November 15, 2013

Education forum addresses state tests, curriculum

Concerns about mandates in public education voiced


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Since the start of this school year in September, Saranac Central School ninth-grader Sophia Stevens has taken 45 tests and quizzes.

“Our education is becoming so full of tests that it seems actual learning is becoming more and more uncommon,” she told the crowd gathered at a forum on public education issues held Thursday night at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Presented by the North Country Alliance for Public Education, “Our Children Are More Than a Score: The Future of Public Education in the North Country” was attended by numerous area teachers, parents, school administrators and students.

Stevens and fellow panelists, along with keynote speaker State Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, discussed the negative effects the new state-mandated standardized tests and Common Core Learning Standards are having on public education.

The new Learning Standards focus on shifts in English language arts and math curriculum. The standardized exams assess knowledge in those subjects in third- through eighth-graders, as well as science beginning in fourth grade.

“I understand that some testing is needed to gauge how much knowledge we’re actually retaining, but I think there’s a fine line between gauging our knowledge and over testing,” Stevens said.

“We crossed that line a while ago.”

Duprey told the crowd she has heard from hundreds of educators, parents and students, who said the Common Core has resulted in teachers being required to spend too much time teaching to the test, which is threatening nontraditional courses, art, music, foreign languages and academic diversity in schools.

Panelist Katherine Brown, who teaches English language arts at Chazy Central Rural School, noted how the time spent completing the Common Core’s modules and administering pre-tests and interim tests in preparation for the high-stakes state assessments leaves no time for creative activities, imagination and innovation in the classroom.

“The information we’re being taught has no meaning to us,” Stevens said. “I mean, we memorize the information for the tests, pass the test, and then forget the information because we don’t find a need to remember it any longer.

Panelists also noted the negative effect the mandates, which schools were given little time to implement, are having on teachers, whose performance is evaluated, in part, based on their students’ test scores.

Duprey noted that she had heard from teachers who were worried not only about their students, but also their personal livelihood, as they were spending endless hours preparing to teach the new curriculum.

Still, the assemblywoman noted, she has heard from many educators who feel there is value in the Common Core Curriculum.

“One consistent opinion is that the Common Core is a good concept, but it lacked in preparation, resulting in poor implementation,” she said.

There is little chance that the mandate will go away, Duprey continued, but there are things that need to be done to fix the problems created by it.

She called for an end to state exams for children in kindergarten through sixth grade, as well as the evaluation of teachers based on student test scores.

In addition, Duprey said, funding needs to be provided to schools to provide professional development to teachers and to cover the costs of the technology needed to administer the state’s computer-based exams.

And the Board of Regents, she added, needs to be reformed and an independent teacher panel created to institute and review state assessments.

“Forcing these tests on our schools is the worst form of bullying I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been at the center of the anti-bullying movement for years,” Duprey said, eliciting applause from the audience.

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