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S-GI board passes resolution against testing, calls John King to task

SPRINGVILLE — Teachers, parents and administrators across the state are fired up against Common Core standards, and Springville-Griffith Institute is leading the charge against the regulations, with a resolution it passed at the Oct. 8 board meeting. The resolution passed 3-2.

Kara Kane, a Springville parent and S-GI board member speaking on her own behalf, said that she introduced a resolution on “mitigating the harm of high-stakes testing” last fall, and was pleased to see it come to fruition.

“This is one more step in getting districts, parents and communities to [be] aware of the drastic changes that have been forced on schools that are affecting the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of education,” Kane added. “Unfunded mandates, a flawed implementation of Common Core state standards, burdensome reporting requirements for district personnel, overly-complicated teacher assessment plans – they all pile on, in ways that are hurting our students.”

Kane said that the interplay between the scant resources of the district and a “messed up” state funding model means that parents need to “get testing right, and we need to keep shouting that from the rooftops, to our elected officials and [New York State Education Department]. If we don’t fix things now, we’re not going to get another chance to get it right for our kids.”

Allison Duwe, elected to the S-GI board in May, ran on the platform of balancing state testing with education.

“We need to give our kids the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. The notion that there’s a right or a wrong answer isn’t how life works, on a grand scale,” she explained.

The resolution, “calling upon the New York State Commissioner of Education and the New York State Board of Regents to stop the overreliance on standardized tests as a measure of student performance and principal/teacher effectiveness,” reads that “every student deserves a quality public education dedicated to preparing engaged citizens, creative and critical thinkers and lifelong learners ready for college and careers.”

It cites that the S-GI district has been forced to reduce programs, as a result of reduced budgetary support, which has limited the district’s ability to implement the new programs which, according to the resolution, “is eroding student learning time, narrowing the curriculum and jeopardizing the rich, meaningful education our students need and deserve.”

It asserts that standardized testing is adversely affecting students, across the spectrum, affecting educators’ morale and draining resources, in addition to failing to adequately accommodate the needs of students with disabilities, which results in inaccurate test score results.

“It is time for policymakers to recalibrate the number, duration and appropriate use of standardized tests, so we can refocus our efforts on student learning,” the resolution continues.

“This resolution sends a message to teachers that we trust them and want them to focus on what’s best for our kids,” Duwe added. “We don’t support the notion that kids can be put in boxes labeled 1, 2, 3 and 4. We want a top-notch, world-class education for Springville that educates the whole child, that doesn’t send a message that [English language arts] and math are the only subjects that matter.”

The resolution calls upon the Commissioner of Education, the New York State Board of Regents and other policymakers to reduce the use of and over-reliance on standardized testing; and the U.S. Congress and the administration to reduce federal testing mandates and support the role of and focus on multiple measures of student learning and school quality in accountability systems.

“I take issue with the idea that our schools are failing,” said Kane, in response to the results of those tests, statewide. “I think our elected officials and NYSED are failing our schools and our kids. They prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach, as a solution, when it really causes more problems. When poverty is taken out of the equation, U.S. student performance stacks up well with that of other nations. I don’t hear anyone at NYSED or in the state legislature looking to address the economic and social issues that – if ameliorated – would have a much greater public benefit.”

Chris Cerrone, district parent and local education advocate said that the resolution “shows that the school board is advocating on behalf of the students and families of Springville.”

While he acknowledged that a resolution of this type “really has no teeth,” Cerrone said that the “one, little action” of the S-GI board was a step in the right direction.

According to New York State Allies for Public Education, more than 80 school districts statewide have filed the resolution, including several in Western New York.

That organization, an advocacy group in which Cerrone is involved, calls itself “parents and concerned community members who firmly believe in the power of public education and its fundamental link to the success of a thriving community and democratic government ... who believe excessive testing and inappropriate sharing of private student data without parental consent threaten the future of our students, our schools and our state.”

“The schools are starting to speak up and say that this is causing educational hard to our students,” Cerrone said, noting that every grade level is currently affected, with elementary students taking the hardest hit. “It goes right up through,” he said.

In an effort to explain the Common Core standards, Education Commissioner John King had planned a series of town hall-style meetings, to discuss the standards, but canceled his tour after the first meeting, held at Spackenhill High School near Poughkeepsie. Those meetings included a stop in the Western New York area, scheduled for Williamsville North High School on Oct. 24.

King had agreed to appear at five forums across the state sponsored by the New York State Parent Teacher Association.

In a statement, King said the meeting was “disrupted by special interests whose stated goal is to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum. The disruptions caused by the special interests have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments. Essentially, dialogue has been denied.

“In light of the clear intention of these special interest groups to continue to manipulate the forum, the PTA-sponsored events scheduled have been suspended,” King said. “My office will continue to work with PTA to find the appropriate opportunities to engage in a real, productive dialogue with parents about our students and their education.”

“It’s disturbing to see that an official with so much power over the day-to-day lives of our students and teachers will refuse to meet with concerned parents in a public setting. Commissioner King’s tone-deaf actions are having the effect of mobilizing thousands of parents to take a more vocal and active role in advocating for their kids, in spite of NYSED’s lack of leadership and fear of ‘special interests.’”

Cerrone added that he found King’s cancelation “Really appalling.

“It shows a true lack of leadership, that the commissioner of education is unwilling to meet with his constituents.”

He said that the disruption King referred to in his statement came when “parents had a chance to speak.

“The public had a limited chance to speak and, when they did, King interjected, trying to get his point across,” Cerrone said. “The real disruption was Commissioner King.”

Despite the meeting’s cancelation, Cerrone said that he and one of the organizations in which he is involved, Western New Yorkers for Public Education, are planning on getting a meeting to go on without him.

The group has invited Robert Bennett, the Board of Regents chancellor for the eighth judicial district, to speak in King’s stead. Bennett’s region encompasses Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautuaqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties.

“I hope that the public conversations and parent mobilizations that are starting to happen have the effect of removing barriers to having our teachers teach, our administrators lead and our students learn,” Kane said.

In addition, WNYPE is joining with NYSAPE to call for the resignation of King in an official statement that is circulating school districts, statewide.

That statement says that, “When a public official such as Commissioner King refuses to participate in the democratic process and refuses to hear the concerns of parents while simultaneously carrying out educational policies that affect thousands of children, he is no longer fit to carry out the duties of the NYS Commissioner of Education ... and he is no longer able to conduct himself in a manner that is consistent with the principles and ideals of the American democracy.”

“Parents are now left with no choice but to challenge [King] in a much more vocal, much less constructive way,” Kane said, of the statewide reaction to not only the testing mandate and Common Core, but King’s cancellation. “They have no other options to have their voices heard.”


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