February 25, 2015

Ulster unites to demand fair funding and relief from testing

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT Communications
ulster forum
Caption: Rondout Valley teacher Kristina Flick, pictured at right, tells forum participants about the difficulties she encounters with mandated English language arts and math test prep sessions. Photo by Marty Kerins, Jr.

"It's different now," said Kristina Flick, a teacher from the Rondout Valley schools in Ulster County. "Sometimes, I don't know if we are helping the children, or if we're imitating a dog who is chasing its tail."

Sharing a rundown of her elementary teaching day, she spoke to hundreds who filled the auditorium at M. Clifford Miller Middle School in Lake Katrine for the Ulster County Defends Public Education forum. She told them about her engaged, curious students and the technology they are fortunate to share.

"I am one of the lucky teachers," she said, "I am... until I pull out the Engage NY modules" for the mandated ELA and math test prep sessions. The modules that feed the Common Core testing beast are flawed, poorly designed and diff...icult to use, she said. The kids dread them. She strives to make them fun, but "I feel like I'm shoving the lessons down their throats." Yet, if the kids fail to succeed on the tests, it can sink an educator's evaluation.

Laura Harnden, a cosmetology teacher at Ulster BOCES, noted similar frustration with her 11th-graders whose progress is rated on standardized SLO and START tests that have nothing at all to do with their project-based course work.

If the governor's evaluation plan becomes law, "Those tests will become 50 percent of who I am," she said.

Looking out over the faces of parents, students, administrators, board members, teachers, SRPs and other friends, Flick said the state's destructive definition of failure is crushing her kids and threatening careers of excellent teachers.

It "is not the fault of anyone in this room. It's the fault of those who are not," she said.

Harnden urged the participants to, "Be a voice for your children... speak loudly for the children of Ulster County.

The evening was organized by Kingston Teachers' Federation President Lauri Naccarato, Vice President Bonnie VanKleeck and their leadership team, with NYSUT Board member Kathy Taylor.

ulster forum 

Kingston resident Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, said funding remains a key and urged participants to contact their legislators, early and often. The governor has proposed unacceptably small increases in state aid. But lawmakers will have a say before the March 31 budget deadline.

"This is not over," he said. "This is happening right now! Contact your legislators, call them tomorrow, and demand that they reject Cuomo's agenda and put an additional $2.2 billion into our schools!"

For three years, Kingston Superintendent Paul Padalino has been "pulling rabbits out of a hat." He said the 7,000-student school district bought into the program. Kingston kept budgets under the cap, used the Common Core and implemented an approved APPR system.

"Our teachers embraced the change: They've come to work every day, cared for and educated our students," he said. Graduation rates went up.

But now, with state aid trickling and the tax cap arbitrarily damming up the local revenue stream, the progress is unsustainable.

"We've done the work, but where's our reward?... I'm here tonight, because I'm out of rabbits."

Learn more and take action at www.nysut.org/allkidsneed.