After hundreds of parents and teachers turned out at education forums across the state in recent weeks to air concerns about changes taking place in classrooms, top state education officials are grappling with this: What’s next?
Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch plans to create a task force that will look at the state’s implementation of new Common Core learning standards and make recommendations.
“There will be work done as a result of these forums,” Tisch told Board of Regents members during their monthly meetings in Albany this week.
State Education Department officials remain committed to the new learning standards, but they acknowledged during meetings Monday and Tuesday that they have more work to do to better engage parents, to provide more professional development for teachers and to address concerns about standardized tests in schools.
Among the changes in the works is a new grant program that the state Education Department plans to launch early next year to provide resources for school districts to study the types of assessments they use, Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. told the board.
“Not every district has more assessment than is needed,” King said. “Not every district is emphasizing test prep in ways that are unhelpful to instruction, but there is no question that there are some places that are.”
Concerns about the amount of standardized tests in schools and the stress they place on children were themes that emerged from the public forums held across the state, including two recent events in Jamestown and Buffalo.
Although the state is required by federal law to administer certain standardized tests, including English and math exams for third through eighth grade, local school districts have latitude to determine what other types of assessments to use.
King said the new grant program, which is still under development, would be used to help districts review the assessments and potentially adjust or replace those that are unnecessary or don’t require a higher level of writing or critical thinking.
The state is also seeking waivers from the U.S. Department of Education to allow adjustments for tests for students with disabilities and English language learners.
Regent Roger B. Tilles urged the board to work proactively to address concerns that education officials heard at the forums and to address a package of proposals put forward last week by the State Senate Education Committee.
“It would be wrong for us to conclude that this is just a bunch of disgruntled teachers or this is a bunch of people who don’t want standards raised,” Tilles told the board. “This is a legitimate group of parents who I see all the time – whether it’s my mailman or whether it’s the woman who does my wife’s nails or whoever else – who are talking about their kids coming home crying.”
The Senate committee recommended that the state delay implementation of the new statewide data system, increase funding for professional development of teachers and address errors in curriculum.