New York Is Beginning to Improve Student Outcomes. To Turn Back Would Be a Mistake

Writing in the Westchester Journal News, Nicholas Tampio, an associate professor at Fordham University, argues that New York’s commitment to high, comparable education standards and the “enforcement mechanism of high-stakes testing” is a “scandalous misuse of time, money and energy.”

“The state is at a critical juncture when we could leave the Common Core behind, or at least explore new possibilities under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act… New York needs an education commissioner who works for all children to receive a well-rounded education rather than one spent preparing for high-stakes standardized tests.”

Contrary to Tampio’s claim, New York is helping to better prepare students for college and careers by setting high academic expectations. Like most states, New York students made significant improvements in reading and math proficiency this year. Some of the biggest gains came among third-grade students, who have spent most or all of their academic careers learning to meet higher standards. Statewide, New York’s third-grade proficiency in math increased 2.1 points.

State officials have made significant changes to New York’s education standards and assessments. Those include reducing the amount of time allocated to testing, giving students more time to complete exams, and implementing a moratorium on using assessment results in teacher evaluations.

This year New York education leaders conducted a review of the state’s learning goals, which produced changes to nearly 60 percent of the standards. The review provided clarification and improved the progression of learning, while maintaining the rigor and substance.

New York “made the necessary and right decision by keeping its commitment to high standards for New York’s 2.6 million public school students,” High Achievement New York wrote recently. “Now, the Board of Regents and [state Department of Education] must resist calls from opponents whose goal has always been to end these standards, and who have made it clear they will never take yes for an answer.”

A poll by High Achievement New York finds that parents favor making changes to improve the standards over replacing them by a margin of 2 to 1. Similar surveys show that parents strongly support high, comparable standards, regardless of what labels are attached.

New York leaders should consider the outcomes of the few other states that made the ill-advised choice to replace comparable education standards. In each case, the move produced either nearly identical or inferior learning goals. In South Carolina, for example, the resulting standards were 92 percent aligned to those they replaced in math and 89 percent in English language arts.

Oklahoma is the only state to replace high, comparable standards with demonstrably different academic expectations. Against educators’ warnings that the move would create “chaos” for schools, lawmakers ultimately decided to replace the state’s education standards, subjecting students to four sets of learning goals in six years.

An independent evaluation concluded that Oklahoma’s new standards fall short on “nearly all” criteria of high-quality standards. “Worst of all, these standards will disadvantage Oklahoma students compared to their peers in other states; students in Oklahoma will be less prepared to successfully enter college and careers,” the analysis notes.

Another study by High Achievement New York, which urges policymakers in the Empire State against making the same mistake, finds repeal-and-replace efforts in Indiana and Oklahoma cost those states as much as $300 million combined – and could cost as much as $480 million in New York. “Chaos ensued in both Indiana and Oklahoma after repealing the standards, creating a nightmarish situation for confused teachers and lowering the bar for students,” it adds.

Similarly, states that have “gone it alone” by developing independent assessments have incurred serious costs and technical problems, and may very well end up with weaker tests. A Chalkbeat article reports: “The process of leaving consortia that was meant to pacify local protests against Common Core-aligned tests has actually led to chaos and confusion in the classroom, not to mention extra costs to those same states to develop replacement exams.”

Mr. Tampio is right that the Every Student Succeeds Act is an opportunity for states to build on and improve their education standards and assessment policies. However, it would be a mistake for New York to lower the bar.