02/20/14 8:00am
02/20/2014 8:00 AM
(Courtesy photo by Stony Brook University)

School superintendents David Gamberg, Steven Cohen and Michael Hynes have scheduled a public forum on March 13 at Stony Brook University’s Wang Center. (Courtesy photo by Stony Brook University)

Speaking out against a recent push in state-mandated education testing just isn’t enough for some local superintendents. (more…)

12/13/13 3:30pm
12/13/2013 3:30 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | State Senator John Flanagan during his press conference in Brentwood on Thursday.

COURTESY PHOTO | State Senator John Flanagan during his press conference in Brentwood on Thursday.

State Senator John Flanagan is calling on the state Department of Education to delay using a controversial method of storing student data electronically for one year and proposing legislation to ban standardized testing for students in pre-K through 2nd grade.

Mr. Flanagan (R-East Northport), who chairs the senate’s Standing Committee on Education, is also sponsoring legislation to create independent oversight, as well as establishing civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized disclosure of personal information stored on the state’s student data portal received from public schools.

The actions are based on his committee’s report, “The Regents Reform Agenda: ‘Assessing’ Our Progress,” which Mr. Flanagan unveiled Thursday during a press conference in Brentwood.

[Scroll down to view the complete report]

In the report, privacy experts and school administrators raised concerns about the ability of unauthorized third-parties to access personally identifiable information, or PII, of students, teachers and principals that are collected on the state portal.

Many parents and educators have protested an agreement the state has made with inBloom, Inc. to store student data because they fear personal records could be compromised.

Strengthening public school privacy protections is one part of a series of legislative actions Mr. Flanagan is proposing.

The report includes testimony given during five public hearings Mr. Flanagan has held in recent months that sought public feedback on the state’s implementation of Common Core.

Merryl Tisch, the Board of Regents chancellor, issued a statement Friday in response to Mr. Flanagan’s report.

“While we have concerns about some aspects of the report, it’s clear that Senator Flanagan has put together some strong recommendations that we look forward to working collaboratively to address,” Ms. Tisch said in a press release.

The Common Core State Standards has been nationally recognized and adopted by most states across the country that claims to better prepare students for college and careers by requiring instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age.

After New York adopted Common Core, the state published lesson plans for teachers to help students achieve the new standards. The state doesn’t mandate that schools use these lesson plans, but they are available online at engageny.org.

Earlier this year, and as part of Race to the Top requirements, the state did direct New York school districts develop their own teacher evaluation systems, known as annual professional performance reviews plan (APPR), lest the districts risk losing additional available state aid.

The state Department of Education has been heavily criticized by school officials across New York for pushing the new mandates before districts were ready for them. While many educators embraced Common Core when it was first introduced, they’ve since demanded that the state hold off on implementing the new student assessments based on Common Core and the APPR plan until the rigorous curriculum is properly implemented inside the classroom.

Some of the concerns raised in Mr. Flanagan’s report include: over-testing of students, inadequate professional development funding for teacher training, incomplete and missing modules and the use of test questions that were neither age-level nor developmentally appropriate.

Mr. Flanagan’s committee also heard testimony from parents about their “children experiencing severe stress, anxiety and frustrations as they struggled to understand the new curriculum, while also trying to learn in a whole new way.” The committee also hear about teachers’ “exasperation over the lack of time and resources given to professional development training in order to adequately prepare lesson plans before teaching and testing their students,” according to a press release issued by his office Thursday.

As a result of the testimony given, the report recommends the state Department of Education immediately address several concerns, such as expediting waivers from the U.S. Department of Education “to relax onerous and rigid testing restrictions placed on certain students,” especially with English as a Second Language students and students with disabilities; producing all missing or incomplete curriculum modules; aligning assessments proportionally to curriculum actually implemented; and increasing funding for the professional development of teachers.

As for the state Legislature, Mr. Flanagan is proposing several bills for approval, including requiring state Department of Education commissioner John King to review APPR plans and eliminate unnecessary student assessments. If approved, Mr. King will also be required to report on the effectiveness of Common Core tests and programing with an independent audit.

Mr. Flanagan described the recommendations contained within the report as “a good first step in addressing the concerns heard by the committee, which overwhelmingly revolved around the issue of over-testing.”

“Setting rigorous academic standards to ensure that all students are college and career ready should always be an important goal to attain,” he said. “However, it must balanced by a fair and even implementation of those new standards to allow our children to adjust and adapt appropriately.”

The report will be submitted to the Board of Regents, Mr. King and Governor Andrew Cuomo, officials said.

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The Regents Reform Agenda: ‘Assessing’ Our Progress,

11/27/13 9:00am
11/27/2013 9:00 AM
RACHEL YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen.

RACHEL YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen.

The New York State Board of Regents insists the state’s public school students are not “College and Career Ready.” They claim that public school students are not prepared for the rigors of college reading or mathematics. And, since these skills are thought somehow to be crucial to getting a good-paying job, New York’s public school students who do poorly in mathematics and reading are believed to be in danger of becoming unemployable (or at least underemployed).

However, what seems like a simple, straightforward notion — that high school graduates ought to be ready for college and the world of work — turns out to be something quite different. And by that, I mean the announced public school goal of graduating students “College and Career Ready” is yet another sleight of hand from the Board of Regents.

First, consider exactly how the Board of Regents defines “College and Career Ready.”

If a student passes an algebra test in 8th or 9th grade at a level that correlates to a C in freshman mathematics in college, and if that same student passes an English test in 11th grade at a level correlated with a C in freshman English in college, along with earning 22 credits in high school and passing three other Regents exams, then she or he is set and ready to go to college and into the world of work.

No music, art, advanced study in much of anything; no community service, no sports, no occupational training; no independent work in any academic or other creative field is required. In addition, to do well on these tests, it is not necessary to read entire novels or histories or write papers of any length or complexity. It is not necessary to develop a love of anything or demonstrate an ability to think on one’s own feet.

Second, note that 16 of the 17 Board of Regents members, in addition to the commissioner of education himself, send their children to private schools — ones that have not embraced the reforms the Board of Regents and the commissioner claim are needed to make students “College and Career Ready.” I mention this fact because its relevance becomes obvious once one understands what “College and Career Ready” means for the children of our educational leaders. You see, the colleges that the children of Regents and commissioners of education are expected to attend, places like Harvard University, define “College and Career Ready” differently.

To be “College Ready” at Harvard (and at other selective private universities to which Regents send their children) an 18-year old must have a “good high school education,” one that “do[es] more than prepare you for the next level of  education.” A “good” high school education “should prepare you to take advantage of future learning opportunities of all kinds.” Specifically, graduating high school “college ready” to enter Harvard requires “close and extensive reading of the classics of world literature,” four years of a single foreign language, three years of American history, European history and one other advanced history course, four years of mathematics including at least pre-calculus or statistics, advanced physics, chemistry and biology and one other science at an advanced level and “frequent practice in the writing of expository prose.” Art and music, though not mentioned specifically, are not to be understood as incidental to proper preparation for college.

So it turns out that “College and Career Ready” means two different things depending on whether you are a public school student in New York or a student at an expensive private school. “College and Career Ready” for public school kids means achieving at a decidedly mediocre level when compared to the expectations the Regents have for their own children. Perhaps that’s one reason they would never send them to schools that are benefiting from their wonderful reforms.

For “College and Career Ready,” once one digs a bit below the surface, suggests readying public school students for work that does not demand advanced learning in anything and is not oriented toward preparing students to “take advantage of future learning opportunities of all kinds.” No, these loftier expectations, and the courses and other resources needed to achieve them, are to be reserved for students not subject to the glories of the Regents Reform Agenda, students whose parents have the money and connections to keep them out of the public school system.

Most new jobs created in our economy are low-paying service jobs. We should be concerned that “College and Career Ready” actually refers to a curriculum that guides public school students to these jobs, leaving the few good jobs to students who receive a private high school education that prepares them to “take advantage of future learning opportunities of all kinds.”

Make no mistake about it, “College and Career Ready” is code for education apartheid. Do not let your children breathe the stale air of low expectations, reduced exposure to the arts and music, limited engagement with sophisticated science and little, if any, prolonged, deep and thoughtful contact with great literature.

“College and Career Ready” is a trap. Don’t fall for it. Your kids deserve better. Just like theirs.

Steven R. Cohen, Ph.D., is superintendent of schools for Shoreham-Wading River School District.

11/27/13 8:25am
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO

About two dozen educators as well as students took to a podium at Tuesday night’s Common Core forum in Manorville to, for the most part, poke holes in the state’s rollout of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Click on the video below to see what they, and state education commissioner John King, had to say.

11/27/13 6:00am
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Education commissioner John King and state Board of Regents Meryl Tisch listening to a parade of speakers at Tuesday night's forum.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Education commissioner John King and state Board of Regents Meryl Tisch listening to a parade of speakers at Tuesday night’s forum.

Long Islanders outraged over New York’s direction with education in public schools took their concerns directly to state education commissioner John King Tuesday night during a public forum in Manorville.

When Mr. King first walked onto the stage in the Eastport-South Manor High School auditorium, he was greeted with a large portion of the 1,000-person crowd, mostly teachers, quietly holding up green and white signs that read, “We are all more than a score.”

Several area high school students also asked questions and made statements.

Connor Sick of Rocky Point High School wanted to know “why failure is being used as a weapon” to try to get children to perform better in school.

“As a student who takes his studies very seriously, failure  is not motivational,” he said. “It hurts.”

He received a standing ovation.

Throughout the three-hour meeting, attendees often became disruptive , jeering as the commissioner attempted to respond to audience questions. Then, as he began to give his final remarks at the conclusion of the meeting, almost half the crowd walked out, with one heckler shouting: “You’re not listening! Goodbye!”

Mr. King continued to defend New York’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which requires, among other things, instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age.

He also championed the state’s lessons plans designed to support the new curriculum, known as “modules,” as well as new, state-mandated teacher evaluations and a contract with inBloom, Inc. that will store student data and personal information.

But Mr. King acknowledged some adjustments are needed, such as reducing student testing requirements, especially with English as a Second Language students and students with disabilities.

“Disagreeing isn’t the same as not listening,” he said as residents started to leave during his closing remarks.

Frustrated parents criticized Mr. King, who was joined on stage with Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents Meryl Tisch and Regent Roger Tilles, throughout the meeting and asked that the state scrap the new education mandates.

Many parents told stories about how test anxiety has hurt their children. Others expressed how they are annoyed by how the state Department of Education rolled out the new requirements for public schools.

Recently retired teacher and Wading River resident Terry Kalb said she’s “alarmed” about the current teacher evaluation system, especially for special needs teachers.

“Even if they have perfect scores on their observations in the classroom, because they teach students that are physically, cogitative or emotionally impaired, the test scores are going to be low,” she said. “Those teachers are rated ineffective — by mandate.”

But two people who took to the podium spoke in favor of Common Core, to the displeasure of the crowd.

The Common Core standards were created by nonprofit organizations, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, as a way to better prepare students from across the U.S. for college and careers after high school.

Along with the federal government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded the Common Core initiative. Pearson, a worldwide publishing and educational company, is the primary producer and seller of Common Core instructional materials.

In 2009, through the “Race to the Top” program, the federal government offered $4.35 billion in competitive grants to states that adopted Common Core standards and developed plans to improve state test scores and teacher evaluation results.

The following year, New York adopted the Common Core in order to qualify for a $700 million portion of the federal grant, and later published lesson plans for teachers to help students meet the new standards.

Earlier this year, and as part of Race to the Top requirements, the state did direct New York school districts develop their own teacher evaluation systems, known as annual professional performance reviews plan (APPR), lest the districts risk losing additional available state aid.

The state Department of Education has been heavily criticized by school officials across New York for pushing the new mandates before districts were ready for them. While many educators embraced Common Core when it was first introduced, they’ve since demanded that the state hold off on implementing the new student assessments based on Common Core and the APPR plan until the rigorous curriculum is properly implemented inside the classroom.

State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who hosted the meeting, told Mr. King he believes a moratorium on the state’s plan is needed.

“We need a delay so we can get everyone in synch,” said Mr. LaValle, himself a former educator and school administrator.

Other local residents with ties to the North Fork that addressed Mr. King included Riverhead School District parent Catherine Callaghan, Shoreham-Wading River school board president Bill McGrath, Aquebogue Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Shelly Walker, Mattituck-Cutchogue High School math teacher Kathleen Scholand, Riverhead Middle School English teacher Mindy Benze, Riverhead High School librarian Kim McGurk, Shoreham-Wading River Teachers’ Association president and special education teacher Lucille McKee and Southold School District Superintendent David Gamberg.

[email protected]

11/09/13 5:13pm
11/09/2013 5:13 PM
GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | The main entrance to the Kenneth P. LaValle Campus in Manorville.

GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | The main entrance to the Kenneth P. LaValle Campus in Manorville.

The public forum with New York Department of Education commissioner John King that was first scheduled for Riverhead High School is now being moved to the Eastport-South Manor High School auditorium in Manorville.

Kenneth P. LaValle

Kenneth P. LaValle

After the News-Review reported the state education department had chosen Riverhead as the location for the Nov. 26 meeting — even listing the venue on its website — State Senator Ken LaValle told the newspaper the planned location would be changing.

He said he suspected the event would be well-attended and need about 200 more seats than Riverhead High School’s 800-seat auditorium.

State education officials then said they were “working with the senator to pick a location.”

The state’s website was updated Friday with the new location at the Eastport-South Manor Junior-Senior High School, located at the Kenneth P. LaValle Campus. (See map below.)

The forum will be run from 6 to 8 p.m., and is designed to answer questions and provide information to the public on the Common Core Stand Standards Initiative, and with that, teacher evaluations and state assessments.

Mr. LaValle, himself a former educator, said he has concerns about how Common Core is being implemented.

Among those concerns, he pointed to excessive testing for elementary school students and students with disabilities.


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