What is Common Core?
Governors and state education chiefs of 48 states developed the Common Core State Standards, a set of academic benchmarks for kindergarten through 12th grade in English Language Arts/literacy and mathematics. Today, 43 states — including New York — have voluntarily adopted and are working to implement the standards, which are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are college- or career-ready. The New York State Board of Regents, which sets education policy, adopted the Common Core standards in July 2010 and incorporated some New York-specific elements in January 2011.
How is student testing related to Common Core?
The Common Core standards are aimed at raising academic quality in all schools and use standardized tests to make schools and teachers accountable. In New York, test questions measure the Common Core standards in English Language Arts and mathematics for students in grades three through eight, according to the State Education Department. In 2013, New York was among the first states to administer tests that were aligned with the Common Core. Testing generally is spread over six days — three for the ELA exam and three for the math exam. Each test day, the estimated completion time is 50 minutes for students in grades three and four and 50-60 minutes for those in grades five through eight.
Why is there controversy over Common Core?
Three states have withdrawn their acceptance of the Common Core standards, and legislators in a dozen states are reviewing their states’ posture, according to news reports. Some have argued that the Common Core is a federal imposition, and that state and local educational standards work best. Many educators initially supported the Common Core standards, saying that if implemented appropriately, they have the potential to improve student learning. In New York and elsewhere, testing associated with the Common Core has drawn strong criticism, with some parents arguing the exams are flawed and age-inappropriate and do not provide a valid diagnostic tool. Others have said passing rates set for the exams are unrealistic. Opponents of the tests also say they are not properly aligned with the curriculum, and that teachers are not allowed to discuss the test content with parents or even colleagues. Proponents, such as High Achievement New York, a coalition of education, business and civic groups, say that tests tied to the Common Core standards are a solid measure to evaluate progress toward students’ college and career readiness. The tests are considered an annual “checkup,” they say, to ensure all kids are making progress, provide teachers and schools more information, and offer a common measure that can be used to help close the achievement gap affecting minority students.
What is the impact of Common Core testing on teacher evaluations?
Under New York State’s revised teacher evaluation law passed in March 2012 — also known as Annual Professional Performance Review — teachers’ and principals’ job ratings were for the first time tied to the results of students’ scores on state standardized tests. For teachers, 20 percent of their evaluation was based on what the state calls student “growth scores.” The state’s push for stricter teacher evaluations — an initiative encouraged by President Barack Obama’s administration, and ultimately rewarded with federal Race to the Top financial incentives — started on a relatively upbeat note. But the linkage has caused continuing controversy. Teachers, among other concerns, fear the ratings are unfair and don’t properly account for students with learning disabilities, limited English proficiency and low socioeconomic backgrounds. This year in New York, the portion of teacher and principal job ratings that is tied to test scores is being reevaluated. A major issue that remains unsettled is whether a revised system will base about 50 percent of teachers’ job ratings on students’ performance on Common-Core-associated tests, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed, or whether that percentage would be far lower — perhaps 20 percent or less, as favored by the Regents.
What has happened to students’ test scores since implementation of the Common Core standards?
Test results plunged soon after implementation. Statewide, the percentage of children in grades three through eight rated proficient or better in English dropped from 55.1 percent in 2012 to 31.1 percent in 2013. The math scores declined from 64.8 percent rated proficient or better in 2012 to 31 percent in 2013. About 40 percent of Long Island students in grades three through eight tested proficient or better in English in 2013. About 37 percent did in math. In 2014, student passing rates on the state’s English tests were down on the Island and essentially flat at the state level, while math test scores rose significantly both on Long Island and statewide, the State Education Department reported. On the Island, the percentage of students passing in English dropped from 39.6 percent to 36.8 percent. Statewide passing rates dipped from 31.1 percent to 31 percent. The percentage of LI students passing in math rose from 37.5 percent in 2013 to 43.4 percent in 2014. Statewide passing rates in math increased from 31 percent to 36 percent.
What is the “opt-out movement”?
The so-called opt-out movement started after the rollout of curriculum aligned with the Common Core and the more rigorous tests stemming from it. The movement spread through grassroots activism and social media. In April 2013, the first year of significant test refusals, dozens of students in Long Island school districts boycotted the test on the first day of testing in English and math. Protesting parents say the existing test system exerts unneeded pressure on students. In April 2014, about 9,500 children in grades three through eight opted out of the English Language Arts exam, according to a Newsday survey drawn from responses from 67 of the Island’s 124 districts. This week, more than 70,000 students in 110 of the Island’s districts boycotted the ELA exam. Karen Magee, head of the state’s 600,000-member teacher union, in March 2015 called on parents to boycott the state tests — the first time the organization took that stance publicly.
What are the consequences for a school with a high number of test refusals?
State Education Department officials have said that a district’s failure to meet the federal requirement of 95 percent participation on standardized tests, if not corrected, could result in penalties — including partial loss of federal Title I aid, used for academic remediation. To date, the department has not imposed fiscal sanctions on a district because of failure to meet participation requirements on state tests.
Is Common Core here to stay?
Some local leaders have said that there’s not enough support at the federal or state levels of government to force an end to the Common Core standards. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president, has voiced strong support of the standards. In March, Cuomo emphasized his commitment to education reform. “Public education in New York and around the country is undergoing tremendous change as parents and citizens demand more performance, accountability and results,” the governor wrote in an article published in Newsday’s opinion pages. “While change is difficult, it is also the only way to get better, and we must continue to improve our education systems to give our kids the opportunities they deserve.” Activists, however, say that the state cannot ignore the large number of test refusals and that they will continue their campaign.
–Compiled by Joie Tyrrell
Stories, data & video
LIers on Common Core testing
Exams based on the Common Core standards aren't going away anytime soon, but the explosive opt-out movement may reshape standardized testing for years to come, an official says.
Explore data supplied by 100 individual school districts across Long Island on how many students have opted out of tests so far.
As Common Core testing for ELA exams got underway, a Newsday survey of more than 89 percent of districts found that students were opting out in record numbers.
Education Department officials said a district's failure to meet 95 percent participation on standardized tests could result in penalties including partial loss of federal aid.
In the conflict over standardized tests, opting out and teacher performance reviews, self-righteous certainty has replaced reasoned debate.
Watch interviews and see scenes from Common Core forums, protests and rallies.
Math & English test questions
Thousands of students opted out of taking the English Language Arts Common Core exam, according to figures from a group that is critical of the test.
Parents and educators across the state have been vocal in their opposition to the curriculum, arguing that the tests are unfair and do little more than cause their children anxiety.
Some Albany Democrats and Republicans have encouraged students to boycott Common Core tests.
More than 200 parents attended a panel discussion at Levittown Hall in Hicksville regarding the rollout of the Common Core curriculum.