Written by Rich Forestano Thursday, 21 November 2013 00:00
During a lively forum on Nov. 13, parents, teachers, taxpayers and students from Mineola and other local towns took State Education Commissioner John King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to task over the “common core” standards, venting their concerns and outrage about testing, evaluations and student privacy.
State Senator Jack Martins of the 7th Senate District moderated the talk, selecting 38 questions out of 250 submitted—specific to the application of the standards, evaluations, testing and privacy—to lob at the Commissioner.
Since the Farmingdale School District is not part of Sen. Martins district, administrators were not invited to attend the closed-door public forum.
Farmindale Superintendent John Lorentz said, that while he was not able to attend the forum, the common theme expressed by teachers, faculty and administrators has been that the state needs to slow down the implementation process and provide teachers more time to acclimate themselves with the curriculum.
“The implementation has lots of flaws in it,” Lorentz said. “We need time to adjust.”
At the forum, parents angrily questioned the one-size-fits-all approach that seems to underlie the standards—the “common” in common core. Mineola parent Gina DaRocha said that the new state standards will hinder teachers instructing students with disabilities, who need extra help.
“Please tell me how those [common core] lessons are useful, meaningful and appropriate for students who are cognitively functioning at a 5-year-old or younger level?” she asked, sparking the first thunderous applause of the night.
King said the alternate assessment design is “challenging,” acknowledging that devising one test to serve all levels is a tall task. State reps are discussing possible remedies.
“What the education department tried to do with an alternate assessment, based on feedback from educators around the state, was for every standard to have a range of [educational] paths,” he said.
The crowd was unmollified, erupting when DeRocha replied that the system does “not meet the needs of the students” and “is pretty much useless at this point.”
Lorentz echoed DaRocha’s sentiment, stating that it is the obligation of educators to tailor their lessons to meet the needs of their students.
“A teacher has to adjust to meet the instructional needs of their students,” Lorentz said. “In order to do that they need to be aware of the curriculum.”
Cheers and jeers were the norm for the duration of the forum, especially when Westbury Teachers Association Christine Corbett stepped up to discuss students losing interest in school because of rigid testing regime.
“At what expense are our state leaders willing to gamble the childhood of students, as young as 8 years old, who have already being turned off to school?”
King was adamant that it’s not the goal of the standard to lose student interest.
“When we talk about college and career readiness, we’re not just talking about the skills in math and English,” said King. “In all the work we do, our emphasis is to address the needs of the whole child.”
Corbett argued that the common core roll-out should have been started from the beginning, not in third grade, and that it was rushed.
Martins interjected, asking King if he’d reevaluate the progress of the common core in full. The commissioner said he didn’t think Corbett’s claim that students are losing interest is “true everywhere,” igniting parents to stand up, heckle and point fingers.
“The problem, is [King] is living in the world of theory,” Corbett said. “The way this whole process was rolled out and shoved down these kids throats...they weren’t ready for this. Step back, and halt or people will opt out.”
Farmingdale Board of Education President Shari Bardash-Eivers, shared in some, but not all, of Corbett’s commentary surrounding the state’s implementation of the Common Core. Although Eivers was not able to attend the
Commissioner’s forum, she too felt the statewide curriculum was rushed into effect.
“The state really rolled it out poorly,” Eivers said. “It was not a good idea... but we’ll just have to wait until they smooth it out.”
Despite her discrepencies with the implementation of the common core, Eivers said that the Farmingdale Board of Education plans to adhere to the state’s regulations.
A second key issue was teacher evaluations. Twenty percent of a teacher’s or principal’s rating is linked to state test scores. The state reported a 40 percent drop in test scores of third- through eighth-grade in the new roll-out of the English and math curriculum.
According to King, 80 percent of the third-through-eighth grade teacher evaluations are determined through collective bargaining. However, the added pressure of the high stakes curriculum has some educators worried that they their evaluations are solely based on students’ scores.
“Teachers have literally no time to work with the curriculum,” said Lorentz, “the pressure causes them to instruct in a way they are not fully prepared for.”
The final topic of the forum focused on student privacy, specifically inBloom, a nonprofit organization the state is using to mine student testing data and personal information. Manhasset Data Coordinator Colleen Leon questioned why student data would still be provided to inBloom even if a district did not participate in Race To The Top, a federal grant program to spur innovation and reforms in schools.
“The only use of data that is allowed is data that is being used to provide a service,” King said. “Now, aggregate data will be available through the portal. A district will be able to see the performance of other students in other districts, but not students’ names.”
Outside the forum, Jeanette Deutermann, founder of the Facebook group “Long Island Opt Out,” now more than 12,000 members strong, was among the protesters. According to Deutermann, data collected through inBloom catalogs an
individual’s information from birth to age 20 and includes not just names, but address, birthplace, economic status, race, ethnicity, disabilities, and other information that some parents may wish to keep private.
“Data mining is across the board all kinds of wrong,” Deutermann said. “They want the data and that’s what is driving the entire system.”
The challenge for school districts is to keep families from opting out, which impacts state and federal funding. With groups like Deutermann’s gaining steam, that challenge is growing.
— Additional Reporting By Daniel Offner