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Saying It All In A Letter

Board of Ed sends Albany Common Core missive

Through the four public budget work sessions the Garden City Board of Education has hosted since the beginning of the year, Common Core, its flawed rollout and the inherent costs to the district have become common refrains voiced by attendees and board members alike. At the Tuesday March 11 meeting, it was revealed that the Garden City Board of Education would be sending a letter signed by all the trustees addressing aspects of this controversial program that are problematic to the district. Among the topics touched on are the withholding of grade 3-8 Common Core test results, the reduction of local control over curriculum and teacher/principal assessment and performance. Enclosed is the letter in its entirety.

Dear Commissioner King:

The Garden City Board of Education appreciates the steps taken by the Board of Regents, with your guidance, to address concerns related to the implementation of the Regents Reform Agenda. The Board believes that it is wise to moderate the course of change to ensure that students have the greatest opportunities possible to reach high standards of performance. In addition, the Board is delighted that the Regents and your office recognize the importance of providing increased funding for professional development, an area that too frequently is sacrificed due to fiscal constraints. Similarly, the Board endorses the Regents’ efforts to ensure that students with disabilities and English language learners are assessed with appropriate instruments.

However, the Garden City Board of Education also believes that these changes do no go far enough. Put plainly, there is simply too much emphasis on standardized testing. While we acknowledge that tests can play a useful role in student progress assessment and program evaluation, and that good tests can provide teachers and administrators with valuable feedback about performance, the Board of Education believes that the continuing focus on standardized test results severely constrains our school district’s efforts to offer a rich, varied curriculum that encourages student creativity, promotes the development of problem-solving skills, provides ample time for cross-disciplinary projects and the arts, and allows students and faculty the opportunity to explore topics in depth by taking advantage of the “teachable moments” all educators cherish. We question the validity and reliability of the exams currently in place and planned for future implementation, and we urge the Board of Regents and the State Education Department to release the technical information that would permit school districts to make their own assessments of the overall value of these tests, determine the degree of their alignment with district courses of study, and decide whether they provide meaningful feedback to students concerning areas of academic strength and weakness.

The Board applauds the decision to release the content of new Common Core Regents exams. However, we advocate that the State Education Department adopt a similar approach in connection with the Common Core exams administered in grades 3-8. By keeping the full contents of these tests secure, the State Education Department deprives educators of the critically important professional development that occurs when teachers and administrators sit down together to discuss student work and develop plans for instructional improvement based on a deep analysis of student performance and the sharing of effective teaching techniques, a well-known best practice that Garden City Public Schools has successfully utilized for many years.

As part of its commitment to high standards and continuous improvement, the Garden City Board of Education strongly believes in the necessity of an effective, rigorous evaluation process for teachers and administrators. For the past 8 years, Garden City has been using the Danielson Framework for Teaching to provide educators with evidence-based assessments of performance and to offer meaningful recommendations for improvement. Based upon our successful experiences with this model, the Board of Education questions whether the current test-based protocols add any real value to our own well-developed Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process. We express our deepest hope that the Board of Regents and your office will alter its position and instead advocate for a teacher and principal evaluation system that revolves around the Framework for Teaching, or similar rubrics, accompanied by reviews of authentic student work and evidence of teacher and principal professional growth. Furthermore, we ask that you work diligently to convince the Governor and State Legislature to modify the laws and regulations pertaining to APPR, at least as they relate to school districts like Garden City and many other districts on Long Island, where state assessment results show that student achievement levels notably and consistently exceed state-wide averages.

Garden City Public Schools recognizes that the Common Core Learning Standards are aligned with its mission statement, summarized as “Inspiring Minds, Empowering Achievement, Building Community.” Curriculum renewal, however, is a process that cannot be accomplished overnight. The Garden City Board of Education strongly believes that current New York State mandates severely restrict the Board’s ability to establish a developmentally appropriate curriculum that reflects our current high performing district’s needs, thereby eroding the Board’s authority to set district mission and vision for our students. The narrowing of the curriculum that has occurred as a consequence of the State Education Department’ s test-centered approach to learning has reduced rather than increased student motivation, diverted previous district funds from curriculum enhancement and professional development, made it more difficult to sustain and expand the district’s extensive character education program, and limited the resources available to support STEM initiatives, the use of emerging technologies, and e-learning materials. The flawed manner in which the Common Core has been rolled out, moreover, has stifled educator initiative, confused parents, and frustrated even the most dedicated of students.

In light of the above circumstances, and recognizing the school district’s long-standing ability to graduate students who are college and career ready, the Board of Education of the Garden City Union Free School District requests that the Board of Regents develop policies and regulations that grant school districts mandate relief to allow flexibility in implementing the Common Core, standardized tests of student achievement, and assessments of teacher and principal performance.

As a final note, the Board of Education expresses its thanks for recent steps to reconsider the plan to upload massive amounts of student data to InBloom. Our school district has been one of the leaders in utilizing data contained in the Nassau BOCES Data Warehouse, and it is firmly committed to the use of data to inform instruction and assess program effectiveness. The Garden City Board of Education fully supports efforts to enhance the Data Warehouse and develop even more effective ways to harness the power of data, as long as student and parent privacy are well protected. The Board sees no need to utilize InBloom for storage or analysis of student data and believes that such information should be controlled at the local level to the maximum extent possible.

Thank you for the consideration of our concerns and our recommendations. The Garden City Board of Education shares the commitment of the Board of Regents and the State Education Department to high standards and to helping all students be well prepared for college and career and for the demands of citizenship in our society. We believe that the changes we have suggested will help achieve the goals we share, and we look forward to your response.