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New York state gives Common Core a makeover — and a new name

The New York State capitol.
The New York State capitol.
Chalkbeat file photo

Goodbye, Common Core.

Hello, Next Generation English Language Arts and Mathematics Learning Standards.

That is the new name for New York state’s revised English and math learning standards, education officials announced Tuesday. The renaming accompanied a lengthy process of revising the Common Core learning standards, which have become a lightning rod in education policy both in New York and across the country.

At Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting, state officials unveiled the new name and posed questions to the State Education Department about the revised standards, which were released last week and are expected to be voted on in June.

Learning standards spell out the knowledge and skills students should be able to demonstrate at each grade level. But in New York, Common Core has become part of a broader conversation about testing and the appropriate way to evaluate schools and teachers.

When the opt-out movement reached a new peak in 2015, with one in five students sitting out state tests in protest, Governor Andrew Cuomo convened a task force that recommended an overhaul of the standards.

In many ways, renaming and revising Common Core is symbolic of a larger policy shift at the Board of Regents, which has tried to de-emphasize standardized tests in recent years. It comes one day after the state released its draft plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which attempted to do the same — and which the state’s policymakers framed as a statement of values.

Chancellor Betty Rosa nodded to some of those broader themes on Tuesday during the discussion of the new standards.

For several years, she said, “we have lived … with this narrative about teacher quality, with teachers being beaten up.” She hopes the new standards will force critics to “really take stock,” she added.

Some Regents also stressed that revising standards does not mean they are being lowered, presumably fending off a criticism the board has weathered in recent months. (The chancellor told Chalkbeat in March she is working to change that narrative.)

“If there’s any question about, ‘Are the standards high enough?’” said Regent Lester Young, “I think that was answered today.”

Some of the specific changes from the draft released in September include trying to foster strong writing habits and moving standards to different grade levels in statistics, probability and algebra. (The state’s PowerPoint is here.)

The Regents also discussed the next steps in the process, including how to translate these goals into curriculum and how to engage parents, many of whom are disenchanted with the last few years of state education policy.

Members of the policymaking body asked questions and expressed their thoughts about the standards, but seemed generally supportive of them. In fact, some suggested that the teacher and stakeholder input in revamping the standards guarantees success.

“This is bound to succeed,” said Regent Kathleen Cashin, “because it’s bottom-up policy, as opposed to top-down.”

The debate over the name of the standards brought a lighthearted spin to a contentious policy issue. The group High Achievement New York released a set of possible names, including the “I [heart] NY Standards.” Chalkbeat readers wrote in with their own suggestions. (Our favorite: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Common Core.”)

“We’d like to argue that our coalition’s favorite names like ‘Empire State Learning Standards’ or ‘I [heart] NY Standards’ were robbed,” said High Achievement New York in a press release Tuesday. “But, in fact, we’ve long said the name doesn’t matter to us. High learning standards do.”

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