March 2013 Issue
February 25, 2013

Letters: Common Core and the challenges it brings

Source: NYSUT United

Your old test / new test math question caught my eye (NYSUT United, February 2013). My thinking was "we" can do that! The "we" is Home and Career Skills fifth-grade teachers. It is the responsibility of all teachers to participate in the success of state assessments, not just the math teacher.

The goal of Home and Careers is to educate early adolescents to think constructively, make sound decisions, solve problems and manage resources.

That goal matches perfectly with the Common Core performance task fifth-grade math question. By using a hands-on experiential approach, these kinds of test questions can be used in student's math classes and reinforced in a Home and Career Skills classroom setting as well.

Scenario assessments would be another avenue to team with math teachers to deliver instruction. By working together, we, as a team, will help facilitate learning and our New York state students will benefit.

Linda Ulrich-Hagner
Retired Home Economics / Family and Consumer Science Kenmore teacher, Board of Trustees, NYSUT Retirees of WNY

After reading your article in the February issue of NYSUT United, I felt compelled to send an email. For 30 years I taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades in Albany. Math was my favorite subject to teach and I received many commendations for being a great math teacher. When the fourth grades became departmentalized, the principal put me in charge of math for all three classes.

I retired in 1994 and enjoy my family and six grandchildren. One of my grandchildren began to bring home math tests with failing grades. I was surprised to find that most of the tests consisted mostly of word problems. The word problems were sometimes tricky, and I had to read them more than once. I believed that one test — eight pages long with all word problems — was a reading test.

I helped my grandchild for hours, as did his mom. I also arranged for a tutor, and he arrives at school early to get extra help in math. Last week he came home and was happy to have a grade of 73. Yesterday he brought home a test with a grade of 44.

For these reasons I believe that my grandchild will have a dislike for math. The saying "No Child Left Behind" is not true. My grandchild will be one of the children left behind.

Mary Jane Kretzler, Albany

Someone finally put a parent's point of view on paper!

I consider myself a fairly intelligent and educated individual, but I have never felt so inadequate as I have in the past few months. How is it possible that I can't keep up with my child's fifth-grade math?

It's because no one can. The kids are frustrated and failing. Yet the teachers have to keep chugging along with a new math concept a day, never to return to the concept again until Friday when the children find the math problem on their tests, along with the other seven concepts learned that week.

My son's class took a math test last week. Out of 23 students, only one got above a 50. My son, who used to love going to school, has on more than one occasion this year turned to me and said, "Mom, I hate fifth grade." Now that is just heartbreaking.

It's sickening to think that my 10-year-old is a guinea pig for the state. I live in New York, so of course I have to work to survive. I work an eight-hour day to come home to re-teach the math classwork to my child. Add on the rest of the subjects that become neglected, and I have now put in an 11-hour day. Enjoying time with my child has been taken from me as well as his enjoyment of elementary school. Is there hope in sight?

When our ELA scores are all failing will someone wake up?

Jackie Herrmann, Long Island

With the utmost respect to our administrative leaders and school communities ... I teach first grade in the Rochester City School District, which has a high concentration of poor people. Our performance over the years has been very low.

This year the district forced us to implement fully the listening and speaking domains of the new Common Core curriculum. We are expected to implement writing, reading, math and the rest of the curriculum beginning next year. We are ahead of the game, but we are sorely disappointed. We are skipping more local and current history and teaching first-graders about Mesopotamia and cuneiform. How is this "research-based" and who did the research? Also, my students just took the January Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) benchmark test. Computers and technology were a barrier.

Students who started the test had to stop in the middle and wait for the sound to come back on in their headphones because, in our lab, a high number of students online knocks out the sound randomly in some of the headphones. Thus, the kids were told to go read books and lost their test-taking momentum.

Some of the items on the test are not part of the curriculum! My students had to answer many questions about time to the minute, graphing information, and add/subtract equations such as "56 + 3 =." However, our curriculum does not include time to the minute; graphing isn't supposed to be taught until fourth grade; and adding/subtracting fluency is supposed to be within sums of 20 (at this point we have many kids who are still struggling with the concepts themselves).

How are these things being resolved? Are State Education Department salaries contingent upon these test scores, since they are ignoring reality and enforcing such a ludicrous process? I am dying to know!

Marne Kinney, Rochester