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. Despite being called a town hall-style forum, many local school districts were not invited to attend, many were not offered ticketed seating for the Mineola forum.
“We were disappointed that tickets were allotted to a few Nassau districts, but not to all; with that said, I hope Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch listen to the concerns presented by school administrators, teachers, and most importantly, parents,” said Island Trees Superintendent Dr. Charles Murphy.
State Senator Jack Martins of the 7th Senate District moderated the talk. Martins’ team selected 38 questions out of 250 submitted by interested parties. The primary concerns stemmed from four main issues: application of the standards, teacher evaluations, testing and student privacy.
Parents angrily questioned the one-size-fits-all approach that seems to underlie the standards—the “common” in common core. Mineola parent Gina DaRocha was first up, and 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.”
Dr. Murphy of Island Trees told the Levittown Tribune that up until recently, the state education department (SED) leadership has failed to listed to the school district concerns about the Common Core rollout, “If they had listened, the vitriol and tenor of these meetings might be quite different,” said Dr. Murphy. “In truth, SED has moved too quickly and made many mistakes along the way. In fact, today I received an email from Nassau County BOCES about the multitude of errors with the state’s math modules.” He added, “Sadly, this is still occurring a year after the initial rollout.”
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.
“With the anxiety of levels of these exams, it feels a lot more than [20 percent],” said Mineola Superintendent Michael Nagler. “It feels like 100 percent of their evaluation is based on these scores. How do you mitigate that?” Nagler
suggested a three-year aggregate chronicling student achievement to determine educator performance.
King said the role of student performance via test scores is established in state law, yet the majority is in school district 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 eight ELA and math, the gross portion is determined by the school districts.”
Cheers and jeers were the norm, and especially rose when Westbury Teachers Association Christine Corbett stepped up to discuss students losing interest in school because of rigid testing regime.
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 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.”
Levittown Schools Superintendent Dr. James Grossane later told the Levittown Tribune, “My concern is about the implementation of the Common Core and the overreliance on standardized testing it promotes; I do believe that the principles of the Common Core are worthwhile.”
Grossane also said, “We cannot disagree that developing higher-order thinking skills to compete in an ever-changing world is a noble objective; however, we must carefully review the developmental issues, especially in the primary grades, to be certain that our children are developmentally ready for the increased expectations of the Common Core.”
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.”
Grossane later told the Levittown Tribune, “Regarding the use of inBloom, I strongly urge the state education department to review the use of this system; we can certainly achieve many of the objectives the state department wishes to accomplish surrounding data analysis with modifications to the system currently in place.”
Dr. Muprhy of Island Trees said, “As far as inBloom, I understand in this day and age many people have privacy concerns and this goes beyond their child’s schoolwork. Therefore, I’m very empathetic to their concerns with storing all of the data with inBloom; a realistic question that has not been answered is how long will student data be stored?” He added, “I can’t find any reason why student data needs to be stored in perpetuity.”
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. Protesters outside of the high school were chanting, “1, 2. 3. 4...We don’t want your Common Core!”
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.
—Christy Hinko contributed to this article.