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Common Core Sound Off

New York classrooms have been reeling from the radical changes introduced with the advanced Common Core Learning Standards mandated by the state last year, in conjunction with regular assessment testing to gauge teacher and school effectiveness in meeting those standards.

Many parents are expressing frustration and anger over the perceived “one size fits all” style of learning where near-constant test preparation has all but replaced a creative, individualized approach to teaching. Classrooms in New York State have become an altogether different beast, and it’s the kids who are suffering, many parents are saying.

Diane Colbert has lived in Floral Park since she was three years old; she herself attended the very same school system that her own children are currently going through.

“When I was there, I loved it...I loved going to school, and I remember it being so much fun,” she said. “My husband and I now have three children in the same school district — an eighth grader, a sixth-grader, and a third-grader — and I see the changes. They’re doing far more work now and the curriculum is changing far more quickly, and there’s a lot more homework in the younger grades.”

“My sixth-grader has had his math curriculum changed for the third time since the Common Core was adopted,” Colbert added. “I think the kids in fifth, sixth, and seventh-grade have been hit the most with the changes.”

Soon after the Common Core was adopted, Colbert said she started noticing changes to her children; this was especially true for her sixth-grader, who started perpetually worrying about his grades, she said.

Colbert’s son set a goal for himself: to make the honor roll every marking period so that he qualifies for the Presidential Academic Fitness Awards when he graduates from sixth-grade, but it’s an uphill battle.

“The work he is presented with recently is getting harder,” Colbert said. “He’s still getting good grades, but he’s really working hard and he’s really stressing and having anxiety. He recently got a 70 on a test, and got very upset and started apologizing to me for getting a 70 on a test that had a question about Mesopotamia of all things.”

Her youngest child is also feeling the effects of the changes in the educational landscape, Colbert said; her daughter’s lessons have become so complex in such a short span of time that Colbert finds it difficult to even help her with her homework.

“My third grader’s math homework...nobody knows how to do her math homework,” she said. “I’ve tried to have her brothers help her, but they do it differently. I do think she’s learning — don’t totally disagree with the curriculum — but I just think it goes too fast, and we can’t help her because we don’t know how to do the multiplication like she does it.”

However, another new development in the New York education system is even more troubling to Colbert — the sharing of confidential student information with private corporations, and it’s something that she says seems outright Orwellian in it’s implications.

“I object the most to the data mining,” she said. “I understand the need for data, but my concern is that they do with this data. Will they share it or sell it? Why would some outside agency need to know a child’s score on a third grade math assessment test, or their attendance records? This reminds me of books I read in high school...Brave New World and 1984. New York State must just see profit as the goal.”

State Education Commissioner John King said at a common core talk in Mineola on Nov. 13 that the data being used will not reveal names publicly.

“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.”

But while she Colbert become an active participant in local parent movements to address the concerns posed by the Common Core and data mining, she has found it necessary for the good of her children to re-assess her parenting methods...at least, until the broken system they’re being forced to deal with is finally fixed, she said.

“Honestly, since the Common Core has started, I’ve had to do a complete 180 on my parenting philosophy,” she said. “I want good grades, and I really push them to get good grades, but now when I see my kids get a 70 on the Mesopotamia test, and he’s apologizing to me, I tell him not to worry about it...he tried.”

“But it bothers me that I have to tell them now that these things aren’t important,” Colbert added. “It’s more for them to be kids, and to be happy than beat the new grading system.”