Testing/Assessments and Learning Standards, APPR/Teacher Evaluation, Special Education
November 13, 2013

Teacher of the Year: Flawed Common Core rollout compounded by inadequate funding

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT Communications
katie ferguson

The rushed implementation of Common Core and push to begin testing before the new curriculum was fully developed has had a damaging impact on New York's students, the state's 2012 Teacher of the Year told lawmakers Wednesday.

"We begin the year by setting students up to fail," said Kathleen "Katie" Ferguson in testimony submitted to the state Senate Standing Committee on Education. "We give them tests on material they are not required to know until the end of the year, and smile and encourage and say, 'Do your best,' when all the while we know that may not be enough.

"Children should not have to take an exam educators know they will fail, and kids - especially in our young grades - should not be put under pressure of high-stakes testing. Children should not be the subject of increased testing that is age and developmentally inappropriate."

Ferguson, who teaches in the Schenectady City School District, appeared before the committee in Albany and testified on NYSUT's behalf. She echoed the union's call for a three-year moratorium on using state assessments in high-stakes decisions regarding the performance of students and teachers. And she asked lawmakers to prohibit standardized testing for young students in grades K-2.

The committee has been holding hearings statewide over the past month to examine the State Education Department's implementation of the new Common Core curriculum and its use of testing. Chaired by Republican state Sen. John Flanagan of East Northport, Wednesday marked the committee's fifth and final hearing in the series.

Ferguson said that as a second-grade teacher, her primary responsibility is to build in children a love of learning that will set the tone for future academic success. But, she said, "it is incredibly difficult to lay that foundation" when you are instead testing 7-year-olds nearly everyday during their first month of school - especially on material they have not been taught.

As a teacher in a high-needs district where 80 percent of its students are eligible for a free or reduced-priced lunch, the challenge becomes increasingly more difficult due to a lack of adequate funding, Ferguson said.

"If I am going to be highly effective and close the achievement gap in my high-needs district, I need to have the appropriate state support and resources to implement Common Core," she said.

Due to a lack of funding, which for 70 percent of schools statewide remains at 2008-2009 levels, Ferguson said her school has neither the necessary staffing or materials. Besides spending more than $250 out of her own pocket for items such as pencils, staples and paper, Ferguson said she routinely has to reduce her own class time teaching social studies and science in order to spend more time on reading because her school cannot afford to pay for a reading teacher.

"How can our state expect me to deliver a rich curriculum and close the achievement gap when my school has so few resources?" Ferguson asked lawmakers. "Teachers need to be given the tools to succeed."

Robert Reidy, executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, told the committee he believed SED's rushed implementation of the Common Core curriculum without ensuring it was adequately supported was driven by its zeal to evaluate teachers and students. But that approach, he told lawmakers, was "backward," adding SED should have focused first on curriculum development and training before accountability.

"If we get this wrong," said Reidy, "it's not going to benefit anybody."

Ferguson said teachers expect accountability.

"But," she said, "we must ensure that educators are being judged on a curriculum that is in place, and with an assessment that is fair. Teachers are being graded on tests that students cannot perform well on - a system that is set up for student and teacher failure."

Besides being named the state's 2012 Teacher of the Year, Ferguson has received numerous other professional honors, including: The Red Apple Quality of Life Award, The California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence, Schenectady's Teacher of the Year and a National Education Association Global Learning Fellowship. Yet, because of her students' test scores, she was not rated highly effective.

"According to my observations, I am already highly effective, with a perfect score," Ferguson told lawmakers. "So if I am already the best I can be in my Teaching Standards, how do I improve to raise my (students') test scores? This system doesn't make sense."

Republican state Sen. James Seward of Milford said in visiting schools throughout his district, he has seen, firsthand, "the stress and uneasiness" the state's "uneven" rollout of Common Core has had on teachers and students. Perhaps, he said, SED needs to "take a deep breath" to ensure a smoother implementation.

"Let's get it right," he said.

Republican state Sen. Patricia Ritchie of Watertown expressed a similar concern. "SED," she said, "does not look prepared to roll this out."