Caution urged as state weighs Common Core standards

Old Lyme - A state legislator told residents at a community forum Wednesday that the state needs to consider residents' opinions before moving forward with new state academic standards.

Meanwhile, the state proposed on Wednesday scaling back some aspects of a new mandated teacher evaluation system in order to give school districts time to adjust to new academic benchmarks, called the Common Core State Standards. As it stands, teacher evaluations would be tied to students' performance on standardized tests starting next year.

"Too much change all at once impedes teachers' ability to be effective in their classrooms," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a letter Tuesday to the state Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, which was responsible for crafting the new evaluation system. "Teachers and administrators understandably are feeling burdened and together we must take action to relieve this pressure."

At the community forum held in the town library, state Rep. Marilyn Giuliano, R-Old Saybrook, said educational reform should be approached thoughtfully and draw on the input of the community and educational experts.

"We need to hit the pause button to ask: Is this a good fit for Connecticut?" she said to more than 15 parents, grandparents, teachers and school officials. She said there can be merit in strong academic standards, but the educational landscape is changing quickly and the new system needs to be examined to take into account stakeholders' comments.

Giuliano, also a school psychologist, said she has introduced legislation in the Education Committee that would pause the implementation of Common Core until public hearings could be held. The Common Core standards in language arts and math were adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010.

About 45 states have adopted new state standards, but some have repealed or paused them, said Giuliano.

The stresses - for students, parents and teachers - that can accompany the new standards were also discussed Wednesday.

Dawn McNary, an East Haddam resident who has a son in fourth grade, said she is concerned the new state standards would force schools to abandon teaching tailored to students' individual learning styles. She said the new standards can be overwhelming to students. At the same time, the new requirements may prove confusing for teachers, she said.

"It's not translating to a joy of learning," she said in an interview after the forum.

Flexibility for evaluations

At Malloy's prompting, the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council on Wednesday recommended scaling back aspects of the new teacher evaluation system. Malloy asked the council in a letter on Tuesday for more flexibility in rolling out of the new system. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, signed the letter.

The council is proposing that teacher evaluations next year not be tied to student performance on standardized tests because of all the changes taking place at once. Students starting next year will also be taking a new set of standardized tests, and some school districts are opting into the new test early. The council also plans to give school districts the option to decrease the number of formal classroom observations required for the evaluations and has recommended that the State Department of Education provide technical assistance to districts that need help processing the evaluations.

The State Board of Education will next consider the council's proposal, according to a state news release.

Melodie Peters, president of AFT Connecticut, issued a statement about the proposal for more flexibility in teacher evaluations and said the AFT had been asking for a "moratorium on high stakes consequences during the transition to a new approach to teaching our children in order to get the implementation right."

"... With PEAC's approval of new flexibility options, our state's children will be the primary beneficiaries of this course correction," she said in the statement.

Malloy also announced a "Common Core State Standards working group," whose members will include teachers and educators, to advise the state on rolling out the new state standards, he wrote in Tuesday's letter.

At Wednesday's forum, Tracy Hall-Britt of Old Lyme, who has children in fourth and fifth grades, said she wanted more information on the new standards. She said that while there are some benefits to the new system, she was concerned for the educators who have to change how they teach under the new standards.

"If they can't deviate, they can't reach all of the learning styles of the students they are teaching," she said.


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