By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Margarita Garcia-Notario hopes to inform local parents about the effects state mandates are having on their children’s education.
For that reason, the mother of two Plattsburgh City School District students and adjunct lecturer at SUNY Plattsburgh has helped to coordinate a forum titled “Our Children Are More Than a Score: The Future of Public Education in the North Country.”
Presented by the North Country Alliance for Public Education and hosted at SUNY Plattsburgh, the public event is scheduled to take place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, in Room 200 of Yokum Hall.
State Assemblywoman Janet Duprey will deliver the forum’s keynote speech, and a panel will discuss a number of current education issues.
That panel will comprise AuSable Valley Central School parent Michelle Doorey; Garcia-Notario; Chazy Central Rural School teacher Kathryn Brown; AuSable Valley Elementary School teacher Tim Butler; Chris Vanhouten, a school psychologist; former Chazy Central Superintendent Kevin Mulligan, who is now the president of the Northeastern Zone of the New York State Retired Teachers Association; and ninth-grader Sophia Stevens.
Topics will include the state-mandated Common Core Standards, high-stakes testing, Race to the Top and education funding, to name a few.
“Our main goal is to inform parents who know very little about this situation,” said Garcia-Notario, who also serves as the president of Stafford Middle School’s Family School Organization and co-president of Plattsburgh High School’s Community School Organization.
Like many public-school constituents across the state, she has grown increasingly concerned with the amount of time students are spending taking state exams and teachers are spending trying to prepare kids for the tests.
“We do not agree with this outrageous amount of standardized testing,” Garcia-Notario said.
In addition to monopolizing time in the classroom, she noted, it causes both educators and children undue stress.
“Our teachers just don’t feel they can teach the way they should be,” Garcia-Notario said.
State Education Commissioner John King recently announced the Board of Regents is considering eliminating the state’s eighth-grade math test and possibly some tests in other grades.
Garcia-Notario feels the move was made to appease critics of the exams, and while it’s nice, it doesn’t solve the larger problem.
Another concern, she continued, is that the state requires that teachers’ performances be evaluated, in part, based on students’ scores on the assessments, “which is very unfair.”
Educators need to be evaluated, Garcia-Notario said, but a student’s test scores are very much affected by their home lives, which are out of teachers’ control.
People should also be aware of the amount of money districts are being forced to dole out to Pearson Education Inc., the company that designs the exams and other testing materials, she noted, as well as the overall costs of implementing the mandates.
“Many parents have not realized that if we don’t do something, at some point, were not going to be able to afford most of our services because of unfunded mandates,” Garcia-Notario said.
Another topic of discussion at the forum will be the nonprofit organization inBloom, Inc., which uses an information management system to store and track student data for participating states, including New York.
This has raised concern among many parents who question how the data will be used and fear their children’s privacy is being violated.
Garcia-Notario hopes educators and parents will not only attend the upcoming event but also continue to talk about the issues after they leave.
“I think that little by little this information is being known better, but I feel that we just need to inform our parents and say, ‘Listen, there is an attack on public education, and an attack on public education is an attack on human rights,’” she said.
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