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Common Core Standards experience controversial roll-out

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Divided opinions amongst statewide educators prove to be creating obstacles for implementation of the new Common Core Standards (CCS) with a deadline of June 2014.

In January 2014 New York’s teacher’s union called for a three-year moratorium on the implementation of CCS on the basis that the process has been too rushed.

Local teachers have expressed mixed reviews as well. Lauren Trichon teaches English at Ithaca High School and has seen these changes firsthand.

“Initially when they came out I was impressed as far as the rigor that they demanded of the students, but as they’re becoming implemented and we see that trickle-down through standardized testing, I don’t think it’s as useful as I initially thought,” Trichon said.

The CCS are a federal initiative to standardize public education across states through unified curriculums and exams that emphasize informational learning and standardized testing.

Bryan Duff, a professor of education at Cornell University believes that new more-focused curriculums will benefit students.

“Rather than an inch-deep, mile wide curriculum we have lived under for the previous decade, the move toward the CCS will allow for much deeper instruction in fewer areas, resulting in much more substantial and fruitful learning,” Duff said.

Poll numbers show mixed reviews amongst upstate New York voters. According to a Siena Research Institute poll conducted in November of last year, 42 percent of voters said they found CCS to be too demanding, 24 percent found it not demanding enough and 21 agreed with the standards in their current form.

The most controversial shift that occurs with CCS is from creative literature studies to strict textual analysis in which students must quote heavily from the informational-based readings.

“It’s really a push towards changing our curriculum so that it’s more informationally based text as opposed to classical traditional study of literature,” Trichon said.

Rachel Cullenen, a local parent, believes that the new curriculum has negatively impacted her son who is in the first-grade.

Cullenen saw her son enjoying school earlier in the year with improved reading, writing and math skills. With the continued implementation of CCS, she believes his performance has declined.

“I have seen a greater focus on assignments stemming from the Common Core, and making him work to a rigid set of rules that may be from the Common Core, but defy common sense,” Cullenen said. “He went from being encouraged to be creative with his writing, to having to funnel his writing into a very strict and rigid set of ‘requirements’ for the creation of a certain type of composition.”

Cullenen and Trichon are also concerned that CCS encourages an unhealthy reliance on standardized testing.

The incentive for schools in the state to have their students perform well on the new standardized testing is a nearly $700 million grants that would come from a ‘Race to the Top’ style award. Schools that perform well on these exams will have this grant money divided among them.

Duff believes this shift will modernize standardized testing in the area.

“The changes students are seeing are the transitioning away the more than a decade old NY State ELA and Mathematics tests in grades 3-8, and the much older Regents exams for high school students,” Duff said. “So what we see today are the third generation primary school exams with the biggest difference being that the newest exams are keyed to the CCS’s rather than the previous NYS Learning Standards.”

Trichon believes that while standardized tests are necessary, the standards have been changing far too often for them to be effective.

“It would be nice to move away from [standardized testing], but there do need to be standards as far as evaluating who is ready to graduate high school. There has to be standardization, but they can’t keep changing it every few years,” Trichon said.

These changing standards can only be fully evaluated when the results of the new NYS regents exams are made public. Until then, teachers like Trichon and parents like Cullenen will continue to work underneath these new standards.

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