Common Core panel to call for teacher evaluation moratorium, test overhaul

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A test. (Alberto G.)
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ALBANY — In its draft report of recommendations to the governor, the Common Core task force is calling for an overhaul of the state's testing system, the creation of new state standards and transparency on those standards' rollout, according to a copy obtained by POLITICO New York.

The draft report, given to the majority of task force members for review Wednesday, is expected to be finalized and will likely be released Thursday or Friday, task force members told POLITICO New York.

The draft also includes a space for the task force to weigh in on the impact of student test scores on teacher evaluations, and the panel will likely use that space to recommend up to a four-year moratorium, according to a source familiar with the task force's plans.

Their recommendations reflect many of the demands made by leaders of the testing opt-out movement. 

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"The governor has not received a final copy of the report and is looking forward to reviewing it," Gov. Andrew Cuomo's spokeswoman Dani Lever said when asked for comment on the recommendations and whether they will be released Thursday.

The state Education Department did not return requests for comment Wednesday evening.

Cuomo charged the task force in September with reviewing the controversial Common Core learning standards, calling for a “total reboot” of the system.

The state Education Department is also reviewing the standards, per end-of-session legislation, and its report is expected in June of next year. Both the task force and agency plan to have made recommendations to Cuomo in time for his State of the State address in January.

The twin reviews have come amid a growing test refusal movement. In April, more than a fifth of eligible students — about 240,000 — opted not to take the state standardized, Common Core-aligned math and English language arts exams.

Parents and opt-out leaders have said the number of opt-outs will rise again this spring if changes aren't made. They have called for decoupling teacher evaluations from student test scores and cutting back on testing.

In its draft report of recommendations to the governor, the task force addresses those issues, calling for the creation of a set of state standards and for letting parents, teachers, students and any other stakeholders weigh in.

The recommendations also address the need for a measured rollout of the standards and call for more flexibility in them to give educators more options in creating standard-aligned curricula, according to the draft. They also call for creating better, shorter and more age-appropriate tests aligned to those standards and incorporating teachers into the development process.

The Education Department has said it already plans to shorten exams this spring and has asked teachers to help in developing tests with the state's new testing company, Questar Assessment, which this year will administer the exams developed by the state's former testing company, Pearson, as it finishes out its contract.

Although the Common Core task force wasn't asked by the governor to review the politically fraught teacher evaluation system, the group had felt compelled to make a recommendation on it, the source familiar with the task force previously told POLITICO New York.

Should Cuomo follow the task force's recommendations — particularly its recommendation to freeze the impact of test scores on teacher evaluations — it would mark a dramatic shift, aligning him with teachers’ unions and playing to the growing public discontent with the Common Core.

But it's unclear how the governor would go about making the suggested changes, and whether he would use executive action to do so.

The majority of the changes the task force calls for in its draft report fall under the control of the state Education Department, and some will likely change as a result of the federal education legislation now before the president.

That legislation, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, would replace the No Child Left Behind law and would give states more autonomy on education, particularly over standards and testing.