Local Principal Speaks at Hearing on Common Core
By Jim Hoops
Michelle Marino who is principal at the Southdown Primary School in the HUFSD testified at a regional public hearing of the New York State Senate Education Committee on the “Regents Reform Agenda: Assessing Our Progress.” The agenda has generated controversy among student, parents, teachers, administrators and school board members from districts large and small.
The hearing, held on the campus of Suffolk Community College-West in Brentwood and presided over by Senate Education Committee Chairman John J. Flanagan, dragged on for five hours and featured some lively comments and periodic outbursts from the crowd.
Mrs. Marino stayed on topic and made her points in a methodical, well-reasoned manner as Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky, School Board President Emily Rogan, Trustees Bill Dwyer and Bari Fehrs and several district parents looked on.
“While implementation of Common Core curricula may ultimately help students, teachers and teaching and learning, the growing reliance on and misalignment of standardized testing is eroding student learning time and jeopardizing the rich, meaningful education our students need and deserve.”
The veteran principal made note of the rushed implementation of the Common Core curricula and associated assessments. “New York is the only state to have administered the Common Core assessments at the end of the same year that the new standards and curricula were first implemented,” Mrs. Marino said. “You cannot place a test in front of children who have not been comprehensively prepared with the skills that are being tested.”
Mrs. Marino noted that Huntington School District teachers and administrators, like their colleagues across the state, have been involved in Common Core related training throughout the past year. “In New York, samples of the curriculum and modules trickled out during the course of the school year and well into the spring,” she said. “In our district, we worked with them diligently. Learning takes time, even for adults. This year, teachers and administrators and others were buried in new Common Core standards, new evaluation systems and diminished resources. No time to learn, just to do.”
The Southdown principal also pointed out that “the volume of and time spent on testing takes time away from providing authentic learning experiences for students.” She told of how the Huntington School Board passed a resolution last summer asking the federal government to reduce testing mandates and “support the role of and focus on multiple measures of student learning and school quality in accountability systems.”
The hearing was attended by numerous state senators and district officials and parents from across Long Island. Testimony was by invitation only. “I was contacted and asked to recruit a principal to speak,” explained Mr. Polansky about how Mrs. Marino happened to be among the relatively small group of those testifying before the panel.
“Despite the fact that research recommends the use of multiple measures to gauge student performance and teacher effectiveness, the state’s growing reliance on standardized testing is adversely affecting students across all spectrums,” Mrs. Marino told Mr. Flanagan and his colleagues. “The morale of educators has also been negatively impacted and the already scarce resources have been further drained.”
Mrs. Marino also mentioned the state’s new assessment “baseline” and how it is “very difficult” to explain the significant drop in scores to students and parents. “One might say that this new baseline falls on the backs of the children,” she said. “The issue is less the level of assessment difficulty and more about where the cut scores were set. Cut scores appeared preordained at a level 30 percent or more; lower than those from the prior year. The fact remains that these are our students, not the State Education Department’s. It is our responsibility as a district to communicate and explain. It may be more difficult for some students and parents than for others [to understand.] It will be a challenge to convince some students they have not learned less nor should they be wearing a badge of failure.”
Mrs. Marino said that “releasing score information immediately prior to the onset of the new school year also has a harmful effect on student and teacher morale, as does releasing individual score reports in mid-September.”
Finally, Mrs. Marino pointed out the new assessment “may widen the achievement gap and more adversely impact English language learners and students with disabilities.” She said that while the waiver-based accountability system “does account for individual growth, there is a concern that absolute performance will prompt gap widening. Absolute performance of ELLs and students with disabilities are less likely to represent a true measure of their abilities and the contributions of their teachers and schools.”
Mr. Flanagan will preside over another regional hearing on the Regents Reform Agenda on Tuesday, October 1 at Syracuse City Hall.