District Concerned With High Stakes Curriculum

Assistant Superintendent Michael Greenfield explains some of the processes Harrison Central School District underwent to adhere to new state standards. Photo/Daniel Offner
Assistant Superintendent Michael Greenfield explains some of the processes Harrison Central School District underwent to adhere to new state standards. Photo/Daniel Offner

Harrison students in grades 3-8 are breathing easy after completing the newly implemented state English Language Arts and Mathematics exams this past month. But for administrators and faculty within the public school district, the pressure is on as the state Department of Education finalizes its assessments of the Common Core curriculum.

First adopted by the Board of Regents in 2010, the Common Core Learning Standards are designed to create a baseline to assess the knowledge and skills students must achieve within each grade to better prepare themselves for college and careers. The standards have been adopted in 45 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, and are the current standard used by the Department of Defense Education Activity, a federal program that provides education overseas in Europe and the Pacific regions as well as domestically.

This story originally appeared in the May 10, 2013 edition of the Harrison Report. 

“As a state, the percentage of students scoring proficient or above will likely decrease as a result of the more challenging expectations of the Common Core around careful analysis of text, writing with evidence from sources, applying math skills to real world problems and critical thinking,” said state Education Commissioner John King regarding the pilot run of the new state assessments.

In a presentation on April 24, Dennis Kortright, director of K-12 mathematics for the Harrison school district, explained that this did not mean a change in teaching methods, but that the depth of knowledge had deepened.

“What frames the Common Core is that it’s all about making meaning,” Kortright said. “Lots of the conversation in today’s classroom involves what materials will [students] interact with… how will they own the work?”

But, while embracing the new standard of learning for students, the state evaluation additionally holds districts, teachers, and principals accountable based on student growth. According to state education officials, they plan to calculate student growth patterns based on a comparison of the 2012-2013 assessments and students who had taken past English Language Arts tests, taking into consideration demographics.

Michael Greenfield, assistant superintendent of curriculum for the Harrison school district, said that, unlike past years of standardized testing, the state did not release the format for the newly implemented assessments. “It’s an unfair situation,” said Greenfield. “[The Common Core assessments] are not written in a user-friendly way.”

For Greenfield, the state’s adoption of the Common Core essentially tweaked the national model, making it more confusing while upping the stakes for both teachers and students in the district.

According to Harrison Schools Superintendent Louis Wool, the concerns with the Common Core assessments stems more from the state level and not the execution of the tests themselves.

“[The assessments] can be problematic in the way it’s approached,” Wool said.

Wool said time limitations and rigorous questions will further impact the results. Despite concerns from the district over funding from the Federal Race to the Top program, officials with the New York State Education Department have said that implementing the Common Core State Standards was and remains a state-led effort.

King, the state education commissioner, quelled concerns surrounding the evaluation process and potential penalties, which still loom over educators statewide.

“We’ve gone to great lengths to account for the increased difficulty of this year’s as – sessments in teachers’ growth scores—part of the multiple measures evaluation system the statewide teachers’ union helped to craft—so that teachers are not penalized,” King said. “We have asked districts to be thoughtful in their use of the data from this first year of Common Core assessments when evaluating teacher performance, and we have every con – fidence that they will be.”

The final assessment data will be tabulated and posted online later this summer.

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