New York is the latest in a string of states making changes to how they are implementing the Common Core State Standards, adjustments that include postponing assessments aligned with the standards or temporarily de-linking them from the high stakes that exist for both teachers and students.
The New York Board of Regents, which sets education policy for the state, voted Tuesday to recommend giving students more time to meet the graduation requirements associated with the tests and to give teachers a two-year reprieve from any consequences associated with the test results. Meanwhile, legislators in New Hampshire are debating a similar measure that would delay the implementation of the tests for two years.
The two join other states – including Rhode Island, Louisiana and Massachusetts – in deciding to delay the consequences linked to the tests or to allow more time before having students take them at all. Teachers have claimed postponing the assessments would protect them from being unfairly fired or punished for poor test scores resulting from a less-than-stellar implementation of the academic benchmarks.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in April called for a three-year moratorium on sanctions tied to the assessments until the implementation of standards has been proven effective. Under most states' teacher evaluation systems, student performance on the tests can be counted toward a teacher's overall performance, and in some cases can be used in making personnel decisions such as whether a teacher should be fired.
"You see if the whole shebang works, before you say it’s ready for prime time," Weingarten said in April. "But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, in New York state, the assessment has been fast-tracked before the other pieces were put in place."
But some say delaying the assessments could hurt school accountability. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a supporter of Common Core, acknowledged that implementation of the standards throughout the state has been "flawed and mismanaged from the start."
Still, he blasted the state Board of Regents this week for approving such changes.
"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," Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement on Monday. "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."
Michael McShane, a research fellow in education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, says continuing to change Common Core implementation midstream could be detrimental to the accountability movement "that has been at work trying to improve schools for two decades now."
"I don't believe that at the outset, the thought was that standards would undermine accountability systems, but it looks like they have the potential to," he says.
One issue, he says, is that people see the Common Core standards and assessments as two separate things, rather than two parts of an education framework that are meant to work hand in hand.
"Standards don't really mean anything – they're just words on a page. It's the assessments that actually make them real," McShane says. "So the thought that you can sort of magically have one without the other in the environment that we have set up in American schools today, I just don't think is possible."
McShane says that although students and teachers have "very legitimate concerns" about the rollout of the standards and assessments – to the point that they aren't sure by what standard they will be judged – changing the implementation halfway through is not ideal.
"Standards only work if everyone in the system understands what they are and understands how to get there," he says. "The states that have been trying to roll them out over time, where it's some combination of the Common Core and their current state standards, and it's not entirely clear how it's happening – I just think that's unfair to both teachers and students."