Assemblyman Steve Otis Votes for Major Reforms of NYS Common Core

Legislation he co-sponsored would delay use of test-based assessments and prohibit disclosure of sensitive student information to third-party vendors

Assemblyman Steve Otis (D-Rye) today applauded the Assembly for taking action on a critical issue in education – the Common Core. On March 12, 2014, the Assembly passed legislation, A.8829, which Otis co-sponsors, that would delay implementation of the most controversial aspects of the Common Core and provide more time for review and adjustment of the rollout based upon the important issues raised by the new learning standards.

“It is clear that implementation of Common Core has been significantly flawed,” said Otis, who spoke when the bill was debated on the Assembly floor. “I hosted one of the public forums with Commissioner King and the Board of Regents in my district and 72 individuals came forward to voice their concerns. What is particularly striking about this issue is that parents, students, school superintendents, school board members and teachers are all in agreement about the negative impact of the rollout our students.”

“For months, I have called upon the Department of Education (SED) and the Board of Regents to take a step back, acknowledge the anxiety and uncertainty created and work together to address the issues relating to the Common Core. We act today because after all the forums that many of us have participated in around the state, we are not getting the reaction from the Regents to what we have been saying.”

High-Stakes Testing:

The Assembly bill would prohibit the use of English Language Arts (ELA) and math assessment scores as primary factors in student promotion or placement decisions and bar the inclusion of those scores in a student’s permanent record or transcript. It would also delay, for two years, the use of such tests as a component in teacher and principal evaluations. “Education is about so much more than tests,” observed Otis. “We need to give our students and teachers an opportunity to explore freely in the classroom without the pressure and anxiety of high-stakes testing.”

In addition to delaying the use of test-based assessments, the bill would require SED to assist school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in developing tools, resources and instructional materials to help train teachers and principals in the Common Core standards.

Assemblyman Otis has been particularly critical of the slow rollout of curriculum materials – many after the school year had already commenced – as giving educators inadequate time to prepare to teach the new standards. “We implemented something where the information modules weren’t fully rolled out, where the training wasn’t made available to the teachers and we’re asking the students to be tested upon things where the speed made it impossible for it to work well.”

On the state’s increasing reliance on high stakes standardized tests, the Assemblyman observed:

“There is a larger issue that relates not simply to the Common Core but to the over-reliance on testing in this state. Our kids have a limited number of school hours in a week, a limited number of school days in a year. There’s only so much time to teach the things that need to be taught and yet we are spending so much time on the testing and not enough time on the teaching. I think we need to take a step back and look at the cumulative time that we are spending on testing in this state and make sure that we’re not overwhelming our kids and sending them in the wrong direction educationally.”

With regard to our youngest students and those with special needs, the Assembly legislation makes two important changes. First, it prohibits the use of certain assessments in grades Pre-K through 2 that are not used solely for diagnostic purposes or otherwise required by federal law. Second, the bill requires the SED Commissioner to evaluate and issue a report on the impact of the Common Core on students with disabilities, English language learners and students with limited English proficiency. This report will be critical to determining whether additional accommodations need to be implemented for these students.

Protecting Sensitive Student Information

“I have long been concerned about safeguarding confidential student information that the SED had proposed to gather,” said Otis, “and have questioned the Department, along with my colleagues, on the purpose behind collecting vast categories of student data, the ability to safeguard that information from possible security breaches and the need to accommodate the legitimate privacy interests of students and their parents. I am pleased that the Assembly has acted strongly to protect the personal information of students.”

The Assembly bill prohibits SED from disclosing student data to third-party vendors, delaying implementation until July 2015, and provides that a parent or student over the age of 18 be given the opportunity to “opt out” of disclosing personally identifiable student information. It would further require that third party vendors develop breach remediation plans and expeditiously notify schools or the State Education Department of suspected or actual data breaches.

This is the third measure on student data privacy to pass the Assembly. Otis co-sponsors two measures that passed the Assembly in 2013 to protect the privacy of student record and personal information.

Calling upon the State Senate engage in the dialogue and to act quickly on these important issues, Assemblyman Otis stated: “We all want the best possible education for our children. Legislative action is required to make sure that the SED and the Board of Regents respond to the concerns raised across the state. The Common Core rollout has undermined quality education by creating undue stress, confusion and uncertainty for our students. The Assembly has acted decisively to take a step back and give SED and school districts the time necessary to fix the Common Core implementation. This is one of the most important issues that we face as members of the Legislature. We need to make sure that it is done right and to step in when we think it’s being done wrong. I urge the Senate to take action by adopting legislation as soon as possible.”