Address to the Board of Education on Common Core

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Address to the New Rochelle Board of Education, December 3, 2013 on Common Core. These remarks are as close as I could remember from my notes. Peggy Godfrey

Children in Westchester have taken the new New York State common core tests and found their scores have dropped with other students throughout New York State and the nation. Parents and school personnel understandably are upset by these lower scores, and have publicly reacted to them. State Education Commissioner John King, the man in charge of common core tests was "shouted down" on October 10 in Poughkeepsie several weeks ago and then canceled four New York State Parent Teacher Association forums. Criticism follow and several "listening tours" were scheduled. The only nearby meeting was in Port Chester which had many parents addressing problems with the mandates of the common core program. While stress on students and teachers to achieve is apparent throughout the state, the Port Chester district has a great number of immigrant students who necessarily need more instructional time in order to pass these more difficult tests.

Adding to coping with lower student test scores is a mandate for "portals" which all school districts must now use to allow parents to access their children's scores. Even if a school district is already using a "portal" for attendance or another purpose, an additional new assessment portal must be created. "Portals" were agreed upon by New York State when it was awarded $700 million in federal Race to the Top funds in 2010. These "portals" will necessarily track district's common core testing results.

New York State in accepting this money has created an daunting task. A key question now is will it be possible for all children to be able to achieve these more difficult common core standards. Or will many young people (and their parents) be faced with standards they are unable to achieve? The common core standards have a mandate districts must use, electronic "portals' to record each student's testing date results and then to make these scores available to parents and educational personnel. The Common Core standards have been adopted by most of the states and many did so willingly when the Obama administration in 2009 stated that by using these standards they might win grant money in the Race to the Top program. Part of the Common Core thrust was to make students ready for "college and career." This is a democratic ideal which has been promoted in the schools. For example, unproven thinking skills are imbedded in common core instruction and testing. The reasoning is that no matter which job a person has, even if it is vocational, a person has the "critical thinking skills" that can help them to perform their job better.

When Race to the Top funds were accepted by New York State the most disturbing aspect of this agreement was the necessity to rate teachers based on their students' common core test scores. The formula for evaluating teachers mandates teachers must be evaluated based using 20% of their students' test scores, 60% on classroom observations and the remaining 20% by locally chosen assessments. But superintendents of schools for 35 districts in this area (Journal News, 10/16/13) to no one's surprise found the state's mandates did not adequately or fairly address the students' characteristics which could effect achievement scores such as disadvantaged students or how many times a student had moved (or indeed if they were homeless.)

Certainly limited English proficiency, special education and poverty of children needed to be adjusted in the form for evaluating teachers based on test scores. At present there are no mitigating circumstances which can be used to modify the interpretation of these common core test scores. Is it any wonder that students, parents, teachers and administrators are upset? Undeniably in New York State the Race to the Top money has a choke-hold especially on the school districts which accepted this money. There have been numerous reports that to reach common core mandates, the teachers need to know what they must teach students. This is a piece of the puzzle which has been ignored. How can students be prepared for a test when the content and skills necessary have not been provided?

A recent book, Reign of Error, by Diane Ravitch, addressed many aspects of this movement to improve education in this country. It was disturbing to realize that it was when George W. Bush was in office, a task force recommended adopting common core standards in mathematics and reading even though the standards had never been field tested. To date they still have not been field tested. The expansion of charter schools and vouchers, now a reality, was also sought.

Ravitch says public schools have broken down "barriers of class, race, religion, gender, ethnicity, language, and disability status." It cannot, she feels solve the problems of housing segregation, race, class and income.

There are many statistical facts in this book which illustrate how these untested common core standards are not adequate to address society's problems. The latest thrust to fire teachers based on test scores is perhaps the most damaging conclusion. Preparing students to live in a changing world is more complicated than making tests harder to pass. The world of tomorrow needs creative and innovative problem solvers.

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