03/14/14 2:00pm
03/14/2014 2:00 PM
From left, Southold Superintendent David Gamberg, author Andy Hargreaves, Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg, South Side High School principal Carol Burris, Plainview-Old Bethpage assistant superintendent Tim Eagen, Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen and Shelter Island Superintendent Michael Hynes. Mr. Hargreaves co-wrote "Professional Capital" with education advocate Michael Fullan, who joined the panel via Skype. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

School district administrators and teachers gathered Thursday at Stony Brook University for a panel discussion about”Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School.” Book co-author and education advocate Michael Fullan joined the panel via Skype. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

The leaders of three local school districts have partnered up to expand educational opportunities within their schools in the midst of mandates coming down from Albany as part of what’s known as the Common Core State Standards.

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02/20/14 8:00am
02/20/2014 8:00 AM
(Courtesy photo by Stony Brook University)

School superintendents David Gamberg, Steven Cohen and Michael Hynes have scheduled a public forum on March 13 at Stony Brook University’s Wang Center. (Courtesy photo by Stony Brook University)

Speaking out against a recent push in state-mandated education testing just isn’t enough for some local superintendents.

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01/23/14 1:11pm
01/23/2014 1:11 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Senator Ken LaValle at a previous Calverton Business Incubator event.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | State Senator Ken LaValle wants New York to delay Common Core rollout.

State Senator Ken LaValle is calling on education department commissioner John King to “hit the delay button” with rolling out new, more rigorous curriculum in public schools through the Common Core. (more…)

12/14/13 8:00am
12/14/2013 8:00 AM

Testing

The term Common Core has been used in these pages and elsewhere to describe the new policies and practices schools are being asked to adopt by the State Education Department. However, Common Core is just one portion of these reforms and, based on what I read in Michael White’s column and the overwhelming parent and teacher response at the education commissioner’s forums and on social media sites, folks are using Common Core as a catch-all term for the entire program. People are actually concerned about the new state assessments, the new teacher evaluation system (called Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR) and potential profiteering by private corporate interests related to these reforms.

Common Core, on its own, is a relatively benign list of things that a student should know and be able to do by the end of a given school year in a given course. You can review the standards themselves at corestandards.org. These standards were authored by the National Governors’ Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the nonprofit Student Achievement Partners. Do these organizations have agendas? Of course they do. Every advocacy organization does. Are those agendas to steal money and autonomy from school districts? Hardly. Teachers will still be able to do good work in a Common Core classroom just like they were when the concept of standards was first introduced nationally in President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind reform initiative.

Claims that major publishing corporations like Pearson Inc. “wrote the standards” have no merit outside the fantasyland of sites like Breitbart.com  and its ilk. Any publisher worth its salt is aligning old materials and developing new materials to the Core, much as they did when the NCLB standards came out in the early 2000s, but they still must compete for district dollars to purchase those resources. New standards, same old publishing business. If you are interested in seeing a change in where schools spend their money, fighting Common Core is not where I’d spend your time or energy.

Ironically, the Common Core era, combined with the increased availability of inexpensive computer hardware like Chromebooks and tablets, has made it possible for teachers to implement inexpensive or free digital instructional resources, such as Khan Academy, Learnzillion and Brainpop. This movement has publishers like Pearson scrambling to hold on to their textbook and instructional materials revenues, as textbooks become dinosaurs and teachers are easily able to analyze results of a class quiz online and assign individualized activities to each student using a variety of free and open-source instructional programs.

Standards — Common Core or the old state standards — are goals, and teachers plan the path for getting students to the goals. If parents and teachers were only being asked to contemplate Common Core without the rest of the pieces that have come with it, we’d not have a rebellion on our hands. But, as they say, the horses are already out of the barn. Teachers are being given letter grades based on student test scores over which they may or may not have any control. Good teachers are getting disappointing grades and being told they must do better but, in some cases, doing better means magically removing a student’s learning disability, changing a student’s general motivation to take a multiple-choice test, or increasing the amount of exposure to literature and informational texts in a student’s home and family life. The APPR system has few defenders statewide, even in Albany. APPR can easily be removed or revised without disrupting the state department’s other initiatives, including Common Core.

The New York State Testing Program has been much maligned since it added the grades 3-8 assessments during the NCLB era. Pearson has the state testing contract, and there have been all sorts of problems and complications over the years, but Pearson has been making money by selling tests to districts and state departments since the invention of the test and will probably continue to do so throughout the next 100 years of rides on the educational reform roller coaster. In my work, I travel the country visiting with district leaders and educators and I can tell you pretty confidently that no state’s assessment contractor is respected or loved. Swap Pearson for CTB or Riverside Publishing and we’re probably having the same conversation here.

The movement against these reforms would be stronger if it divides and conquers. The State Education Department is not going to abandon its entire agenda, but it is conceivable to see them backing off from some of its components, particularly with such vocal and unanimous resistance across the state. Ask yourself: Would you be OK with a new set of learning goals for your children if the state department eased up on all the testing and if your child’s teacher didn’t feel as if she/he were under attack by the APPR system? Encourage your representatives in Albany to pick one component of the reform agenda and start there.

And give Common Core a second look. Without APPR and the new tests, it’s just a suggested list of things to teach in a given grade level and subject area, not the diabolical evil force it’s been depicted to be.

Doug Roberts is a consultant and entrepreneur in the educational technology sector who describes his work as standards- and publisher-agnostic. He lives in Greenport.

04/18/13 2:00pm
04/18/2013 2:00 PM

Riverhead parent Angela Partridge’s 8-year-old son arrived late to school Wednesday morning. She dropped him off at Riley Elementary School in Calverton about 11 a.m. to join his third-grade class.

The late start wasn’t due to a faulty alarm clock. It was because Ms. Partridge didn’t want her son to sit quietly in a room — away from his classmates and teacher for 90 minutes — reading a book by himself while a small group of students requiring assistance took an exam he was scheduled to take.

That was how her son spent his time the day before, Tuesday, after refusing — at his mother’s request — to take the state-mandated English assessment.

Ms. Partridge and other parents across Long Island and New York State have committed to have their children “opt out” of taking state tests this week, a statement they are making to Albany to express their displeasure with its testing model.

“For the past two months, they’ve just been preparing for these tests,” Ms. Partridge said about her son’s class. “It’s taking them away from the enrichment of what third grade is supposed to be.”

The mother of three said she sent a letter to principal David Enos and Superintendent Nancy Carney last week explaining why she doesn’t want her son take the state assessments.

“I’m not against testing,” Ms. Partridge said. “I think it’s great, as long as it’s written by the teacher and is appropriate for the students.”

Many educators predict dramatic drops in their students’ standardized test scores — not because students aren’t prepared, but because new standards have resulted in exams that are more rigorous than in years past.

This year, English and math state assessments include elements of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The common core standards are a new set of national benchmarks to help public school students master language arts and mathematics. It requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age. The move aims to better prepare students for college and careers.

The state’s lesson plans are created and updated frequently online at engageny.org.

The results of the new assessments are also tied to the state-mandated annual professional performance review plans, known as APPR. The teacher evaluation requirement originated in 2010 after New York was awarded a grant of nearly $700 million under the federal Race to the Top program. For school districts to qualify for part of the grant, the state required them each to implement their own APPR program.

Riverhead Charter School principal Raymond Ankrum told the News-Review he believes a growing number of parents are becoming concerned about how the state is measuring the growth of students and educators.

RAYMOND ANKRUM

RAYMOND ANKRUM

“I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with [opting out],” he said, adding that as of Wednesday, only one of his students had refused to take state assessments. “However, I must say that I am extremely impressed with parents exercising their right to do what they think is best for their students.”

Ms. Carney confirmed Wednesday that out of 2,177 Riverhead students in grades 3 through 8, seven students who were present declined to take tests.

“We followed state regulations, which states that ‘All students must have an exam placed in front of them, students must place their name on the exam and the directions must be read to them,” Ms. Carney said in an email. “If, at that time, a student chooses not to take the exam, the test is coded as such. Teachers were to let the student read quietly until the end of testing time.”

“As per the [state Department of Education], there is no ‘opt-out’ option,” she said of the phrase, which could be misleading.

Over at the Shoreham-Wading River School District, Superintendent Steven Cohen said Wednesday about 20 students out of nearly 1,200 students in grades 3 through 6 didn’t take the test.

According to a letter from the state Education Department issued in January to schools, there will be a “negative impact” on a school district’s accountability if it fails to meet a 95 percent participation rate in state testing.

“State testing is considered an important part of instruction in education programs,” the letter states. “It provides an evaluation of student mastery of content and skills in various courses of study and helps shape future instruction.”

Riverhead Central Faculty Association union president Barbara Barosa said this week the Riverhead district’s policy is to “not encourage nor discourage students opting out.”

“Parents need to do whatever they feel is necessary,” she said.

Ms. Barosa said she’s organizing a June 8 trip to Albany for a rally, not only to discuss the new state tests, but other issues parents and educators have about how children are being educated. [For more information on the rally, call (631) 727-2262.]

Ms. Partridge said she understands the position educators are in, and believes a grassroots effort, such as the Facebook group, called “Long Island Opt-out Info,” is the best way to currently deal with state assessment concerns.

“I feel they really need the parents to stand up to say, ‘This isn’t right,’” she said. “[Educators’] hands are really tied.

“But I think if we don’t do something then nothing will happen.”

jennifer@timesreview.com

Read more in next week’s News-Review newspaper.

Follow News-Review education reporter Jennifer Gustavson @jengust

01/12/13 12:00pm
01/12/2013 12:00 PM

Three out of the remaining 54 school districts that haven’t received final approval from the state on their new teacher and principal evaluation plans are located on the North Fork, according to state officials.

Although New Suffolk and Oysterponds elementary school districts have already submitted their annual professional performance reviews plan, known as APPR, state officials said they’ve failed to resubmit them for final approval as of Friday afternoon.

School districts stand to lose state aid if they fail to have their APPR plans approved by Jan. 17.

State Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said staffers are “available around the clock to review submissions.”

“We will review any plans we receive between now and Jan. 17 as expeditiously as possible, but we will not sacrifice quality for speed,” Mr. Burman said.

Oysterponds school superintendent Dick Malone said the district had sent the state the district’s APPR plan, but hasn’t been able to resubmit it for final approval.

“[The state] knows we’re still in contract negotiations with our teachers,” he said. “The plan has to be part of the new contract for the teachers.”

The Oysterponds school board has been ironing out a new teacher’s contract to replace the agreement that expired during the 2010-2011 school year. Since the school board and teacher’s union have reached an impasse, officials said the matter is being mediated through the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, known as PERB.

PERB is also mediating contract negotiations between the Shoreham-Wading River school district and its administrators union.

The SWR school district originally submitted the APPR plan on July 1, with only the signatures of the board and the head of the teachers union, after a general counsel for the state education department informed the district it could still have its plan reviewed without signatures from all the bargaining units.

On Dec. 28, the state reversed that policy, stating all APPR plans across the state that would be reviewed needed to have all the proper signatures, SWR school board president Bill McGrath said Tuesday.

New Suffolk school superintendent Michael Comanda said the district had first submitted its evaluation plan this summer. After the state asked New Suffolk to revise the document in August, Mr. Comanda said the final APPR plan was sent this Wednesday.

Other East End school districts that haven’t received final approval from the state include Fishers Island and Montauk.

When asked if there’s any leeway for school districts currently in contract negotiations with their unions, Mr. Burman said there will be “no exceptions.”

“The law doesn’t provide for that,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

jennifer@timesreview.com