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Testing, testing: Springville-Griffith Institute school board talks tests

SPRINGVILLE — Concerns about Springville-Griffith Institute district teaching philosophy and lesson modules arose on both sides of the table, during the district’s board meeting on Sept. 10.

Chris Cerrone, a district parent and Hamburg Middle School teacher, presented concerns to the board regarding EngageNY Curriculum Modules.

The teaching modules, developed by the New York State Department of Education, are intended to support of the New York State Board of Regents Reform Agenda, according to EngageNY’s website. Cerrone worried that teacher and student creativity would suffer if the district were to require its teachers to implement the modules.

Cerrone called the modules “very disturbing,” and said that the “scripted lesson plans ... tell the teachers exactly what to do from day one to day 15 of the unit, and, literally, a monkey or a robot could come in to do this.”

Mandatory implementation of EngageNY modules in the district, Cerrone suggested, would compromise the teaching efforts of educators like Joseph Karb and Andrew Beiter. The educators, both eighth-grade social studies teachers at S-GI, are known for using methods that reach outside the traditional classroom lecture, having students dress in depression-era garb and participate in a mock soup kitchen, for example. Most recently, Beiter was invited to question Secretary of State John Kerry regarding U.S. involvement with Syria, which stemmed from his involvement with educational website IAmSyria.org.

“We see what Mr. Beiter and Mr. Karb ... and the amazing things that those two gentlemen do, in our classrooms, that are creative,” said Cerrone. “But if we had a script of what they had to do, what would happen to what our kids are going to learn? Our kids are going to be bored, they’re going to be turning off, they’re going to be turning away from school. I’m hoping to look at these Engage modules with a critical eye, because I want to make sure our children’s teachers use their strengths.”

District Superintendent Paul Connelly said that the district is “looking at the [EngageNY] modules and we’re assessing them carefully.”

Also up for discussion were the proposed changes to district student evaluation policy. Board President Delia Bonenberger read a section of the changes requested by a district Comprehensive District Education Program subcommittee: “Students being considered for retention must be currently involved in the Response to Intervention or Student Support Team process, which will have implemented targeted interventions and tracked performance via progress monitoring data.”

Bonenberger called the changes “incredibly responsible and appropriate, and it’s what we do.” She noted, however, “that the glitch is that some people are not allowing their children to be tested for these purposes.”

Connelly confirmed that the district had received letters from parents explaining their children would not participate in local assessments testing. Connelly said that, while he can “respect and understand” some of the objections parents may have, “we have got to be able to progress-monitor our children to be sure, through data, that we know that, in September, they knew this much, and, in November, they know this much.

“On the one hand,” Connelly added, “we can understand that some people are extremely opposed to the New York state assessments. On the other hand, we need to be able to ensure that our kids are progressing.”

Connelly expressed frustration at the lack of recommendations from the New York State Department of Education, saying that they “fail miserably to provide any significant guidance” regarding assessments testing. Even so, he said, “If we can’t be able to progress-monitor and know [for example] that this kid is moving from A to B, what are we collecting taxes for? What are we doing here? ... We’ve got to have some kind of a common assessment to know that we’re moving in the right direction, and I’m more concerned about our local assessments than I am about our state assessments.”

Cerrone, who said he was one of the parents who had written a letter to the district refusing testing for his children, cited “inconsistent results.”

Board member Joan Kelly asserted that “there have to be assessments,” though she encouraged dialogue about the issue.

“We’re on the same page,” said Kelly, “that we want to educate children and bring out that creativity and the happiness, but kindergarteners should not be filling in bubbles, they should be blowing bubbles. And I think we all agree on that. But this is something that we, as administrators, and as a board, need to address and have collaborative discussion – with the help of Chris [Cerrone] and some of the parents.”

The next S-GI Board of Education meeting will take place on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. at high school library and media center.
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