As you may have heard in the news, many requirements of the New York State’s Regents Reform Agenda have been put on “hold.” In December 2015, the New York State Common Core Task Force presented to Governor Cuomo with its assessment of the changes to New York State’s model of education and how these changes were implemented. These changes were mandated by the 2009 Federal education law, Race to the Top and New York State’s compliance to that law, the Regents Reform Agenda. The Task Force’s report presented to the Governor and Legislature widespread concerns expressed by families and educators throughout the state over the last two years.
How do the recommendations from this task force impact the children and families of Vestal?
· 3- 8 ELA and Math Assessments: Three years ago in 2013, New York State enacted the first round of Common Core aligned assessments. These assessments raised the level of performance expectations causing the majority of students in NYS to score below proficiency, raising concerns among parents throughout the state. To address these concerns, the state has made several changes to the 2016 ELA and mathematics tests. This year the state has reduced the number of test items for both assessments. Most significantly, the assessments are now untimed. We believe that untimed assessments for ELA will allow students to demonstrate their strengths as readers and writers. For math, it will allow students to work at their individual pace and experience greater confidence in solving problems.
· Teacher/Principal Evaluations: For the next four years, the results of the state tests will not count towards teacher/principal evaluations. Districts and the state will continue to calculate these scores, but only for advisory purposes. This is a very important change. Tests are just one measure of a student’s accomplishments and ability. For the next four years we can return to using state assessments as just one of the many different sources of information we rely on to make important decisions about what best serves your child’s needs as a learner and unique individual.
· Common Core Learning Standards: The Common Core Learning Standards in English language arts and mathematics were adopted by New York State in 2010 to replace the New York State Learning Standards established in 2005. During this time, the Vestal district has maintained a steady approach to curriculum and instruction. We evaluate curriculum carefully, seeking out models that are based in established theories of teaching and learning. Once curriculum is adopted, we work hard to keep it relevant. Each summer we provide teachers extensive workshops and curriculum-planning sessions. Throughout the year we bring teachers together to refine units and instructional models. In this respect, with all the changes happening, one thing in Vestal will never change – our abiding and steady commitment to developing quality educational programs that stand the test of time.
The report presented by the Common Core Task Force effectively slowed the pace of reform. However, there are still pending NYS Education Department requirements and other mandates that may bring further challenges:
· NYS Regents Requirements: This year’s sixth grade students will be the first class who must past English and mathematics Regents exams at the “aspirational” performance level, comparable to the current score of 75/80. In Vestal, we are addressing this goal district-wide by developing K-12 vertically aligned ELA and mathematics programs that build on and deepen students’ learning from year to year. For the past two years, our math teachers have been worked steadily to retool the high school math curriculum to meet the demands of the Common Core assessments. Our goal is to prepare students for not just levels of proficiency, but levels of mastery. Also this year, Vestal students will participate for the first time in the revised English Regents aligned to the Common Core Learning Standards, and our English teachers have been planning for this transition over the last two years.
· Unfunded Mandates: Every piece of legislation the state enacts has costs associated with it. The Regents Reform Agenda was a costly reform that is now being reconsidered. Each budget year is a delicate balancing act of maintaining current levels of instruction and services while addressing growing needs in the areas of instructional support, professional and curriculum development, and special education. Compounding these demands is an annual tax levy cap that restricts the District’s options in the areas of instruction, staffing and class sizes.
The dramatic changes of the past four years are unlike anything the public school system of New York has ever experienced. Through it all, the Vestal school district has maintained its core mission “to provide instruction, programs, strategies and challenges in a caring, positive learning environment.” For this reason, we welcome the findings of the Task Force as an affirmation of our continued commitment to slow and steady progress designed to best serve and care for each unique student.