survey says

New York’s Common Core review begins with a survey and a new name

A new day in the court of public opinion awaits New York’s Common Core standards.

New Yorkers wishing to register their complaints or praise for the Common Core can now do so through an online survey launched on Wednesday. The 2,000-question form allows respondents to weigh in on every one of the Common Core’s math and English standards, spanning pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade.

The survey’s launch marks the start of a long-awaited review, which is required by a new state law. It also comes after years of criticism about how the standards, meant to make teaching more rigorous, were introduced into classrooms across the state.

“This is a chance for anyone interested in our students’ education, especially those who are closest to our schools, to give real, substantive feedback on the standards,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a statement.

The structure of the survey makes clear that the state is not looking to collect broad critiques of the Common Core. Participants have to pick if they want to keep, eliminate or change a specific standard for each question, and may explain their vote in an open-ended comment box. Even the name of the review process, “AIMHighNY,” seems designed to underscore officials’ desire to keep the standards from being watered down.

The survey will end Nov. 30 and the results will be analyzed by a group of educators that will be chosen by the State Education Department. Officials said final recommendations will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose office is planning its own review.

New York is one of nearly 20 states that has begun some type of review since adopting the Common Core in 2011. Along with 45 other states and the District of Columbia, New York backed the national movement in response to the vast gap between the number of students graduating from high school and the number of students unprepared to succeed at college coursework.

Criticism of the standards has ranged from conservative concerns about a government overreach to liberal concerns about how the changes will affect students and teachers in low-income schools. A unifying gripe is that the standards contributed to an overemphasis on standardized testing, a complaint bolstered by the state’s introduction of the new standards, new state tests, and new teacher evaluations in quick succession.

Elia, who started as commissioner in July, has vowed to be more open to feedback from teachers and parents than her predecessor John King. The survey is a first step, she said Wednesday.

“I firmly support high learning standards for all students, but I realize that our current set of standards isn’t perfect,” Elia said. “Together we can make them stronger.”

The survey is designed so that respondents don’t have to opine on every standard. They can search for a specific standard or browse based on grade or subject.

Once a standard is selected, respondents are presented with five choices. They can “agree” with how the standard has been written or respond that it should be discarded, rewritten, moved to a different grade level, or broken up into multiple standards. There is also a box for open-ended feedback.

Similar types of surveys administered in other states have yielded mixed feedback and resulted in some small changes.

In Tennessee, more than 2,000 people logged 130,000 reviews of specific standards during its review process, with just over half endorsing no changes. A subsequent committee opted to keep most of the English standards, but has recommended adding or rephrasing to offer better clarity and guidance to teachers.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.