Written by Daniel Offner Thursday, 06 February 2014 00:00
Who could have predicted that a chance encounter at a PTA convention in upstate New York would be all it would take to get the state Deputy Commissioner of Education Ken Slentz to appear for a parent-teacher forum in Levittown?
“We have a lot of people in our community who are concerned about the [state] curriculum,” said Levittown PTA Council President Patricia Genco. “Hopefully [Ken] will put their concerns to rest.”
On Jan. 29, Slentz came to dispel myths surrounding the learning standards adopted by New York and 45 other states in the nation.
“Its not called Common Core because every kid has to be the same,” Slentz said. “It means that no matter which of these 45 states you’re in, you will be held to the same standards.” Following the state’s implementation of the Common Core-based English
Language Arts and Mathematics exams, many parents, teachers, students, staff and administrators had several concerns and questions about the curriculum and its impact on students in the district.
At the forum, one PTA Council parent asked about the necessary procedure for a parent to have their child opt out of the state exams. While not reciting the protocol needed to opt out, Slentz reminded the audience that the common core exams are a balance of information from districts and state assessments, which will help them determine what is working and what is not.
“It is the choice of moms and dads to decide if they do not want their child to take the exam,” Slentz said. “But we have to be thoughtful about what they’re giving up instead of the 60 minutes [required to take the test].”
Among the questions, a vast majority of people asked the Deputy Commissioner about the levels of stress placed on the students taking these high-rigor examinations. Slentz acknowledged the concern, attributing the increased levels of stress to “growing pains” that come with putting in place a new curriculum for 696 school districts in the state.
Wisdom Lane Middle School Teacher John Lipani disagreed with Slentz’s sentiment, informing him that students’ discomfort with the new curriculum goes far beyond the initial “growing pains” that Slentz had described.
“It’s every day,” Lipani said. “Whatever the lesson we are teaching, I’ve never seen the kids so miserable.”
An educator in the district for 17 years, Lipani said that he constantly wants to challenge his students, but doesn’t see what the new wave of state testing is doing for the kids.
And he was not alone.
“As a teacher and a parent I think we are failing them emotionally,” said one of the parents in the audience. “We’re not comparing one or two children... It’s affecting all the children.”
Slentz explained that in order for parents to see the difference in the outcome of their children, it is going to take some time.
With many moving pieces involved in keeping up with the Common Core, Slentz would also address concerns facing school administrators and teachers. Educators and administrators have encountered an added amount of pressure to engage with collective bargaining units to submit an Annual Professional Performance Review—a means of teacher and principal evaluation that must be negotiated with union leaders—by the state’s deadline.
“We are well on the way to making changes by next year,” said Levittown Schools Superintendent Dr. James Grossane on the status of the district’s APPR.
Slentz went on to debrief the audience on plans to phase in the curriculum for high school students. According to Slentz, the state plans to adjust how it will be introduced this year by providing high school students taking new Algebra regents examinations, with the option of taking the older assessments. The higher of the two scores will count towards their grade.
Among a crowd of disgruntled parents, one mother, who said she was in favor of the new curriculum because it had elevated her expectations of her son, asked that if students are required to take two tests, with the higher of the two counting towards their grade, wouldn’t that only cause a gap between the common core and the older curriculum?
“Our hope is to close that gap over the next three years,” Slentz replied.
He added that the graduating class of 2017 will be the first group of students to be required to pass Regents based on the common core standards.