Tags Posts tagged with "Common Core"

Common Core

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer updated the school board and audience members about the changes in Common Core Learning Standards at a meeting last week.

The Oct. 22 presentation covered upcoming state assessment changes and teacher and principal annual professional performance reviews (APPR) shifts.

According to Banzer’s presentation, as far as learning standards go, the English language arts and math common core standards have been adopted and implemented, the social studies standards have been adopted but not implemented and the science standards are only under review and have not yet been adopted or implemented.   

Several shifts are happening in the ELA and literacy, social studies and mathematic standards. The shifts in ELA and literacy are mostly focused on having students engage with the text more.

Students will have a “true balance of informational and literary texts,” according to the presentation and students will build knowledge about the world “through text rather than the teacher.”

The math changes include striking a balance between practicing and understanding math skills in the classroom.

“Both are occurring with intensity,” according to the presentation. There is also an emphasis on students “deeply understanding” math concepts. “They learn more than the trick to get the answer right. They learn the math.”

New social studies standards mirror those in ELA and literacy.

These include using informational text to support an argument to help students “develop the skills necessary for 21st century college, career and citizenship standards.”

In June 2018, a new global history and geography exam will be administered based on the new framework, and in June 2019 a new US history and government exam will follow.

For science standards, a steering committee was formed in August 2014 and a public survey is currently being developed to gather feedback on a new set of science learning standards for grades pre-kindergarten to 12. Adoption of a five-year strategic plan is anticipated in 2016.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has created a Common Core task force amid growing boycotts of standardized tests.

According to the governor’s website, the task force is a diverse and highly qualified group of education officials, teachers, parents and state representatives from across New York. The group will complete a review and deliver its final recommendations by the end of this year.

There are also changes to assessments, including a greater input from teachers in the test development process.

In grades three through eight, ELA tests will have fewer questions in 2015-2016. Computer based testing will also be field-tested.

Changes to APPR are also on the way.

A new education law requires districts to negotiate new annual professional performance review criteria by Nov. 15, unless the district applies for and receives a hardship waiver, which would extend its deadline.

Banzer said that Northport-East Northport has applied for and received its hardship waiver just last week. The waiver is for four months and a district can apply again for another extension, according to the presentation.

“Knowing from May to November, for many districts, to negotiate would be impossible or impractical to try,” Banzer said. “We bought ourselves some much needed time with this process.”

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Superintendent Ken Bossert. Photo by Eric Santiago

By Eric Santiago

Port Jefferson’s school board took a firm stance Tuesday night against the direction in which New York State is moving public education.

In a statement approved at its meeting this week, the board highlighted three of the most controversial pieces of the educational reform agenda: the Common Core Learning Standards, standardized state tests linked to the new curriculum and teacher evaluations that rely on student performance on the former two. They join a growing mass of politicians, teachers and parents who, with a new school year winding up, are renewing a call for the Common Core to be revised or removed.

While the board called the Common Core “a significant step forward in providing a sound curriculum for our students,” the members spoke against what they perceived as a poor job by the state in implementing the more stringent standards, which were launched in New York classrooms a few years ago.

The backbone of the program is a series of standardized tests that track student progress. That data is then used as a component in teachers’ and principals’ annual evaluations. For those reasons, parents and educators have referred to the exams as “high-stakes” tests.

According to the board, it “forces teachers to spend the greatest percentage of instruction time on tested areas” while neglecting other important topics. For example, Common Core emphasizes English and math learning and as a result, the board said, teachers have spent less time on subjects like social studies and science.

The tests have also faced criticism because many parents and educators say they are not properly aligned to the curriculum, and thus include material students would not have learned.

The opposition to the tests has launched an anti-testing movement over the last two years in which parents have declined the tests for their kids, calling it “opting out.” In the last state testing cycle, Port Jefferson saw half of its third- through eighth-graders opt out of the standardized English and math exams.

This hasn’t been lost on state officials.

Last week Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced he would assemble a group of experts, parents and educators to review the Common Core program, saying that he believes the system contains problems.

“The current Common Core program in New York is not working and must be fixed,” he said in a press release.

Cuomo said he will call upon the group to “provide recommendations in time for my State of the State Address in January.”

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Enrollment soars above school district's estimates

School board President Robert Sweeney explains the full-day kindergarten enrollment in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

When Mount Sinai school board members proposed full-day kindergarten, they didn’t expect 160 students to enroll.

But the new program brought an enrollment increase of more than 40 percent, according to numbers the Mount Sinai Board of Education examined during a recent meeting, leading the district to hire another teacher.

By the end of the 2014-15 academic year, which had half-day kindergarten, there were around 112 students enrolled. With the 2015-16 enrollment, Mount Sinai had to bump up the number of teachers to seven.

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal explains the full-day kindergarten enrollment in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Superintendent Gordon Brosdal explains the full-day kindergarten enrollment in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In May, the board estimated that 125 students would enroll in the full-day program, but by mid-July, there were 151 students.

“All year long … we promoted full-day K at a number around 125 and [aid Mount Sinai received from the state] was based on that number,” Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. The increase “was a little bit alarming to the board and myself.”

Brosdal said the new program could be popular because full-day kindergarten is easier for a parent’s schedule. He expects several more children to enroll before class starts on Sept. 8, pushing kindergarten enrollment past 160 students.

According to Linda Jenson, assistant superintendent for business, the extra teacher the district had to hire added $85,000 to the budget, bringing the total program cost to $635,000.

Despite that increase, residents will not see taxes go up, Jenson said. Officials dug up the extra money from within the approved $56.7 million budget for 2015-16.

Mount Sinai lengthened the kindergarten day to give young students more time to learn subjects like language arts, math, social studies, science and music.

“We wanted to give our kids and our teachers adequate time to address Common Core, the demands of the curriculum,” Brosdal said.

In half-day kindergarten, students were in school from 8:55 a.m. until 11:05 a.m. With the full-day program, they will stay in the classrooms until 2:58 p.m.

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MaryEllen Elia succeeds John B. King Jr. as the state’s next education commissioner. Photo from state education department

School boards across Long Island swore in new members and re-elected trustees in the last couple of weeks to kick off a brand new school year. With every fresh start, we have an opportunity to better our communities, and ourselves, but this idea carries even greater weight when a top state education official is also starting a new term.

Our greatest hope is that our superintendents, school board trustees, parents, principals, teachers unions and other leaders will make every effort to partner with the state’s new education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia.

The New York native, who was a teacher in this state and a superintendent in Florida, took the helm from controversial former Commissioner John B. King Jr. this month. She certainly has a rough road and a lot of work ahead — agreeing to pilot an education system in which large numbers of students are refusing state exams and concerned parents are protesting the Common Core Learning Standards on a regular basis. It’s not a job many would envy.

King’s approach to implementing the Common Core left a bad taste in a lot of parents’ and educators’ mouths, but we should be careful not to allow that sourness to affect our relationship with Elia — she deserves a chance to prove herself.

We should do our best to open the dialogue and calmly communicate our grievances. We should keep open minds and be willing to collaborate.

Our children and our education system are important to our communities. In order to stay competitive globally and to further challenge our teachers and students, we need to keep as our No. 1 goal the improvement of our educational system. It sorely needs improvement.

Let’s do everything we can to build a positive relationship with this new commissioner, and thus build a more positive school environment for our students who will inherit the future.

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Port Jefferson students had a 94 percent passing rate on the Common Core algebra Regents this year. Stock photo

Several dozen students will get better grades in algebra after Port Jefferson school officials agreed not to count their final exam scores.

For the 92 students who took algebra this past school year — some of them eighth-graders and some ninth-graders — and sat for the Common Core-aligned Algebra I Regents exam, those test results originally counted for 20 percent of their course grades, according to high school Principal Christine Austen. But the large majority of the kids saw their course grades, and thus their overall GPAs, drop after those test scores were considered.

It was just the second year that the new Algebra I Regents was administered, and Superintendent Ken Bossert said at the school board meeting Monday night the test was not aligned with the Common Core algebra materials and resources the state provided to schools. He said his teachers called the test “unfair,” “brutal” and “rigorous.”

Last year, when the new algebra Regents was administered for the first time, students were also permitted to take the old Integrated Algebra Regents, and use the higher of their two scores on their transcripts. But Bossert said that safety net was not in place this year.

There has been some controversy in Long Island schools over whether districts were allowed to administer the Integrated Algebra test again this year, and let students use the higher of their two scores — some did and some did not. Port Jefferson was one of the districts that did not, and Bossert cited differing interpretations of a state memo to explain the discrepancy.

The memo from the New York State Education Department, dated December 2014, says if students began algebra instruction before September 2014, school districts could choose to administer both tests to those specific kids. Eighth-graders who took the Algebra I Regents this June, for example, would have had to begin algebra instruction in seventh grade in order to qualify.

The memo states the June 2015 exam period was the last time the Integrated Algebra Regents would be administered, ruling out that backup exam for future algebra students.

While Bossert spoke against students in other school districts receiving what he called “an unfair advantage” on their Regents scores, he said Port Jefferson could take some action at least on the local level — recalculating algebra course grades so the Regents exam results did not negatively impact students.

“I believe it’s the right thing to do,” the superintendent said.

Most of the difference in Regents scores between Common Core algebra and Integrated Algebra was in the number of students testing at mastery levels, scoring at least 85 percent.

According to a presentation at Monday’s meeting by Maureen Hull, Port Jefferson’s executive director for curriculum and instruction, 94 percent of Port Jefferson’s test-takers passed the Common Core algebra Regents this year, but only 19 percent scored at the mastery level. In 2014, the first year the new test was administered, those numbers were 90 percent passing and 16 percent mastery — significantly higher than the numbers statewide. But the kids did better on the Integrated Algebra exam that year, with a 95 percent passing rate and a 47 percent mastery rate.

Bossert called the struggle with mastery levels — while other school districts have students who are failing and cannot graduate — “a good problem to have.” But in light of exam difficulty and the discrepancy in how tests were administered, he suggested the district should not count the 2014-15 algebra students’ Regents scores toward their final grades as a “one-time solution,” and in the future reevaluate how final exams should factor into student grades. The board of education unanimously supported the idea.

Austen explained in an interview after the meeting that for the 80 students whose algebra grades dropped due to their Regents scores, school officials would remove the scores from their course grades and recalculate both their final grades and their GPAs.

There were also five students whose saw their grades boosted by their Regents scores and seven who saw no change, Austen said, and those students’ grades will not be touched.

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MaryEllen Elia succeeds John B. King Jr. as the state’s next education commissioner. Photo from state education department

Shortly after our newly-elected school board trustees are sworn in for the next school year, MaryEllen Elia will officially take her seat as New York’s top education official.

As a community newspaper, we understand just how much the neighborhoods we cover care about education. We’ve taken notes through countless school board meetings, forums on the Common Core Learning Standards and rallies for public education. We have witnessed the passion on both sides of the aisle when it comes to educating our kids.

But while the whole debate over Common Core, higher standards, testing and teacher evaluations — just to name a few — started out as a civil one, it has become overrun with rhetoric, anger and confusion. We hope Elia will help start a new conversation.

Critics of former commissioner John B. King Jr. often mention he had no experience in the classroom. We are pleased to see that Elia, who began her career as a social studies teacher in New York state, has nearly two decades of teaching experience.

In addition, the teacher evaluation system she helped develop received praise from the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the union that oversees many of our local teacher associations. The system uses student test scores as a factor, but also provides developmental support for teachers and utilizes a pay structure that encourages teachers to take on more challenging positions.

We see this system as a sort of compromise and we want to see similar outcomes in New York with Elia at the helm. Both sides need to cooperate with each other, remain respectful and — most importantly — leave politics out of the classroom.

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The New York State Capitol building in Albany. File photo

By Jim Polansky

As the dust attempts to settle following two weeks of state assessment administration, preceded by months of politically charged debate and activism, I’ll, once again, express my plea that the state powers-that-be reflect on the situation and its root causes and attempt to redirect their decision-making toward what is in the best interests of the children of New York.

I can attest to the fact that the administrators, teachers and staff members in Huntington clearly understand their responsibilities. They continue to develop and refine their crafts but have never lost sight of the individual differences demonstrated by the students in their classrooms or buildings. They comprehend the concept of college and career readiness and recognize their roles within a systemic approach to a child’s education. They have instructionally prepared their students in alignment with the new standards, while continually striving to instill in students a love of learning. They have done everything possible to put aside their anxieties in the face of statewide educational unrest, rapidly moving evaluation targets and mandates that seemingly appear out of nowhere. I imagine all of this is characteristic of the majority of schools and districts throughout the state.

I’d like to think that some learning has been accomplished or perspective gained from recent events. For example, broad-scale changes are likely to meet with failure if necessary preparations are not made or if measures are not put into place to facilitate those changes. (The cliché applies — one cannot build a plane while it is being flown.)  No amount of federal monies is worth the potential outcomes of a rushed and, therefore, flawed change process.

I’ll add that the importance of accountability and evaluation should not be minimized. But an unproven system based on unproven measures will surely contribute to inaccurate outcomes — both false positive and false negative.

Education Law §3012-d has been passed. It requires the state’s Board of Regents to redesign the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process by June 30 and subsequently requires districts to submit a new plan by Sept. 1. The bulk of plan development would be slated for a time when key stakeholders may not be available.

There are numerous education-related issues facing New York at this juncture. These issues must be approached with common sense and, again, with an eye toward what is best for our students. Why not begin such an approach with accepting the recent recommendation and allowing districts until at least September 2016 to build valid and sensible APPR plans?  Give districts the time, resources and capacity to do this right. Provide them with the guidance and support they need.  Leave threats of withholding aid out of the equation.

Education in New York is broken as a result of misguided and rushed initiatives that have left districts to their own devices to address state policy issues and misinformation spread throughout their communities. It is imperative that those in Albany reflect on what has happened and take the critical steps needed to restore transparency, close the wounds and repair what was and could return to being one of the finest educational systems in the country.

Jim Polansky is the superintendent of the Huntington school district and former high school principal.

Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Kevin Scanlon speaks at a meeting. File photo

It was just a few years ago — 2011 to be exact— when Everyday Math made its rocky debut in Three Village elementary schools.

The district was among the first to move to a Common Core-aligned math curriculum, following the state’s adoption of the standards the previous year. One problem among many, said Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, was that Everyday Math was only about 80 percent aligned to the new standards.

Now the district’s elementary math review committee is recommending that Three Village adopt a replacement, the Houghton Mifflin Go Math! series. The proposal follows an evaluation that began last year with the committee’s analysis of the district’s 2012-13 New York State math assessment scores.

The group also met with the representatives of four leading math programs — Envisions by Pearson, Mc Graw Hill’s updated Everyday Math 4, Go Math! and Singapore Math — and decided to pilot Everyday Math 4 and Go Math! this year. Of the two programs, the committee determined that Go Math! was best suited to Three Village students’ needs.

Unlike Everyday Math, which was put in place before Scanlon and the current superintendent assumed their jobs, the recommendation was meant to be a collaborative effort that included feedback from teachers.

Scanlon said elementary school teachers, who were given materials from both programs, were able to “experiment under their own professional discretion.”

“When we look at any of these products, nothing is going to take the place of great teachers in the classroom using their discretion with the students in front of them,” Scanlon said.

The committee — a cross-section of educators from each grade at the district’s elementary schools, as well as secondary math chairs and administrators — designed surveys for elementary teachers to complete. The most frequent rating for Everyday Math 4 was “fairly good,” while Go Math! was most frequently rated as “very good.” The surveys indicated that there was a clear three-to-one preference for Go Math!

The committee also examined the resources each program provided for parents to help their children at home. Committee members decided that Go Math! has the best resources for teachers, students and parents, while also offering opportunities for enrichment, remediation and English as a Second Language (ESL) students.  The addition of five elementary STEM positions, as proposed in the 2015-16 budget, would also support differentiation for students at different levels.

Because of the difficult transition to Everyday Math, board members said they were concerned about the simultaneous introduction of Go Math! to all grades. Scanlon responded that the change would be less tumultuous since both teachers and students have already worked with the Go Math! material.

Many districts across Long Island, including neighboring Comsewogue and Northport, use Go Math! which, according to Scanlon, is the most sought-after math program for elementary schools.

In answer to the board’s questions about what competitive districts like Jericho and Cold Spring Harbor use, Scanlon said that he is in the process of finding out.

“Our teachers picked what was best for the students in Three Village,” he added.

Though not advocating for the Envisions math curriculum, board members did wonder whether Three Village students would be at a disadvantage if they didn’t use the textbooks written by Pearson, the company that also writes the state exams. Scanlon explained that Pearson’s textbook division is separate from its test-writing division and that legally, the company cannot structure its books to the test.

If Go Math! is adopted, teacher training will begin in May, with voluntary training continuing throughout the summer. Teachers will continue to receive more in-depth training throughout the coming school year.

Scanlon said the district would save about $100,000 since it chose to pilot the program. Three Village will sign a yearly contract over six years, rather than purchasing all material upfront. The agreement means it will be easier to receive updated material, he said.

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Full-day kindergarten included in spending plan

Mount Sinai’s administration and board — including Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and BOE President Robert Sweeney — will ask taxpayers to weigh in on a capital bond proposal Dec. 11. File photo by Erika Karp

Over the last four years, only an average of 17 percent of registered voters in the Mount Sinai school district came out to the district’s annual May budget and school board election. This year, Superintendent Gordon Brosdal is urging residents to actually show up to the polls.

Prior to making his last presentation on the district’s proposed $56.7 million 2015-16 school year budget, which the school board unanimously adopted, Brosdal took a few minutes to remind the larger-than-usual crowd that every vote matters.

“If people vote yes or no, that’s their issue, but please come out and vote,” he said at the April 22 school board meeting. “All of you. Encourage your friends, neighbors.”

Elected officials, those who decide how much state aid the district gets, will take notice, according to Brosdal.

While the district budgeted for no increase in state aid over the current year, the district received $391,860 more than anticipated. Included in the total $16.4 million aid package, is more than $500,000 in kindergarten conversion aid, as the district plans to transition from a half-day to full-day kindergarten program.

The possible change has been a topic of discussion for a year, with many parents backing the move, as students require additional classroom time in order to keep up with the Common Core Learning Standards.

Last month, the district committed to making the jump and included the full-day program in its budget proposal.

At the April 22 meeting, Brosdal said that after he recently saw Miller Place’s newly implemented full-day kindergarten program he was “kind of elated” by what he witnessed at the school and how much the students were learning.

“We are leaving kids behind in our current program,” Brosdal said.

But school officials have repeatedly reminded residents that the budget just isn’t about kindergarten. There is still a whole K-12 program that the budget maintains and betters.

Under the spending plan, which increases nearly 3.3 percent from the current year, class sizes, class offerings and programs are maintained. In addition, the district will begin following Columbia University’s Teachers College Writing Project, which provides writing curriculum and professional development for teachers, in grades kindergarten through fifth.

A resident with an average assessed home value of $3,500 will see an annual tax increase of $156.

The slight increase in state aid also helps the district’s three-year outlook, as it won’t have to rely as much on appropriating fund balance year after year. In the past, board President Robert Sweeney pointed to the 2017-18 school year as to when the district’s surplus would be depleted. However, according to current district estimates, the fund balance would remain at nearly 2 percent of the operating budget that year.

“We’re now in a position that we can develop our program each year and develop our program positively,” he said.

Rally against New York State education changes

A protestor stands on North Country Road in Mount Sinai on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Educators, parents and students gathered outside state Sen. Ken LaValle’s Mount Sinai office Tuesday with one clear message: They won’t forget he voted “yes” on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget when it’s their turn to vote in November 2016.

Nearly 100 people rallied in front of the North Country Road office of LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), holding signs letting the senator and the community know they were upset he voted in favor of a portion of the 2015-16 state budget that amended the teacher evaluation system, lengthened the time before teachers can gain tenure and created new designations for failing schools.

Beth Dimino, president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and a John F. Kennedy Middle School teacher, said her association and other groups coordinated the protest to show the senator they don’t take his vote lightly.

“The purpose of this rally is to remind Mr. LaValle that his vote in favor of Mr. Cuomo’s budget and anti-public education agenda will be remembered by the parents and taxpayers in the November elections,” Dimino said.

A child hoists a sign during a public education protest. Photo by Barbara Donlon
A child hoists a sign during a public education protest. Photo by Barbara Donlon

LaValle, who was in Albany at the time of the protest, was just re-elected to his 20th term in the Senate and will be up for election again next year.

He said in a statement Wednesday, “We improved on what the governor put in his budget proposal and I fully expect we will continue to fix the education piece, with the final result addressing parents and educators concerns.”

April Quiggle, a Port Jefferson parent, said she came out to show how disappointed she is in the senator she always supported.

“I feel betrayed by him,” Quiggle said.

Not one person at the education rally was without a sign. Young children also held signs.

Miller Place resident Erik Zalewski, who teaches in the Middle Country school district, said LaValle and other politicians who voted in favor of the governor’s reform sold out educators and kids.

“It seems money is more important than the children,” Zalewski said.

Lucille McKee, president of the Shoreham-Wading River Teachers Association, joined in to let everyone know she is tired of non-educators making decisions about education.

Halfway through the rally supporters broke out in a cheer: “Ken LaValle you let us down, Ken LaValle you let the students down, Ken LaValle we will not forget!”

Many parents at the picket said they tried numerous times to reach out to the senator by phone and email and never heard back.

Hundreds of cars drove by as everyone protested on the corner of the road. Drivers honked, gave thumbs-up signs and cheered, letting the protesters know they supported them.