Southold BOE questions teacher assessments

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Southold Superintendent David Gamberg teaches kids how to do flower arranging at a celebration of the school’s garden next spring. Mr. Gamberg says his district is working to keep the focus on these types of integrated classes even as New York State imposes more and more tests.

Southold school officials estimate the district will spend more than $165,000 next year to institute a new state-mandated teacher evaluation program, and school board members wonder if it’s worth the extra money the federal government is offering for its implementation.

This year the state has set a series of rigorous new standards for teacher assessments, known as the Annual Professional Performance Review, which requires more tests to measure student progress throughout the year. Those tests are then used to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers.

Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said at a school board work session Nov. 14 that the new tests will cost about $20,000, plus another $145,000 to train teachers and administrators over the course of the school year.

The new requirements are part of the federal Race to the Top program, the successor to the No Child Left Behind program. Race to the Top awarded $700 million to New York State in exchange for creating new teacher assessments.

But school districts throughout the state and the North Fork complain that very little of that money is making its way out of the bureaucracy in Albany to individual school systems.

In his presentation, Mr. Gamberg cited a recent SUNY/New Paltz study that compared the program to the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes’ huge World War II-era wooden airplane, which turned out to have no practical use.

“It’s one of the most cumbersome plans you can create on this planet,” said the superintendent. “There are serious challenges to the federal program’s validity and the research on which it is based. This is a grand and costly experiment that has the potential to take public education in the wrong direction.”

Among the issues with the new requirements, he said, is the fact that schools must create their own assessments for subjective study areas such as art and music, in which students are not often tested.

Board members, unanimously opposed to the new requirements, wondered aloud what would happen if the district decided to “go renegade” and not institute the new program.

“If enough people refuse to comply, how will these laws be enforced?” asked board member John Crean.

Board president Paulette Ofrias asked Mr. Gamberg to discuss the district’s responsibility with state Senate education committee chairman John Flanagan.

“Ask the senator what would happen if Southold goes renegade,” Ms. Ofrias said. “I think we need to find out what the consequences are.”

“The entire Board of Education wants to know,” added vice president Judi Fouchet. “Every single one of us feels this.”

Ms. Fouchet added that it sometimes takes students longer than one school year to absorb subject matter, making it difficult to evaluate whether their teachers have been effective.

“What if they’re working on something in May and it shows up the following October?” she asked. “Their own individual development is so critical to how they learn.”

Mr. Gamberg said the district has complied fully with the new regulations so far, but “we are going to keep our priorities straight. We’re not abandoning robotics or the school garden. Those are the types of things that are on the chopping block” in other districts, in order to pay for the new tests, he said.

“Not all has been negative,” he added. “In the process of having teachers collaborate, there are good healthy discussions about education.”

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