Thursday, October 1, 2015

New school year, new Common Core scrutiny

The school year is off to a positive start. In recent weeks, I have had opportunities to visit elementary and secondary classrooms where I have seen teachers demonstrating best practices in instruction and students engaged in learning. In fact, principals in both the elementary and high school buildings report that students and staff have settled into their daily schedules and continue to work hard as we begin the second month of the 2015-2016 school year.

Panel appointed to review Common Core

Speaking of teaching and learning, educators around the state are following with interest recent developments out of Albany regarding Gov. Cuomo’s latest stance on the Common Core standards. The governor has decided to convene yet another task force to review the Common Core standards. The 15-member panel, which thankfully includes a few teachers and school principals, will examine instructional resources and guidance provided by the state, the curricula and the amount of testing in public schools. Any potential changes will be based on the panel’s findings. 

Skeptics say this is a maneuver by a shrewd politician to help reverse sinking approval ratings. From what I have read, several members of the new task force served previously on similar panels that, to my mind, never really offered any substantive recommendations to offset the state’s rushed and flawed implementation of the Common Core standards. 

Like most school superintendents, I believe higher standards are necessary if we expect to prepare students for college and careers in a highly competitive global economy; similarly, I think we all agree that the Common Core implementation process in New York was problematic from the start. There is nothing constructive about a state bureaucracy that mandates testing on new standards without allowing sufficient time for students to adjust to the new material and instructional approaches that teachers are in the midst of applying in the classroom.

Legislation requires districts to revise, adopt new APPR plans

That brings me to the subject of teacher evaluation, officially known as Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). Last spring as part of the 2015-16 New York State budget, lawmakers approved new legislation that requires changes to the APPR. The new APPR framework increases the degree to which student performance is weighted in teacher evaluations. 

I am proud of the teachers and administrators in our district who have worked with fidelity to implement the Common Core learning standards at the state’s directive. They are true professionals who are deeply committed to doing what is best for our students. But there are many different factors that impact student performance and achievement, so it is completely unfair to base 50 percent or more of a teacher’s evaluation on test scores that represent a snapshot in time rather than reflect the effort and dedication that our talented and dedicated educators provide for every student, every day.

The task force is expected to make its recommendations by the end of the year. Only time will tell if the skeptics are right; but for now, I remain hopeful that this latest panel will seize the opportunity to make meaningful improvements that will benefit our students and teachers alike.