Guest Spot: Look beyond Common Core’s testing component

Much has been said of late concerning Common Core and its effect on the education of our children, particularly with regard to testing and evaluation. And while I agree with the criticism that the implementation of the curriculum has been unwieldy and uneven, I understand the vision and intent of the Common Core standards. 

Common Core was established to bring contemporary learning standards to our classrooms. Educational experts looked at our high school graduates and realized that as a nation we were producing many graduates who were simply unprepared to compete with their counterparts in Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the information-driven global marketplace. In addition, many graduates were not prepared for college-level work. The U.S. needed a transformation in its approach to teaching and learning in order to ensure that our high school graduates were college and career-ready in the 21st century.

In order to make that happen, the Common Core standards were developed to be a reorganization and strengthening of learning standards for students nationwide. Common Core’s designers recognized that while a high school diploma may have paved the way to the attainment of the American Dream in the 1970s and ‘80s, young people entering the working world in 2015 need a diploma from an academic university or a technical school to ensure success.

Since the implementation of the new standards, it is evident as I visit classrooms and observe student work that students are meeting the challenge of a more demanding curriculum. It is evident in their writing, in their reading levels and in their ability to decipher text for deeper meaning. I’ve also observed that there is a good balance between different activities in the classroom and that teachers continue to provide students with many opportunities to demonstrate their creativity and collaborate with others to solve problems or conduct research.

It saddens me that the governor has chosen to link state assessments to teacher evaluations. Basing student proficiency or teacher effectiveness on one state assessment per year for students or teachers is unreliable. As educators, we use multiple measures to determine our students’ success, including presentations, portfolios, writing samples, oral communication and projects. In Riverhead, we are dedicated to keeping a balance in our classrooms. As a district, we have emphasized to our teachers that we are moving forward with implementing the new standards in a thoughtful manner.

Due to the significant number of students now “opting out” of taking state assessments, the results will not be reflective of all our students’ performance. I fear that it sends a poor message to students: that when life throws you a difficult test (literally or figuratively) it is permissible to avoid it rather than confront the challenge head-on. The act of opting out of a test also robs students from the experience of taking a large-scale exam (albeit one with no personal consequences) before they get to the upper-grade levels, where tests such as the New York State Regents Exam and the SAT or ACT become mandatory life experiences. As a district, state assessments also help us look at our students’ achievements in comparison to other districts.

I respect parents’ frustrations with the curriculum from Engage New York. There is no doubt that some of it is poorly written and not age-appropriate. The state is not mandating that this curriculum be used. Our teachers are working together to create curriculum that is aligned with the new standards and is age-appropriate. Students will be better prepared to take the new assessments as educators have the time and resources necessary to implement the new standards and as they become more familiar with the assessments each year.

As a member of the legislative committee for the Suffolk County Council of School Superintendents, I have worked with my colleagues to advocate for needed changes to the governor’s current proposals. These include:

• APPR reform (teacher and principal evaluations). The current system is not legitimate and evaluations should not be linked to 50 percent of state test scores. Educational experts need to create a workable and effective system with the goal of improving instruction.

• Greater flexibility with the administration of state assessments for students with disabilities and English-language learners based on developmental levels or language proficiency.

• Student proficiency determined by multiple measures, with state assessments as one measure.

I have dedicated my life to being an educator. I believe it is best for students to be offered a well-rounded education, including courses in the arts, mathematics, language, literature, science, physical education and technology. But these courses must be geared toward preparing students for the realities that face them when they graduate. I believe we can embrace the Common Core standards and work to develop curriculum that is aligned to the new standards while engaging students in problem solving and project-based work to make sure they’re coming out of high school prepared to be successful in the 21st-century work force.

TNancy Carney is the superintendent of the Riverhead Central School District.