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Common Core Questions

The common core standards that Long Island school districts have been rolling out since New York State adopted it in 2010 has been the subject of controversy, criticism and outrage. State Education Commissioner John King has been making rounds across the state at local forums, appearing at Mineola High School on Wednesday, Nov. 13 along with Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Seventh Senate District Senator Jack Martins moderated the talk.

"I was disappointed that Commissioner King could not modify his agenda, even in the face of compelling and congruent concerns," said Great Neck Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Dolan, who attended the meeting. “He promises a reduction in testing, yet we have seen none.”

Segmented in four parts (common core standards, teacher evaluations, testing and student privacy), 38 questions were asked out of 250 submitted, the first coming from Mineola Parent Gina DaRocha. She focused on students with disabilities, feeling the new state standards will hinder teachers instructing students that need extra help.

“Please tell me how those lessons are useful, meaningful and appropriate for students who are cognitively functioning at a 5-year-old or younger level?”

King said the alternate assessment design is “challenging,” noting students range from severe to moderate disability levels, indicating getting one test to serve all is a tall task. However, state reps are currently discussing ways to remedy the situation.

“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 that would be appropriate to [a student’s] developmental level,” he said.

DaRocha was unhappy with King’s response, saying the assessments and curriculum do “not meet the needs of the students” and “is pretty much useless at this point,” prompting an uproar from the crowd.

Concerning teacher evaluations, Mineola Superintendent Michael Nagler suggested a three-year aggregate chronicling student achievement to determine educator performance. 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.

“With the anxiety of levels of these exams, it feels a lot more than [20 percent],” he said. “It feels like 100 percent of their evaluation is based on these scores. How do you mitigate that?”

King said the role of student performance is established in state law, while the rest is in school districts’ hands.

“Eighty percent of the evaluation is determined locally through collective bargaining,” King said. “For the 80 percent of teachers who don’t teach students in grades three through eighth ELA and math, the gross portion is determined by the school districts.”

Cheers and jeers were the norm during the talk, especially when Westbury Teachers Association Christine Corbett stepped up to the podium to discuss students losing interest in education because of rigorous testing standards. Corbett was curious as to when it became “sound to ignore the whole child in an effort for students to be college and career ready in elementary school?”

“At what expense are our state leaders willing to gamble the childhood of students, as young as 8 years old, who are 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. “If anything, 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 re-evaluate the progress of the common core in full. The commissioner said he didn’t think what Corbett was stating “was not true everywhere,” igniting parents to stand up, heckle and point fingers.

“The problem, is [King] is living in the world of theory,” she 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.”

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.”

Several Great Neck Public Schools staff members spoke, asking cogent questions. Shelia Scimone, president Great Neck Teachers asked: “You’ve asserted that state assessments are designed to improve classroom instruction. When I give my students a test, I analyze the results item by item, student by student, in order to determine what specific areas of my instruction need improvement and what specific skills or concepts my students need to work on. Despite the massive statewide drop in test scores for Grades 3-8 last year, teachers have not been given this information for the students who took the tests. How, then, can the assessments improve classroom instruction?”

LoriBeth Schwartz of Great Neck: “Exactly how and when are you planning to change the Regents exam to align with the common core?  Exactly how and when will you alert the parents of the first grade to take the new Regents?” Speaking to the Record after the event, Dolan added: “I thank Senator Martins for organizing the event and commend my colleague, Superintendent Michael Nagler of the Mineola District, for excellent logistics. I also think that the audience was appropriate and respectful, a positive reflection on all of our communities and constituencies.”