Though they were only given three minutes each to speak, parents, educators and community leaders packed a lot of punch — and passion — into their comments before representatives of the state’s Common Core Task Force on Friday evening.
Parents voiced frustration that their children are taking double classes of math and English as the school day focuses on test prep and narrows the curriculum. Teachers explained how students are being tested at inappropriate reading levels on assessments they don’t have a chance of passing. Others detailed how student creativity, ingenuity and the love of learning are being squashed.
“My kindergartners should be blowing bubbles — not filling out test bubbles,” said Lisa Marinucci, a library media specialist and South Colonie Teachers Association member.
The task force, launched by Gov. Cuomo to review and make recommendations on how to overhaul the state’s Common Core system, held five simultaneous regional “listening sessions” in New York City, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes and Capital District. Next week, there will be regional sessions in the Southern Tier, Central New York, the North Country and the Mohawk Valley.
At the capital district session, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Sleepy Hollow High School Principal Carol Conklin-Spillane represented the task force and took notes as about two dozen speakers went to the microphone.
Bethlehem Teachers Association President David Rounds read a series of poignant quotes from his members: an elementary teacher who said “the love of learning and the learning that comes through free play has been completely lost;” an English teacher who decried the shift away from fiction, poetry and drama; and a middle school teacher who said Common Core is pigeon-holing everyone and trying to turn out cookie-cutter kids. “Kids learn less, get to think for themselves less, and show less growth,” Rounds said. “Never mind trying to get them to work with others and get excited about what they are learning.”
Amsterdam Teachers Association Stacey Caruso-Sharpe, a NYSUT board member, said that instead of paying millions of dollars to test companies for poorly designed, lengthy assessments, New York should follow its own model with Regents Exams and have teachers create much shorter grade 3-8 state assessments. Similarly, she said it would have been much smarter to invest in professional development for teachers, rather than spending millions of dollars on online Common Core modules “that hardly anybody is using.”
Schenectady reading specialist Kathy McGivney (pictured above) offered a vivid example of what she called inappropriate text complexity. “Particles. Electrons. Magnetosphere. Nitrogen. Oxygen,” she read slowly, citing a few of the words from a grade 3 reading passage on the 2015 ELA. “I didn’t learn about electrons when I was 8 years old!”
Gail Richmond, a retired music teacher from Greenville, said students are losing out on the arts, library and theater because the school day has been consumed by test prep. As a parent, Richmond said her adult middle child, the dreamer who thinks out of the box, “would have been crushed by this system.”
Kathy Neuffer, a retired teacher from Greenville, said it’s unfair to tie invalid student test scores to teacher evaluation. A former special education teacher, Neuffer explained how a student could progress three grade levels in a year and a half, but still be below grade level — and the teacher could be deemed ineffective. “Is that valid, fair or reasonable?” she asked. “I think not.”
Kevin Cothren, a retired elementary teacher in New Paltz who frequently supervised student teachers, sharply criticized the common core modules on the State Education Department’s website. “If a student teacher asked me to review those lesson plans, I’d tell them to go back to the drawing board.”
A Shenendehowa parent urged the task force to scrap Common Core entirely and told Elia she resented the department’s recent toolkit aimed at discouraging parents from opting their children out of standardized tests. “Don’t fix Common Core,” she said. “End it.”
Administrators, school board members and elected officials were also critical of the over-emphasis on testing.
Assemblyman Phil Steck voiced concerns that the current teacher evaluation system is “overly bureaucratic and a lot of paperwork that takes up a lot of time that should be spent with students.”
He suggested that the Regents remember their roots and strive to remain independent of politiics.
After the hearing, Elia told reporters she was pleased the session included a good cross section of parents, teachers, retired educators, administrators, business leaders and school board representatives. She said the comments underscored the need to improve communication and noted she has already taken steps to shorten the tests, change the testing contractor and involve teachers more in the process.
“I’m working very hard to listen and translate that into action,” Elia said. “There will be additional changes
The task force is expected to come up with recommendations by the end of the year, so that Gov. Cuomo can include proposals in his State of the State message and budget plan in January.