Regents' switch confounds teachers

The Enterprise — Lisa Nicole Viers

Christine Kelley’s freshman algebra class may have to squeeze in a few more topics this year as the Board of Regents has changed the timeline for Common Core implementation.

VOORHEESVILLE — Over halfway through the school year, teachers are now faced with the possibility of having to revamp their courses. Mixed signals and last-minute changes from the New York State Board of Regents are forcing schools to quickly adjust their classes so their students don’t fall behind on state exams.

In the midst of preparing current ninth-graders for the Common Core-based exams they were supposed to be taking at the end of this school year, the Board of Regents decided this week to delay “full implementation,” meaning that the first graduating class to be responsible for completing the Common Core exams is now the class of 2022 — current fourth grade students.

“I was skipping topics we weren’t supposed to be covering,” ninth grade algebra teacher Christine Kelley said. “So now I may have to find a way to fit them in somehow.”

Announcements from the Regents Board earlier this week changing the Common Core implementation timeline are putting further stress on school leaders to ensure their students succeed.

Teachers had been molding their curricula to match with the Common Core tests. Now, they have to backtrack.

“It would be funny if we weren’t caught up in the middle of it,” Superintendent Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder said about the rigmarole of ever-changing education standards.

“We haven’t gotten any further guidance from the state yet,” she said, but is expecting some to come within the next few weeks.

Since the Common Core standards were adopted in New York in 2010, opposition has been building.

“I think they weren’t rolled out smoothly in New York,” Thayer Snyder said. 

Common Core was introduced at the same time the state started requiring that teachers be evaluated, in part, on student test scores. Students were taking multiple standardized tests — some based on material they hadn’t been taught yet — and teachers were worried about how they would be evaluated by the scores of those tests.

While on the surface, delaying implementation may sound positive—since the most-often cited problem with Common Core was the lack of time given to apply it in individual school districts—a closer look reveals new issues.

Changes to education requirements take time and effort to enact successfully. Changes during the middle of a school year can cause turbulence.

“I have not actually been informed, yet, if I will need to backtrack and now teach the topics that were removed from last year's Regents course,” Kelley told The Enterprise in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon. “If I am expected to do just that, I am a little worried about the amount of time I will have to fit the old in with the new.”

Following the Regents Board’s announcements on Monday, Governor Cuomo released a statement calling the functionality of the Regents Board into question.

“Today’s recommendations are another in a series of missteps by the Board of Regents that suggests the time has come to seriously reexamine its capacity and performance,” the release states. (See related story.)

The Regents Board release on Monday presented 19 provisions to adopt, one of which was the “Hold Harmless” provision, said State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn. According to the release, the provision was to allow teachers to cite poor implementation and lack of guidance as reasons their students performed poorly on tests which were to be used for teacher evaluations.

“The proposal suggested that be waived for two years, and on Tuesday the board decided that decision should be held until April for a more robust discussion,” Dunn said.

The stream of changes being made by the Board of Regents and pressure from the governor is making it difficult for districts to instruct their teachers, and for teachers to instruct their students.

“At the moment,” Kelly said, “I think my biggest concern is that I don't actually know what is going to be expected of my students.”

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