By LIZ BUTTON
Rye educators and legislators assembled on Feb. 12 to speak to parents about education reform, focusing in on the new Common Core Learning Standards associated with high stakes testing and their effect on Rye City schools.
The panel took place two days after the state Education Department’s Board of Regents announced its approval of 18 changes that ease the implementation of the controversial curriculum standards, concessions made to angry school districts after scores of anti-Common Core forums and coalitions sprung up around the state beginning in 2010.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Alvarez noted the forum to discuss the problematic roll-out of the Common Core held at the Rye High School Performing Arts Center had more people in attendance than a recent forum on Common Core hosted by Westchester County.
“This doesn’t mean we’re against Common Core. We’re not opposed to testing. We’re not opposed to rigorous teacher evaluations. We’re not opposed to data collection,” Alvarez said.
What parents and teachers are opposed to is the “rushed, misguided approach” to implementation of the Common Core by the state’s Board of Regents, Alvarez said, which has heavily inconvenienced school districts around the state, including Rye, that have serious budget constraints.
Parents who attended the forum, entitled “The High Cost of Reform: How Public Education Reform Affects Rye’s Students, Parents and District Educationally and Fiscally,” were provided with their choice of three pre-written letters to send to the governor, legislators, commissioner, and the Board of Regents, which they were invited to sign and drop off in a box before they left.
During the presentation, three Rye teachers presented the results of a poll in which district teachers were asked for their opinions on the Common Core. The poll found that one of the biggest sources of distress was how the new curriculum’s standards now tie student achievement on standardized tests to teacher evaluations, also known as Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR.
One teacher, who was anonymously quoted in the presentation, states, “Tying Common Core state standards to APPRs is a recipe for disaster.”
The external pressure felt by teachers to produce high standardized test scores forces them to spend more time on test-taking strategies and less time on creative learning, said Suzanne Short, head of Rye’s English Department for grades 6 through 12. Short said the emphasis on high-stakes testing in English language arts and math also takes away time from science and social studies learning.
In addition to a general overemphasis on testing, the poll found teachers feel the Common Core’s different curriculum modules are, largely, developmentally inappropriate for the student age groups to which they are targeted.
Jennifer Fall, a teacher at the Rye School of Leadership, said overemphasis on testing reduces good administrators to bureaucrats while students experience a trickle-down of stress.
“[Teachers] can’t teach to the potential of what they want to teach because of that locked-in feeling,” Fall said.
The Common Core curriculum standards for New York were created by state Education Commissioner Dr. John King and adopted by the Board of Regents in 2010. The original purpose of the new, more rigorous standards was to streamline and unify curriculum for the entire country so that U.S. students can compete against students from other countries in the global marketplace.
Common Core is part of Race to the Top, a national educational grant program implemented as part of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 during the first years of the economic recession.
The Common Core curriculum was first implemented during the 2012-2013 school year and, in April 2013, New York students were tested for the first time using the
According to the EngageNY website, which was developed by the state Education Department to support the Regents educational reform agenda, the scores overall were deemed less proficient than the 2011-2012 school year.
The night’s other panelists were Board of Education president Laura Slack, state Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, and Democratic state Assemblyman Steve Otis, a former Rye City mayor.
Slack said Rye is already dealing with budget constraints due to unfunded mandates and the state’s 2 percent cap on property tax levy increases implemented in 2010, but even while Rye’s enrollment has grown by 18.6 percent, equal to 518 students, since the 2004-2005 school year, the district continues to get the same level of state aid.
With every addition of 22 to 25 students, the district has to hire a new teacher, Slack said, and the current circumstances put a huge financial burden on the district.
Slack stressed that, “we need an exemption of enrollment from the tax cap.”
With statutes like this, Rye’s history of success is threatened, she said.
Along with the lack of an exemption for enrollment increases, the state has made no allowances in aid for schools’ added security costs incurred after the shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.
Schools should not have to make those choices between curriculum and safety, Slack said.
Latimer said he and Otis are doing everything they can to lobby the Board of Regents for the interests of parents and teachers at the state level.
“The core of all this is that we care about our kids,” he said.
However, Latimer said the legislators face stiff competition when it comes to getting Rye’s and other privileged Westchester school districts’ interests heard over those of at-risk schools in upstate New York and New York City, which have a completely different set of problems. Because of this, it is up to the parents to make themselves heard as well, he said.