Press-Republican

March 12, 2014

NY's Common Core corrections under scrutiny locally

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — SARANAC LAKE — North Country Alliance for Public Education member Mark Beatham calls the latest recommendations to fix Common Core like “something out of Orwell,” the science-fiction author.

“This doesn’t address money, implementation timetables or the power shift toward the state and federal (standard) level,” he said via email on Tuesday. 

The Common Core Implementation Panel report, released Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, proposes adjusting how and to whom assessment tests are given, how results are reported, how parents interact with student data-reporting websites and how much time teachers have to retool coursework to fit new Common Core standards.

The recommendations, the panel says, would give schools time to stabilize an orderly transition.

‘AN INTRUSION’

Other North Country reactions to the proposals varied.

At Tupper Lake Central School, Superintendent Seth McGowan was pleased to see a focus retained on education reform.

“I’m glad to hear they’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.

“What they should have done is take the existing standards and embed Common Core questions strategically in testing, so that slowly, over time, the tests would have been transforming with the process. 

“I agree with using the new measures (Common Core). However, these are not just numbers; these are kids.”

Plattsburgh City School Board member Fred Wachtmeister, a former junior/senior high-school teacher at Peru Central School District, suggests New York state is more than capable of handling its own reform process — without federal intrusion.

“Common Core, developed from No Child Left Behind, is an intrusion, as far as I’m concerned.”

‘CUT INBLOOM CONNECTION’

The recommendations also look to “halt the state’s relationship with inBloom,” the data-cloud company retained to collect student-specific information that would feed data-mining pools. 

New York spent $50 million of federal education money to contract with the nonprofit company last fall.

But the 17-page report, “Putting Students First,” says: “The debate about this one provider (inBloom) has become a distraction to the successful implementation of the Common Core. The state’s relationship with inBloom should be halted, and state leaders should consider alternative paths to accomplish the goals of increased data transparency and analytics.”

“I would be glad to see (the State Education Department) discontinue the relationship with inBloom,” Wachtmeister said. 

“New York state should have developed its own system for maintaining records to be used by people appointed to evaluate that data. 

“Records could also be made available to parents. That should have been handled in-house.”

OPT-OUT ISSUE

“And ending the relationship with inBloom doesn’t end parents’ concerns about data gathering, use or security (does anyone believe that appointing a special security czar will solve the problem),” Beatham said.

Dr. Margarita Garcia-Notario, a founding member of the Alliance for Public Education, also remained skeptical. 

She said the panel’s recommendations are vague and misleading.

“Until we see (State Education Department) actually canceling the (inBloom) contract, it will be just words. 

“It is very clear that our legislators are obsessed with the collection of data,” she added. “And it is unethical to not set a provision for parents to opt out of something that challenges our children’s safety and our democratic freedom.”

The state panel’s recommendations do not support any measure allowing parents to opt out of student data-reporting systems. 

In fact, the 11-member review panel said parental refusal to include their children’s test results “could place essential academic and operational functions in jeopardy.”

‘FUNDING NEEDED’

The other concern in many districts, including Tupper Lake, are costs associated with Common Core overhaul and the attendant Annual Professional Performance Review process.

“Gap Elimination Adjustment cuts (in state aid) over the past four years have totaled about $6 million, which has kept Tupper Lake from rolling out Common Core the way we want to do it,” McGowan said.

“It’s killing us. We’re reducing staff — from 2008, when we had 91 teachers in the district, we have 72 now. Gov. Cuomo can’t think in a million years that that’s not going to affect our ability to implement Common Core. 

“We’re having an incredible difficulty in implementing APPR as well.”

‘INCONSISTENT’

The Saranac Lake Central School Board and district parents, teachers and students have raised similar concerns with Common Core and its corresponding assessment test, seeking a more localized education reform process.

Don Carlisto, a history teacher and co-president of the Saranac Lake Teachers Association, was relieved to see that student assessment scores would be stricken from permanent records.

“The governor’s panel clearly recognized the state’s abysmal implementation of the Common Core State Standards and is exactly right to recommend that students get protection from the consequences of the flawed (grades) 3-to-8 tests,” he said via email.

“This begs the question, if the tests are bad and students need protection from them, then why would the state ever insist on using the tests in the evaluation of teachers?”

NO TIME FRAME

As to improved communication with parents, data-reporting protocols remain as much a mystery now as they were before Common Core, Garcia-Notario said.

“And they sell (data portals) as ‘state-of-the-art online resources’... Most parents want to keep communication with their teachers in person. We do not have this much time to be trained through online workshops.”

Cuomo formed the special panel last month, aiming to smooth out implementation of Common Core reform.

The report sets no firm time frame for next steps that state education leaders will take, but it does recommend that “the state should ensure rapid completion of the unfinished Common Core curriculum modules and continuously improve all of the modules through the involvement of teachers and other educators.”

Email Kim Smith Dedam:kdedam@pressrepublican.com

COMMON CORE RECOMMENDATIONS

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Common Core Implementation Panel suggests, among other changes:

• Banning standardized "bubble tests" for children in pre-kindergarten through second grade.

• Ensuring that state assessments in English and math for students grades 3 through 8 are not used against them and do not appear on permanent school records.

• Ending inappropriate testing for students with disabilities and English language learners.

• Capping the amount of time schools can use for standardized tests and test preparation.

• Creating a Parents Bill of Rights for Data Privacy to explain clearly why data is being collected by the state and the school, who it is shared with and why.

• Setting procedures for parent notification in case of any data breach.

See the full report: http://tinyurl.com/m8epnkc