Don’t Confuse the Common Core with New York’s Science Standards—or Frustrations with State Testing Policy

Responding to a high number of students opting out of New York’s science exams, Governor Cuomo criticized the state Department of Education’s implementation of Common Core State Standards, the Hudson Valley Times Herald-Record reports.

“[The state Department of Education] did a terrible job in implementing Common Core,” Gov. Cuomo said. “They lost the faith and trust of the parents of this state. They’re going to have to remedy that.”

The article, which notes in some areas as many as 80 percent of students sat out of the state science exams, suggests those tests are synonymous with the Common Core. They are not. Common Core State Standards set learning goals for math and English language arts only. They do not cover science.

What’s more, it’s wrong to conflate parents’ frustrations with testing policies with the Common Core—as Gov. Cuomo does. Common Core State Standards are not a test. They simply outline what students should reasonably be expected to know and do at each grade level to become college and career ready. How those expectations are met is up to local teachers and school boards.

Testing policy is set at the state and local level. If parents are unhappy with the content on exams they can take those concerns to their local administrators. And, in fact, New York leaders have made significant changes to the state’s assessments to address such frustrations, including shortening the exams, giving students more time and decoupling results from teacher evaluations.

Opt-out efforts, on the other hand, risk putting students at a disadvantage. Earlier this year former U.S. Education Secretary Bill Bennett explained:

“There are constructive ways to improve education and accountability policies. Opting out is not one of them. Refusing to participate in assessments puts students, parents, and teachers at a disadvantage, and it does little to address legitimate concerns about the quality and volume of state tests.”

This year a growing number of leaders, experts and teachers have encouraged parents to “opt-in” to high-quality assessments. “Yearly assessments are vital in measuring learning,” the New York Post editorialized in April. “They provide critical feedback about students, teachers and schools.”