Proposal tackles Common Core

JOHNSTOWN – Assemblyman Marc W. Butler and his minority Assembly Republican colleagues have come up with a plan they say would improve the state education system and reform new Common Core programs in schools across the state.

Butler was at the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services on Thursday to talk about the plan.

The Achieving Pupil Preparedness and Launching Excellence Plan, or APPLE, which is aimed at reforming the Common Core curriculum, was developed after 11 public hearings around the state.

“The APPLE Plan is the result of listening and working with our parents, students and educators to fix the problems created by Common Core and to ensure our children receive the best education possible,” said Butler.

Butler said the abrupt implementation of the standards and testing left many schools minimally prepared. Districts adopted plans suggested by the state Education Department, but many educators have found fault with the curriculum.

In July 2010, the state Board of Regents adopted federal Common Core standards for mathematics, English language arts, literacy in history and social studies, science and technical subjects. Local districts started implementing the standards throughout the region in 2011.

The Assembly Republicans developed eight recommendations in their plan.

Butler said the plan would provide funding equity and ensure the state restores school funding cuts in the 2011-12 state budget.

The recommendations include:

Evaluate state assessments and curriculum.

Provide funding equity.

Prepare teachers with Career Development and Training for Common Core.

Allow teacher involvement in approving age- appropriate and developmentally appropriate material.

Restrict the use of student data.

Place priority on a student’s individual needs, especially in the case of special-needs students.

Create a vocational and technical high school diploma.

Revamp the state Education Department with checks and balances from the state Legislature and the governor.

Butler said he strongly believes the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which involves a formula for providing state aid to schools, should be eliminated to provide more funding for local districts.

HFM BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel said about $81 million has been lost in his BOCES region because of the adjustment.

He said schools are strapped for cash after shouldering the cost of materials to implement the Common Core standards while staying under the state-imposed 2 percent property-tax cap.

Butler said the recommendations may lead to additions to the budget and possible independent legislation.

“There is no better investment than the education of our children,” Butler said. “I am confident we will have a consensus in the Legislature, and there is little doubt in my mind that we will raise the funding. However, throwing money at a problem doesn’t always solve it, so we need to also think about priorities, and curriculum and special education under this standardized testing.”

Other concerns

Educators and administrators from the area took the opportunity Thursday to talk to Butler about issues related to the Common Core standards, such as teacher assessments and testing.

Butler talked about an idea to slow the implementation of Common Core. He suggested phasing in the standards by one grade level each year so the standards aren’t such a shock to students who previously under different standards.

For example, he suggested starting full implementation at kindergarten and having it follow those students through the grade levels until the Common Core standards are implemented in all grades.

Greater Johnstown School District Director of Curriculum, Testing and Personnel Patricia Kilburn said she is concerned about slowing the implementation because Common Core is positive for the students. Slowing it now would take away the work already put in.

“We have teachers that are starting to do great things under the Common Core,” Kilburn said.

However, she said, the teachers assessment is a key issue because the material is constantly changing. Delaying the assessments would provide time to allow the teachers to be successful.

“If you give them the curriculum and give them time to implement it, our teachers are going to succeed,” she said.

Other educators at the meeting agreed with Kilburn.

The teachers in the room also informed Butler about the issue of testing, which is included in the teacher evaluation, but neither teachers nor parents are able to review the completed test to identify where their students may be struggling.

Kilburn suggested continuing with the testing but allowing teachers to review the results and temporarily hold the assessments connected to those scores.

After the presentation, Butler said he is using these meetings to add to the eight recommendations that he will address with the state Legislature. He said testing and assessments will be a part of the discussions.