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New York test scores hint at hard road ahead for Common Core

New York is among the first of 45 states to test students as it implements new standards for college- and career-readiness. The poor results mean the Common Core reforms will require patience.

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The Center on Education Policy at The George Washington University recently surveyed 40 states about the Common Core. It found that state leaders are forging ahead with remarkable agreement that “the Common Core will do a better job of preparing students,” says Executive Director Maria Ferguson. But “people are really nervous about resources.”

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School districts need the technology and teacher training to support new computer-based tests, which will automatically offer harder questions to more advanced students and easier questions to struggling students. The idea is to help teachers understand which skills students have mastered, but for it to be effective, teachers will have to learn how to diagnose student learning and make adjustments during the school year. Thirty-four of the 40 states surveyed said it was challenging to find adequate resources for all of the necessary Common Core implementation activities.

Researchers say the public should brace for several years where scores will look worse before they look better, perhaps expecting to see strong positive results from the new standards 10 years down the road, Ms. Ferguson says.

Kentucky hasn’t had to wait that long to see some encouraging signs.

The state adopted Common Core standards in 2010 and released its first test results aligned to those standards in November 2012. It had prepared the public to expect the lower scores and didn’t experience a strong public outcry, says Nancy Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education. 

Its next round of test results won’t be out until the end of September. But meanwhile, Ms. Rodriguez says, the percentage of Kentucky students deemed ready for college or a career has increased from 34 percent in 2010 to 47 percent in 2012. That’s based on measurements such as the ACT college admissions test, the Kentucky Occupational Skills Standards Assessment, and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

“Our students face very real challenges. But it's better to have our students challenged now – when teachers and parents are there to help – than frustrated later when they start college or try to find a job and discover they are unprepared,” said New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in a statement Wednesday.

More than 40 business leaders in New York released a letter Thursday supporting continued implementation of the Common Core.

This year’s scores will not be used for school or teacher accountability purposes, and the high school class of 2017 will be the first group expected to pass the new tests in order to graduate, New York officials said.

While politicians and union reps in New York City have seized on the scores, which show below-30 percent proficiency among city students, to criticize Mayor Bloomberg’s education reforms, other cities such as Buffalo and Rochester fared even worse, with about 1 out of 10 and 1 out of 20 students, respectively, scoring proficient.

States recently received permission from the US Department of Education to delay tying test results to teacher evaluations until 2016-17.

With researchers still largely divided on how to effectively link test scores and teacher evaluations, many advocacy groups had pushed for that leeway. To its credit, Ferguson says, the Obama administration responded even though it had appeared to draw a line in the sand on that issue.

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