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04/25/16 8:00pm
04/25/2016 8:00 PM

Shoreham-Wading River softball player Kat Opiela 042516

Reaching the high school softball playoffs may be a long shot for Shoreham-Wading River, but don’t talk to the Wildcats about slim odds. After what happened on Monday, they should know that anything is possible.

Shoreham, which was one out away from defeat, pulled out a thrilling 4-2 comeback victory over rival Rocky Point on Victoria Coman’s tie-breaking, two-run single in the eighth inning.
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04/05/16 9:00am
04/05/2016 9:00 AM

Melissa Marchese is not a typical high school softball player. Last year she started every game for Shoreham-Wading River as an eighth-grader. Not many eighth-graders play at the varsity level, never mind as starters.

And not many players in any grade have done what Marchese did last Wednesday.
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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…)

01/07/14 7:00am
01/07/2014 7:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Education commissioner John King and state Board of Regents Meryl Tisch listening to a parade of speakers at a public forum in November.

CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Education commissioner John King and state Board of Regents Meryl Tisch listening to a parade of speakers at a public forum in November.

Seventh and eighth graders enrolled in New York public schools will no longer have to take the math state assessments come this spring, according to a press release issued Thursday.

Previously, those students taking Algebra I or geometry would sit for both the Regents exam and the state assessment — a practice referred to as “double testing.”

The federal government has now accepted New York State’s request to waive the state assessment mandate, thus eliminating double-test pressures for nearly 60,000 students.

Federal approval was needed to waive the math assessment requirements because all state assessments are mandated by the U.S. Department of Education, including grades 3 through 8 assessments; secondary-level exams in English, math and science; alternate assessments for students with disabilities; and annual assessments for English language learners, officials said.

State education department commissioner John King, who has come under fire in recent months from angry parents and teachers over the state’s implementation of new rigorous curriculum tied to teacher evaluations, said in a press release this week that he’s committed to reducing the amount of time students spend on tests.

Mr. King also announced last fall that the number of questions and testing time on state assessments for students in grades 3 through 8 will be reduced this school year.

Meanwhile, his department has asked the U.S. Department of Education to ease testing requirements for ESL students. The state is also asking the federal government for permission to base testing on “instructional level” rather than “chronological age” for students with significant cognitive disabilities and aren’t eligible for the New York State Alternate Assessment.

“Testing is an important part of the instructional cycle and good, sound assessments are necessary to monitor student academic progress, but we have repeatedly said that the amount of testing should be the minimum necessary to inform effective decision-making,” Mr. King said. “Our successful waiver request is an example of New York’s commitment to smarter, leaner testing.”

While some local school superintendents welcomed the announcement of the waiver, they also believe the state needs to do more.

“It’s the least they can do,” Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen said when asked for comment on the state’s announcement.

Mr. Cohen said he believes implementation of the new academic standards was rushed and fails to address how family income levels play a major role in student performance.

Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said although he’s pleased the double test has been eliminated, he would like to see the state’s one-size-fits-all approach toward education come to an end, too.

“We’re not opposed to preparing students,” he said. “Students, parents, teachers and Boards of Education should be a part of developing curriculum for the future.”

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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.

12/13/13 3:30pm
12/13/2013 3:30 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | State Senator John Flanagan during his press conference in Brentwood on Thursday.

COURTESY PHOTO | State Senator John Flanagan during his press conference in Brentwood on Thursday.

State Senator John Flanagan is calling on the state Department of Education to delay using a controversial method of storing student data electronically for one year and proposing legislation to ban standardized testing for students in pre-K through 2nd grade.

Mr. Flanagan (R-East Northport), who chairs the senate’s Standing Committee on Education, is also sponsoring legislation to create independent oversight, as well as establishing civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized disclosure of personal information stored on the state’s student data portal received from public schools.

The actions are based on his committee’s report, “The Regents Reform Agenda: ‘Assessing’ Our Progress,” which Mr. Flanagan unveiled Thursday during a press conference in Brentwood.

[Scroll down to view the complete report]

In the report, privacy experts and school administrators raised concerns about the ability of unauthorized third-parties to access personally identifiable information, or PII, of students, teachers and principals that are collected on the state portal.

Many parents and educators have protested an agreement the state has made with inBloom, Inc. to store student data because they fear personal records could be compromised.

Strengthening public school privacy protections is one part of a series of legislative actions Mr. Flanagan is proposing.

The report includes testimony given during five public hearings Mr. Flanagan has held in recent months that sought public feedback on the state’s implementation of Common Core.

Merryl Tisch, the Board of Regents chancellor, issued a statement Friday in response to Mr. Flanagan’s report.

“While we have concerns about some aspects of the report, it’s clear that Senator Flanagan has put together some strong recommendations that we look forward to working collaboratively to address,” Ms. Tisch said in a press release.

The Common Core State Standards has been nationally recognized and adopted by most states across the country that claims to better prepare students for college and careers by requiring instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age.

After New York adopted Common Core, the state published lesson plans for teachers to help students achieve the new standards. The state doesn’t mandate that schools use these lesson plans, but they are available online at engageny.org.

Earlier this year, and as part of Race to the Top requirements, the state did direct New York school districts develop their own teacher evaluation systems, known as annual professional performance reviews plan (APPR), lest the districts risk losing additional available state aid.

The state Department of Education has been heavily criticized by school officials across New York for pushing the new mandates before districts were ready for them. While many educators embraced Common Core when it was first introduced, they’ve since demanded that the state hold off on implementing the new student assessments based on Common Core and the APPR plan until the rigorous curriculum is properly implemented inside the classroom.

Some of the concerns raised in Mr. Flanagan’s report include: over-testing of students, inadequate professional development funding for teacher training, incomplete and missing modules and the use of test questions that were neither age-level nor developmentally appropriate.

Mr. Flanagan’s committee also heard testimony from parents about their “children experiencing severe stress, anxiety and frustrations as they struggled to understand the new curriculum, while also trying to learn in a whole new way.” The committee also hear about teachers’ “exasperation over the lack of time and resources given to professional development training in order to adequately prepare lesson plans before teaching and testing their students,” according to a press release issued by his office Thursday.

As a result of the testimony given, the report recommends the state Department of Education immediately address several concerns, such as expediting waivers from the U.S. Department of Education “to relax onerous and rigid testing restrictions placed on certain students,” especially with English as a Second Language students and students with disabilities; producing all missing or incomplete curriculum modules; aligning assessments proportionally to curriculum actually implemented; and increasing funding for the professional development of teachers.

As for the state Legislature, Mr. Flanagan is proposing several bills for approval, including requiring state Department of Education commissioner John King to review APPR plans and eliminate unnecessary student assessments. If approved, Mr. King will also be required to report on the effectiveness of Common Core tests and programing with an independent audit.

Mr. Flanagan described the recommendations contained within the report as “a good first step in addressing the concerns heard by the committee, which overwhelmingly revolved around the issue of over-testing.”

“Setting rigorous academic standards to ensure that all students are college and career ready should always be an important goal to attain,” he said. “However, it must balanced by a fair and even implementation of those new standards to allow our children to adjust and adapt appropriately.”

The report will be submitted to the Board of Regents, Mr. King and Governor Andrew Cuomo, officials said.

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The Regents Reform Agenda: ‘Assessing’ Our Progress,

11/26/13 10:30am
11/26/2013 10:30 AM
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS PHOTO | New York State Education Department commissioner John King.

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS PHOTO | New York State Education Department commissioner John King.

A public forum with New York Department of Education commissioner John King is set for 6 p.m. tonight at Eastport-South Manor High School in Manorville.

While the forum will be open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis, state officials said speakers will be chosen prior to the meeting.

State Senator Ken LaValle(R-Port Jefferson)  has asked local superintendents to meet with their school’s community members — including parents, students, teachers, and PTAs — to organize their comments and questions relating to Common Core, teacher evaluations, standardized testing and student privacy, and submit them to his office by last Thursday.

Riverhead School District officials have said only one question from each school district will be allowed based on submittals, and a seat at the event will be reserved for each of the speakers chosen.

Tonight’s forum comes about a month after Mr. King was criticized for canceling some previously scheduled meetings, which he said at the time were being “co-opted by special interests whose stated goal was to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum.”

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a new set of standards that requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age. The Common Core standards were created by nonprofit organizations, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, as a way to better prepare students from across the U.S. for college and careers after high school.

While the state has claimed the Common Core program aims to better prepare students for college and careers, many educators have criticized the initiative because they believe it forces teachers to abandon true learning and “teach to the test.”

Check back later for live coverage.

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