Educators fight Common Core

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Photo by Pooja Salhotra.

The Common Core State Standards curriculum has recently been a subject of controversy among educators, politicians and parents nation-wide. But CCSS advocates defended the curriculum at an informational forum held at the state capitol Friday.

Controversy surrounding the CCSS — a set of minimum requirements in English, language arts and mathematics students must meet in order to move on to the next grade level — has gained momentum over the past few months as districts prepare to roll out the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The standardized test is linked to the Common Core State Standards, and some teachers are concerned that these tests will unfairly assess performance, since teachers, students and administrators are still in the process of transitioning to the new standards.

But during Friday’s forum, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor ’93 LAW ’98 told the Education Committee that though implementing Common Core has caused anxiety amongst educators, the CCSS will ultimately help students graduate high school fully prepared for college or a career.

“Our youngsters are not yet reaching the standards we want for them,” Pryor said. “Common Core is going in the right direction.”

Pryor cited statistics, such as the fact that 75 percent of Connecticut’s community college students require at least one remedial class, as evidence that college readiness is a problem among Connecticut students.

The same week as the Education Committee forum, Minority House Republicans secured the 51 signatures needed to force public hearings on Common Core. Republicans also successfully petitioned two bills that would freeze implementation of the Common Core curriculum and create a subcommittee to review the new teacher evaluation system.

That same Wednesday the Connecticut Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, held a press conference to demand major changes to the rollout of Common Core. CEA released a survey last week that found that 55 percent of CEA members rated their schools as failing to successfully implement the Common Core.

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenburg said teachers have not had a chance to weigh in on the standards and that schools are ill-equipped to administer the Smarter Balanced Tests.

“Teachers always have and will continue to support high standards, but the enormity of the botched CCSS rollout has caused wide-spread frustration,” Waxenburg said in a statement. “Teachers are demanding that Connecticut get this right.”

Among the teachers’ complaints are that schools do not have enough computers or fast enough internet bandwidth to support the new standardized tests, which must be administered online. The CEA survey also suggests that teachers are concerned that there is too much standardized testing and that schools should prioritize learning over testing.

Pryor told legislators the state is trying to be flexible with the implementation because he knows that districts are struggling to adjust to both the Common Core and the new teacher evaluation system, which  was piloted in the 2012-2013 year. He said that the state has lined up $8.3 million to support Common Core initiatives, such as teacher training and a comprehensive website.

Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped draft the standards, emphasized at Friday’s forum that the standards were originally created by educators who recognized that high school graduates are not prepared for the next stage of their life. 56 percent of surveyed businesses, Pryor said, are having trouble finding qualified workers in Connecticut. Minnich added that 73 percent of teachers support higher standards.

Because each school district has had the flexibility to establish its own curriculum, some districts are more prepared for the standardized tests than others. Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in New Haven Public Schools Imma Canelli said that her district is well-prepared for the field tests that will start next month.

“When [Common Core] first came out, we jumped on it and we started revising our curriculum,” Canelli said. “We are not in the place where other districts are because we started implementation three years ago.”

New Haven Public Schools will administer Smarter Balanced field tests from April 28 until June 6.

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