NORTH SHORE WELL REPRESENTED AT OYSTER BAY MEETING WITH STATE ED COMMISSIONER; PARENTS AND EDUCATORS URGE TESTING POLICY REFORMS
October 16 -- In a forum held at Oyster Bay High School on Tuesday afternoon, New York State Education Commissioner John King, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, Regent Roger Tilles, and the organizer and emcee of the event, State Senator Carl Marcellino, were on hand to listen to the concerns of a packed auditorium of superintendents, administrators, teachers, school board members, and parents regarding the recent reforms that have upended public education in New York State. North Shore Schools Superintendent Ed Melnick, BOE Trustees Toni Labbate and Tom Knierim, teachers, parents and representatives from the North Shore Parents Action Committee (NSPAC) were in attendance to listen and offer their views on the Common Core, state assessments and the new teacher evaluation system - the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR).
Glen Head Elementary School Teacher Mia Ramirez was the first to address the panel. She questioned the developmental appropriateness of the Common Core learning standards, asserting that "the common core is creating children who don't have the opportunity to love learning. There is no time to love to read; there's no time to investigate, be curious, discover. The things that we're expecting them to do, do not allow for them to actually master what they really need to be focused on because we need to move them on." "We're teaching children how to bubble - that's not a good use of an elementary school child's time," she said.
School Board Trustee Toni Labbate questioned the priorities behind the implementation of the education reforms. She asked "Why in public education are we not putting our students and children first? Why are politicians, corporations and money taking precedence over our students? With the changes in yearly state testing and the APPR you have forgotten the student. You have now asked New York State public school students to shoulder the weight of their district's reputation, their community's property values and now their teacher's evaluation - in the elementary school in particular where it is developmentally inappropriate material." Ms. Labbate suggested that an alternative assessment system be used for districts that have demonstrated high levels of proficiency, and that those districts partner with lower performing districts in efforts to bring about improvements. She concluded, "Common Core wants us to create critical thinkers for a 21st century world. They cannot do this if they are burned out, stressed out and hate learning."
Dr. Melnick explained to the panel the hands-on authentic learning experiences that students in the district have been engaged in, citing as examples the construction of the one room school house and the Victorian television and recording studio at the high school, and Glenwood Landing second graders conducting an environmental impact study of the LIPA power plant decommissioning. "These are not the kinds of things that can be measured on a standardized test but these are critically rich project based learning experiences that require students to use the mathematical, science, and humanities information that they're learning in a practical manner." Like Trustee Labbate, he urged the three policy makers to make distinctions between districts. "I encourage you to give an ear to some of the extraordinary things that are going on," he said, "and perhaps we have a responsibility to not spend so much time preparing for the tests but partnering with less fortunate districts and sharing some of our best practices." He then explained that the Nassau Superintendent's Group had developed an alternative assessment rubric for high performing districts that included working with lower performing school systems.
Comments by Commissioner King, Regent Tilles, and Chancellor Tisch indicated that the state intends to stay the course with regard to the implementation of the new tests and the Common Core curriculum. Chancellor Tisch stated that she was fully behind the tests. "We are very committed, very committed," she emphasized, "to the new state tests and to their implementation and their taking root as the standard in New York."
Commissioner King, who had decided in the middle of last school year to change the cut off scores for the grades 3-8 ELA and Math exams to align them with the new Common Core standards, now said, "I'm worried that in a sense the Common Core is now conflated with our debates about evaluations and our debates about assessments." He spoke little about the tests and teacher evaluations except to say that he would consider modifications for special education students and English Language Learners, and devoted his remarks primarily to the Common Core. Despite changes to the tests in the middle of last year, he agreed with a point that Regent Tilles had made, that there needs to be a transition from where students are now to the Common Core standards. Addressing the comments that had been made earlier in the meeting by Ms. Ramirez, he said he believed that the Common Core had the "potential for promoting creativity" but that would be a few years in coming.
North Shore Parents Action Committee (NSPAC) members Maria Hoyle, Kate Murphy, Tom Murphy, and Lisa Vizza attended Tuesday's meeting. Afterwards, Mr. Murphy said, "the common message to the panel revolved around the stress and unfairness the sudden implementation the test has placed on all in the school community. NSPAC agrees with this message. As a grass roots organization, NSPAC also wishes to emphasize our great concern for the emotional well being of our children and our families and the detrimental effect these added layers of testing are having on them. While there were many passionate statements made by well educated, articulate members of the audience at today's meeting, I didn't come away with a sense that King, Tisch or Tilles have a pulse on the emotional distress that is hitting at the real core in this issue.....the human beings." Mr. Murphy said that parents wishing to get involved in the North Shore Parent Action Committee can contact the group at Facebook.com/NSPAC or NSPACcomunity@Gmail.com.
The meeting was originally open to the public. However, when parents and educators criticized state education reforms and expressed outrage at being given only 20 minutes to speak after the Commissioner had spoken for more than an hour at a Poughkeepsie PTA forum, Mr. King cancelled four similar PTA events, including one scheduled to take place in Garden City on Tuesday, and the Oyster Bay forum became an "invitation only" affair. The requirement was very loosely enforced however, and it appears that all who showed up, were able to attend.
Senator Marcellino, a former teacher, who represents several high performing districts, including Syosset, Cold Spring Harbor, Locust Valley, Jericho, and North Shore, has been a vocal critic of the rapid imposition of the Common Core learning standards and of relying too heavily on testing. This past spring he introduced legislation that would create exemptions from testing for high performing districts and more recently, after the release of the grades 3-8 state test scores, he issued a statement questioning the assessments' use in evaluating teachers and students, and the speed with which the Common Core Learning standards were implemented. "Before panic sets in," he wrote, we must remember that the final scores of the 2013 tests are not the clearest method of evaluating the effectiveness of a teacher’s performance or a student’s achievement in the classroom." He continued, "while New York State has joined with a coalition of 45 States in adopting the Common Core, we are the only state that tested using these new standards in 2013. The other States will begin testing Common Core principles in 2014. Perhaps this fact alone demonstrates that the NYS Education Department (NYSED) may have moved too quickly."