers until the start of the 2019-2020 school year when new statewide standards…will be put into place,” the Regents report stated. Some 20 percent of students statewide reportedly sat out the Common Core math and reading tests given this year.

“Tests will still occur,” McCann said, “But there is an effort to redesign all of these tests, and I am hopeful they will be designed more carefully and with standards associated with success and more realistic for more kids. If you set the bar impossibly high, you’ll only make the work more difficult. We will continue the annual testing grades three to eight.” However, McCann added that “I think that some of us think that a return to 4th grade and 8th grade testing would be sufficient. I think my fellow superintendents would agree that we tried to design an awful lot of assessment here and less would be better.”

The Regents Board also voted last month to hold off for four years – until the 2018-2019 school year – on the use of the state test scores as part of the means of evaluating teachers. Different, more local methods approved by the state will replace the national measures used, in part, to assess teachers’ and schools’ performances.

Harrison did see a potential deficit in the changes set for teacher and principal evaluations.”What is problematic is how the new direction related to testing will impact negotiations for the new APPR (3012-D),” he noted. Governor Cuomo signed that law last spring, establishing a new evaluation system for teachers and principals. “Across the state, district administrations have been actively negotiating the terms necessary to satisfy this law. Now, the rules have once again changed and months’ worth of effort could be for naught,” Harrison asserted.

“Had the state and SED (State Education Department) been more thoughtful in their approach to Common Core rollout and the development of the related tests and possessed the foresight to recognize how it impacts daily teaching and learning, not to mention teacher evaluation, we would be in a very different place today,” Harrison commented. “A place where students would have been better prepared for the state assessments and teachers less frustrated with continuous shifts.” However, he added, “In Irvington, we are quite proud of the hard work and progress of our students and of the dedication and commitment from our teachers and administrators. These combined efforts have continued to advance the quality of education that is present in our excellent schools.”

Common Core is viewed by many as a follow-up to the national No Child Left Behind law. That older bill officially ran out in 2007, but had not had a replacement, although its mandates mostly remained. The new Every Student Succeeds Act “…ends the federal test-based accountability system of No Child Left Behind, restoring to states the responsibility for determining how to use federally required tests for accountability purposes,” as described by the Senate.

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