New York students taking algebra –– mostly ninth-graders and advanced eighth-graders –– got a surprise at the beginning of the school year. They would be the first crop of students to take the new Common Core Algebra I Regents exam –– based on a set of standards that have not been fully defined for teachers.
In June there was such confusion about the new Algebra I standards among educators that the State Department of Education issued a lengthy set of clarifications on its EngageNY website about what, precisely, they were. Thus, heading into the 2013-14 school year, the state was unclear about the standards on which it will test 13- and 14-year-olds on the Regents exam next June, potentially leaving them unprepared for the test.
The Education Department establishes the curriculum on which the tests are based. Here’s the thing: The state created the tests first, and only now is writing the curriculum for the new algebra Regents. The state issues new curricula in what it calls “modules” –– long-range study units. The algebra curriculum is supposed to comprise five modules. To date, teachers have only received the first two. Some teachers complain that they have finished the first two units but have not yet received the third, holding them up in their teaching.
A number of districts are planning to give algebra students two exams at year’s end –– one based on the Common Core and one based on the old standards. Whichever test a student does better on will count on his or her transcripts. It’s the only way to be fair to students, school officials say. Not every district, however, is giving both tests.
The algebra Regents is a clear illustration of how poorly state education officials –– in particular, Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King Jr. –– have managed the transition to the Common Core State Standards. In their rush to be first in the nation to adopt the Common Core, they apparently forgot that the decisions they make in Albany have profound effects on the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people.