After two years of collecting input from parents, educators and the public to revise New York’s controversial learning standards and assessments, the Board of Regents approved the State Education Department’s Next Generation Learning Standards for English and mathematics earlier this month, sparking hope among some Rockville Centre school leaders.
The Next Generation standards stray from the previous Common Core standards — adopted in 2011 — which has been under scrutiny by many parents, teachers and school administrators in recent years, and has led to a growing number of students in grades 3 through 8 opting out of state assessments.
More recently, the high school geometry Regents spurred uproar among school officials, including Superintendent Dr. William Johnson, who called the test’s questions “misleading, poorly written and very much laden with unnecessary linguistic concepts” that confused the predominantly ninth-graders who took the exam. He added that in the area of math, “this state continues to shoot itself in the foot.”
But in 2015, the state began a process of review and revision of its standards, first conducting a survey that fall, which gathered responses from more than 10,000 people. In April 2016, the education department then formed review committees, comprising about 130 classroom teachers, curriculum specialists, parents, college professors and school administrators from across the state.
That September, the state released the new draft learning standards and received more than 4,100 comments. Revisions included omitting, adding and merging standards and providing examples, as well as re-writing sections to bolster clarity.
Now adopted, the Next Generation standards will not be fully implemented until September 2020, and tests measuring them will follow in the spring of 2021, the education department projected on its website, allowing for three full school years of two-day assessments to measure the current standards and professional development on the Next Generation guidelines.
“One of the real problems that we had with the last Common Core, was the fact that the exams came out in the very same year in which it was first implemented,” Dr. Johnson said. The gradual transition is designed to allow teachers and students to ease into the shift over time.
“…We will continue to listen as the standards are implemented,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said in a statement. “We are committed to getting this right for our kids and evolving the standards over time as necessary to do that."
Dr. Johnson said at the Board of Education meeting earlier this month — just days before the standards were adopted — that the state’s progress in approving the standards was held up partly because the early childhood standards from pre-kindergarten to second grade were still being finalized.
Phyllis Johnson, a first-grade teacher at Francis F. Wilson Elementary School since 2004, was among the educators selected by the state to sit on a committee of a dozen or so tasked with making suggestions for these new standards, meeting with fellow teachers, parents and others in Albany in the summer of 2016.
“The expectation wasn’t that we were going to rewrite the standards in their entirety, but that we would look at key points that people felt maybe were not developmentally appropriate or where the language needed to be tweaked,” she said. “…We had a real big job ahead of ourselves to make sure that … the youngest children’s needs were met with respect to where they were in their own development.”
The new standards, Johnson said, were drafted, keeping in mind a diverse population – including children who speak more than one language, as well as those who have a special need – and focuses more on learning through play and self-discovery. Also, upon suggestion from Johnson’s committee, the state set up the Early Learning Standards Task Force of about 30 educators and parents to provide guidance on necessary materials to support the needs of the whole child.
She added that she was excited to discover through the process that by focusing on play and self-discovery in early childhood development, the state was putting the joy back into learning. As student needs evolve going forward, she said, this new “living document” allows for that.
“…The standards are not meant to be a didactic declaration of how we teach them, but rather a guideline to say these are the goals that we have, and those goals must be taught through discovery and through play and through inquiry,” Johnson said. “Quite frankly, that’s a huge shift [from] the way the standards have been interpreted a few years ago.”
Not everyone is satisfied though. Mixed reviews of the new standards hit social media after the adoption, including on the Long Island Opt-out Info group’s Facebook page. “Parents and local educators may be alone in our opposition to standards largely remaining unchanged,” Jeannette Brunelle Deutermann wrote on the page, “but we will never back down on what is best for our children.”
Overall, Dr. Johnson was pleased that the state consulted educators and parents, and said he would be evaluating the standards over the next month and setting up a plan for professional development. “It’s very encouraging to see that they’re actively involved in working on these new standards,” he said.
To view the standards in their entirety, visit www.nysed.gov/next-generation-learning-standards.