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More Lawmakers Call For Action After Students Opt Out Of Tests

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

There’s growing support in the state legislature to address controversial aspects of New York State’s Common Core learning standards and related testing.

More students across New York opted out of the state’s math tests, over 150,000, according to an anti-Common Core group that’s helped encourage students to skip. It follows the boycott by tens of thousands of students of the third through eighth grade English tests earlier in April. In the state budget, approved less than a month ago, lawmakers agreed with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to change teacher performance reviews to rely more heavily on the standardized test results.

The chair of the Senate Education committee has already said he expects the legislature to step in to fix the newly passed laws, after lawmakers heard complaints from parent, teachers and students during their spring break.

Now, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says there’s a concern in the Assembly over what he says are the “huge” numbers of students opting out of the tests, when those same exams will count towards a greater portion of the new teacher performance reviews.

“I don’t know if it’s a fair judge,” Heastie said. “To have some kids taking the exams and some not, it draws a concern as to how effective any of this can be.”

Heastie says lawmakers need to take a “macro” look at all of the problems surrounding the controversial Common Core implementation.

The Chancellor of the State Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, has said she’ll extend the deadline for schools to design the new teacher evaluations by another 10 months, until September 2016, if districts can demonstrate that it would be a hardship to meet the current November  2015 deadline.

Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a former teacher, is among the majority of state lawmakers who support the delay. She says she and many other Senate Democrats voted against the budget bill that will redesign the teacher performance reviews. She says the current timetable is unrealistically short. It requires the state education department to come up with new rules by June 30, and for schools to adopt them by the beginning of the school year in September.

“It seemed almost impossible,” Stewart-Cousins said.

And she says the high opt out rate for the tests is sending a “message.”

Governor Cuomo, who’s been pushing for a rapid turnaround to a new teacher evaluation system, says he does not think the Chancellor and the state Education Department should grant too many exemptions unless there’s a very good reason.

“As long as it’s the exception and not the rule,” Cuomo said.

Many lawmakers say it’s becoming clear that, with so many students opting out of the tests, it’s going to be harder to use the exams to measure teacher performance. 

Alphonso David, Counsel to Governor Cuomo, in a statement, confirmed that the governor will take action if he does not get agreement from the legislature between now and the end of June, when the session ends. 

“ The Governor …made it clear that if these reforms were not approved by the Legislature, he would sign an order creating a special prosecutor for police-involved fatalities,” said David. “These families have endured unspeakable losses and their voices are important ones in this debate. The Governor has vowed to keep the dialogue open and meet with them again in the coming weeks.”

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