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APPR/Teacher Evaluation
October 01, 2013

Rushed reforms threaten progress in Syracuse schools

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT Communications
kevin ahern testimony
Caption: Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern testified on behalf of NYSUT at a hearing on Regents' reforms. Photo by Steve Jacobs.

“The Regents Reform Agenda, as implemented by the State Education Department, is not working and, in fact, may be doing more harm than good,” Syracuse TA President Kevin Ahern said today, noting the flawed rollout threatens Syracuse’s comprehensive efforts to combat the effects of poverty.

Ahern testified on behalf of NYSUT at a hearing on Regents’ reforms held by Sen. John Flanagan, chair of the Senate Education Committee, held at Syracuse City Hall.

Ahern stressed that poverty is the main cause of student underachievement. He described the Say Yes to Education program in the city schools — a collaborative, first-of-its-kind comprehensive strategy to surmount the barriers of poverty with a guarantee of free college tuition for students and wrap-around services.

“Problems with the rushed implementation of the Common Core, the over-reliance on testing, the lack of adequate resources and the demoralization and de-professionalization of teachers are all happening right here, right now,” Ahern said. “The impact of this agenda has been devastating, forcing an already struggling school district into crisis.”

Reprising concerns raised by parents at the Albany One Voice United rally in June, Richard Longhurst of the state PTA testified that his members worry “that we have become obsessed with testing, with preparation for tests and with the use of test results for purposes never intended. … Extraneous issues such as APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) and student testing have become so closely associated with the Common Core that this potential positive reform effort is threatened.” NYSUT and the state PTA have partnered to produce a booklet for parents on Common Core standards.

Ahern’s written testimony called on legislators to commit to student-centric reforms supported by parents, the STA and NYSUT.

He called for best practices in measuring student achievement, requiring transparency in standardized tests and ensuring that K-2 students are not forced to take tests that are developmentally inappropriate.

He asked for the time students and teachers need to implement the new learning standards to “get it right,” including postponing the implementation of the common Regents exams as a graduation requirement, and a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences for students and teachers.

He urged the legislators to provide in full the resources districts need to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to master the state’s new learning standards.

The hearing opened with Regents Vice Chancellor Anthony Bottar and SED Commissioner John King, who submitted a Power Point presentation with their testimony.

Bottar noted that the Regents reform agenda is a process that began decades ago and that the goal remains to prepare high school graduates who are prepared to take college courses for credit, not remediation, or to enter the work force with a living wage. “There are many challenges, but with your support we’ll accomplish the objectives in front of us,” he said.

The next two Senate Education Committee hearings are slated for Oct. 16 in Buffalo and Oct. 29 in New York City.  Sen. Flanagan announced that he would be scheduling a fifth hearing in Albany, probably in November.