Written by Rich Forestano Wednesday, 20 November 2013 00:00
During a lively forum on Nov. 13, parents, teachers, taxpayers and students from Westbury, Carle Place 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.
“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?” asked Christine Corbett from the Westbury Teacher's Assosciation.
Among the members of the audience was Carle Place Superintedent David Flatley, who said that he was pleased parents had the opportunity to air concerns and get feedback from the Commissioner himself.
“I’m pleased that the organization of the meeting was such that it was civil, and that there was an exchange of some important ideas. The questions were well structured and led to a good exchange of information and concerns,” Flatley said.
But Flatley says he didn’t necessarily learn anything new at the meeting, and believes the effectiveness of the meeting will be measured by how much meaningful change it brings about—change he knows will not happen overnight.
“Part of my frustration is that I’ve heard those responses before, and I’m anxiously awaiting what change might look like that’s going to occur as a result of the level of concern that’s out there,” he said.
State Senator Jack Martins of the 7th Senate District moderated the talk. His 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. 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.”
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?”
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 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?”
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.”
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. 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.”
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. 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.