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Hearing on Common Core legislation expected to run through early this morning

By Colin A. Young

Publication: theday.com

Published March 12. 2014 8:00PM   Updated March 12. 2014 11:46PM

Hartford — A legislative committee hearing on a handful of proposed bills, some regarding the Common Core State Standards, drew so much interest Wednesday that more than 125 people signed up to testify and committee members said they expected the hearing to last into the early hours of this morning.

Among the bills being considered by the General Assembly's Education Committee was one co-sponsored by Rep. Marilyn Giuliano, R-Old Saybrook, which would halt the implementation of the Common Core standards, a new set of academic standards in English language arts and mathematics.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously in July 2010 to adopt the Common Core. So far, 45 states have adopted the uniform set of benchmarks. Previously, each state developed its own set of academic criteria.

But as districts move closer to implementing curriculum aligned with the new standards and rolling out the new Smarter Balanced standardized testing that accompanies the standards, some parents, school officials and legislators have urged a slowdown. A group of people who oppose the Common Core wore red T-shirts that declared, "Stop the Common Core in CT," to Wednesday's hearing.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, testified in support of pausing the implementation of the Common Core so the State Department of Education could consult with educators, parents and students and present a report on the standards to the General Assembly.

"During that time, money appropriated to the State Department of Education for the purposes of implementing the Common Core is also delayed so that we can literally pause, take stock and decide, based on the study's findings, how we, as a state, should proceed," he said.

Among those who submitted testimony Wednesday was New London Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer, who said the standards are "important tools being built to prepare students for life in the 21st century."

In his testimony, Fischer suggested the state and the legislature set up a three-year implementation timeline for the standards, the new testing model and tying test scores to educator evaluations.

"These steps would allow the Smarter Balanced tests to be piloted and modified and made reliable and valid. They would also give sufficient time to build familiarity and student achievement. And they would give sufficient time for teacher and administrator evaluation systems to be fine-tuned," he wrote in his testimony.

Those changes, he said, would make everyone involved more comfortable with the standards and the new level of accountability that will eventually come with them.

Representatives from Norwich, Groton and other southeastern Connecticut towns also submitted testimony to the committee.

"Although developed with the nation in mind, the Common Core State Standards provide the State of Connecticut a meaningful response to a specific crisis affecting Connecticut students, commonly referred to as the achievement gap," Kristie Bourdoulous, an administrative literacy specialist for Norwich Public Schools, wrote in her testimony. The Common Core "provides a framework with consistent standards across a learning progression, allowing our district an avenue to implement meaningful and long lasting changes in the way we educate the students of Norwich."

Earlier this week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an executive order creating a task force of teachers, administrators and parents from across the state to make recommendations on the state's implementation of the Common Core. Malloy has also proposed scaling back some aspects of a new teacher evaluation system — which would tie student performance on the standardized tests to teacher evaluations — in order to give school districts and teachers time to adjust to the standards.

"The goal is to lower anxiety and to heighten support for our educators and our youngsters," state Department of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told the committee Wednesday.

Pryor said he believes some of the opposition to Common Core and the confusion around the new standards come from "a mythology" that the standards prescribe what an educator must teach and how they must teach it.

Though the Common Core sets the framework of what all students should learn, it does not dictate the curriculum. The responsibility for developing curriculum aligned with the Common Core falls under the auspices of local school districts and boards of education.

"By having fewer, but clearer and higher standards, teachers can go deeper with their lessons and do what they do best, make learning come to life for kids," New Haven Superintendent Garth Harries said Wednesday morning during a press conference of educators and education reform groups that support the implementation of Common Core. "Any rollback of Common Core is a step back for our kids."

Wednesday's hearing drew so much public interest that two overflow rooms were needed in addition to the main hearing room to contain all who wished to speak in front of the committee. The hearing, which began at noon, was continuing as of 10 p.m. Wednesday night.

Since the standards were unanimously adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010, every district in the state has revised its curriculum in some way to better align with the Common Core, according to the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS). About 60 percent of districts have started working with teachers to prepare them for the changes and the new testing model.

"All of that hard work has been going on for four years, and to even consider putting a moratorium on that at this point, to us, makes no sense whatsoever," said Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of CAPSS. "In fact, what should be happening is that we should be encouraging the districts to do even more to help them even more with curriculum revision and teacher preparation and revision of assessment procedures."

c.young@theday.com

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