Education Leaders Nix Controversial Proposal, For Now

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This article has been updated to reflect the vote of the New York Board of Regents.

The full Board of Regents on Tuesday voted to approve all but one proposal meant to improve implementation of the Common Core learning standards.

The Regents decided to table a change that would give certain teachers an added short-term protection against termination. The State Education Department said the Regents postponed a vote on that recommendation until April.

Anthony Bottar, Regents vice chancellor, admitted in a statement that the added protection for teachers "raised a great deal of discussion" among teachers, lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who released an angry statement about the proposal on Monday. 

"To give everyone a chance to better understand and gauge the correct path to follow, we are putting that recommendation out for comment," said Bottar. "This recommendation does not require immediate action and allowing for public comment will enhance the public deliberations.”

On Monday, the Regents released a set of seemingly tepid recommendations to adjust the rollout of the Common Core. Of the 19 recommendations, Gov. Cuomo latched on to one: an added defense for teachers who receive an ineffective rating on the test score portion of the state tests administered in the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 schools years.

The Regents, from their point of view, did not place a moratorium on teacher and principal evaluations tied to the Common Core tests but instead allowed a change in how teachers could defend themselves against termination based on these ineffective ratings. Under the proposal, teachers may claim “an alleged failure” by the school district to adequately implement the Common Core through a lack of supports to schools and teaching staff.

In a fiery statement, the governor charged that the Regents were halting the teacher evaluation system and seemed to question the Regents' competence overall.

"As far as today's recommendations are concerned, there is a difference between remedying the system for students and parents and using this situation as yet another excuse to stop the teacher evaluation process,” said Cuomo. “The Regents' response is to recommend delaying the teacher evaluation system and is yet another in a long series of roadblocks to a much needed evaluation system which the Regents had stalled putting in place for years.”

The Regents, and State Education Commissioner John King, reiterated that the teacher evaluation system was a priority and that the change was meant to protect teachers from being unfairly removed from their jobs.

"To me, this is a direct recognition that the department understands that Common Core can be a problem unless it's properly implemented," said State Senator John Flanagan, who chairs the education committee and previously issued his own report critiquing implementation of the Common Core.

Flanagan will serve on the governor's own panel for improving the Common Core, but he said he was pleased with several of the recommendations proposed Monday.

Key among them was the modification affecting high schoolers: Students would have an additional five years to meet higher, “college-ready” levels on Regents exams aligned to the Common Core.

The class of 2022, last year’s third-graders, would be the first class required to pass the Regents at a level considered “college-ready,” which would be a score equivalent to a 75 on pre-Common Core English exams and an 80 on pre-Common Core math exams, according to King.

Under the proposed changes, the class of 2017, current ninth-graders, would still take the Common Core Regents. However, these students would be able to pass the exams at a level of performance consistent with the current 65 passing threshold, said King.

In the first year that each of the new exams is phased in, students will have the option of additionally taking pre-Common Core versions and using the higher score of the two.

The Regents also recommended that districts like New York City eliminate promotional criteria tied to state tests; eliminate standardized tests at the district level for students in kindergarten through second-grade that are used for the purposes of teacher evaluations; and provide more supports and testing changes for English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

Several of these tweaks were recommended by the State Education Department months ago.

And in one recommendation sure to please many parents and school staff, the Regents called for an elimination to stand-alone field testing and increased access to questions on the state tests. This change boils down to a funding issue, said King. He and the Regents are asking for $8.4 million to print more forms of the state tests and expand the state’s “item bank” of test questions.

More versions of the test would allow the state to embed more field test questions during the annual testing period. Likewise, more versions of the test would allow New York to expand its bank of questions, said King, which would then allow the state to release a greater percentage of annotated test questions and answers.