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Exams

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer and Board President Andrew Rapiejko discuss the district's letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Northport-East Northport Board of Education is seeking a moratorium on state-run teacher evaluations for the current time.

In an open letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Superintendent Robert Banzer criticized the fact that

public schools are still required to administer state assessments to measure student progress, despite the fact that these tests have been put on a temporary freeze.

“The district cannot use the state assessments for teacher evaluation, so it must use a form of Student Learning Objectives and report those scores for teachers even though they will not be used to determine teacher effectiveness,” Banzer said in the letter.

Student Learning Objections, first implemented in 2012,is a teacher evaluation tool used when state assessments are not in effect.

“As a result, we are burdened with setting aside time for both state assessments and SLOs, which will increase the amount of time preparing, administering and scoring assessments,” Banzer’s letter said.

In the letter, Banzer proposed that the moratorium be extended to eliminate Student Learning Objections to comply with the recommendation of the state task force, to reduce the amount of time spent on state assessments.

“Needless to say, the poor implementation of the state assessments and their use as an instrument to measure teacher effectiveness over the past few years undoubtedly minimized their effectiveness as an instructional tool,” Banzer said. “Instead, it has turned into a political debate and created a fracture between and among parents, educators, board members and political leaders that needs repair.”

Trustees applauded Banzer’s letter at the board meeting on Thursday, and discussed other concerns with the current state of Common Core.

“I think it’s really important that we engage the community,” Trustee Donna McNaughton said at the meeting. “I know that the knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘this was done so poorly … I’m not doing anything else until we change what these things are.’ But we don’t want to have four years go by and the tests haven’t changed.”

The board plans to set a date in February to meet with the community and explain where the district is now, with the changes to Common Core and teacher evaluations, along with what a student’s day will look like if they choose not to participate in the state assessments this spring.

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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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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.