Educators Being Heard on Common Core Implementation

In January, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) rebuked the state’s deeply flawed Common Core implementation by voting to withdraw its support of the standards as implemented. NYSUT’s dramatic decision reverberated across the nation. State officials have been put on notice: Implementation must be done with us, not to us. Without a strong educator voice in the process, the Common Core State Standards cannot succeed.

The Common Core holds tremendous promise for students, but NYSUT’s 600,000 members were left with little choice. Their state has unfortunately become a model on how not to prepare schools for the new standards. Educators have not been afforded the time, training, and resources to properly implement the standards in their classrooms. Coupled with the prospect of looming new evaluations based in part on student test scores — a process that NYSUT said has been corrupted by poor implementation— and the situation reached a breaking point.

“Instead of listening to and trusting parents and teachers to know and do what’s right for students, the commissioner [John King] has offered meaningless rhetoric and token change,” explained NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. “Instead of making the major course corrections that are clearly needed, including backing a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences for students and teachers from state testing, he has labeled everyone and every meaningful recommendation as distractions.”

NEA and its affiliates have been waving red flags over these concerns since states adopted the Common Core three years ago, calling on states and districts to come up with flexible, common-sense implementation plans.

“NEA and many other leading education organizations have expounded on the importance of getting implementation right,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Educators need adequate time to learn the standards. They need the time to develop the tools and curriculums that are aligned to those standards. And assessments must be aligned with the standards.”

‘Tsunami of Education Reform’

Lawmakers are taking notice. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative leaders have called for the formation of an advisory group composed of a broad group of representatives of education groups, including union leaders. The group would review the challenges posed by a new teacher evaluation system that links teachers’ performance to students’ test scores on the Common Core assessments and issue recommendations on improving it.

Maryland educators are leading the charge for common sense in implementing Common Core, new assessments, and new teacher and principal evaluation systems so they can focus on preparing students and navigating through what Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) President Betty Weller calls the “tsunami of education reform.”

MSEA strongly supports a bill before the General Assembly to establish a workgroup to address Common Core implementation that includes educators and is pushing legislation that would prohibit the State Department of Education from imposing a one-size-fits-all evaluation system that ignores local mutual agreements and depends on student test scores.

MSEA is also championing a bill that would seek a waiver from the US Department of Education to cancel the Maryland School Assessment (MSA), a test taken by students in grades 3-8, because it isn’t aligned to the Common Core. MSEA says time and money spent administering this obsolete test could be better spent on additional instruction time for students and financial resources for districts to prepare for the new standards and assessments.

The stumbling over assessments, said Weller, is unfortunately characteristic of a poorly executed Common Core implementation process.

“Teachers are working hard and doing their best for their students … but they are simply not getting the time and help they need to get these changes right. Frustration is mounting and our schools and students are unfairly paying the price,” said Weller.

Educators in Missouri took similar action to alleviate the pressures of testing. In January, the State Board of Education approved a new state assessment plan – championed by Missouri NEA (MNEA) – that increases classroom instructional time by reducing the time children spend taking state tests.

The reform took root last fall when MNEA met with state education officials and came up with an alternative testing plan. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, students in grade 5 and 8 will take the full seven-hour battery of new Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced assessments, along with the state science test. To meet federal requirements, students in grades 3, 4, 6, and 7, however, will only take a computer adaptive survey test of math and English language arts created from Smarter Balanced test items.  Overall, they’ll only spend one hour on a state standardized test instead of seven hours – a significant cutback that should be a great help to teachers and students across the state, said Ann Jarrett, Teaching and Learning director for MNEA.

“The reduction in test time is vital for the many schools with limited access to broadband and devices. Parents and lawmakers are excited about the plan because a portion of the money saved by reducing testing will be used to pay for every junior in high school to take the ACT test,” explains Jarrett.

California Working on Getting Implementation Right

In California, educators, the state superintendent and lawmakers worked together to establish a new statewide student assessment system. In October, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 484, which shelved the old State Testing and Report program (STAR) to make way for a trial run of the new Smarter Balanced Assessments. The law also suspends high stakes accountability measures for the first three years of the assessment and requires that any data from field tests be for used test development purposes only.

“Suspending STAR this year allows students and educators to better prepare for the new tests aligned to the Common Core standards,” explained California Teachers Association (CTA) President Dean Vogel. “It makes no sense to test students on material they haven’t been taught or to force them to take an outdated test. At the same time, this bill will give more kids the opportunity to do a practice run this year on the computer-based tests.”

California also made a major investment in teacher readiness when it administered a $1.25 billion block grant in late 2013 to support the move to the Common Core. Districts were allowed to decide for themselves how to use the funds, be it new materials, teacher training, or classroom technology. CTA also received an NEA grant to develop a program to train mentor teachers who will assist their colleagues learn the skills necessary to implement the standards in the classroom. In addition, local chapters are actively bargaining for the right of teachers to be a part of the implementation process at the district level.

While California and other states are meeting educator concerns head-on, collaborative approaches are still notably absent in many parts of the country.

“When states fail to step up with the needed investments for implementation, NEA and its state affiliates are pushing hard for the resources needed. We all need to work together—parents, education support professionals, teachers, administrators, communities and elected officials—to make sure we get this right,” said Van Roekel.