By Ellen Frankman
As predicted, student test scores in New York have taken a significant hit following the state’s adoption of the more rigorous Common Core learning standards. On August 7, the State Department of Education released the results for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math assessments taken by students in grades three through eight in April. The East End proved to be no exception to across the board drops in proficiency.
In the Sag Harbor School District, a higher percentage of students failed than passed the assessments for third and fifth grade Math and English, and sixth, seventh and eighth grade Math. Across the state, just 31 percent of students in third through eighth grades met or exceeded the proficiency standard in language arts.
On Monday, August 19, Dr. Carl Bonuso, the interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, addressed the Board of Education on Common Core, emphasizing that parents and educators be understanding that this is a period of transition for education as schools become more familiar with Common Core Standards.
“First let me say that I am a fan of the Common Core Standards,” said Dr. Bonuso. “I’ve come to praise them not bury them.”
Common Core Standards aim to move schools away from rote learning to more writing-intensive curriculum that emphasizes problem solving. But as the results at the start of the month revealed, Sag Harbor students have suffered under the shift in standards owing largely to unfamiliar instructional methods for teachers and a notably harder exam.
“When state officials are predicting before the administration of the tests, that all schools, all students, will probably score more than 30 percent lower on their assessments than in the past, I would suggest it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy with destructive, not constructive, impact,” said Dr. Bonuso.
Board members agreed that the poor scores, though anticipated, could impact students negatively.
“Unfortunately kids from April have scores and those scores will follow these kids for three to five years,” said board member Daniel Hartnett. “It is extremely tragic because we know there are a lot of ancillary consequences, namely stress and namely self esteem.”
“A lot of us will be looking very closely at how the state manages this going forward,” he added.
Board member Chris Tice shared that she had heard it will take three to five years for Common Core to be ingrained fully so that the scores accurately reflect what is being done in the class room.
“The primary area of criticism I’ve heard is that we are setting our kids up for failure,” she said.
Dr. Bonuso urged the board not to consider the results too harshly, however.
“I will not define my students, I will not define my principals, I will not define my teachers by a number,” said Dr. Bonuso. “But one of the disappointing things I feel is that during the course of this I think sometimes people condemn the Common Core when in fact they are talking about a set of standards that people admire.”
Dr. Bonuso stressed delivery and reception as components necessary for the success of Common Core in the future.
“Forget about the materials and the money and the modules,” said Dr. Bonuso. “Think about the mindset. Think about the fact that there wasn’t the kind of buy in that you should first have. Where is our shared vision?”
A significant fear is that parents and students who are weary of the new assessment standards will choose to “opt-out” and hold their children home during testing periods. But as Dr. Bonuso pointed out, if there is worry over individuals opting-out, then that is only further evidence that they haven’t bought into Common Core, a situation that can only be remedied through greater education and cooperation between parents, teachers and students.
“To me this is the stuff that as a board we need to come to our administrators to say, ‘What do you need from us to get us to achieve what we need to achieve,’” said board member David Diskin.
“These tests will give us food for thought and the results will give us pause for reflection,” said Dr. Bonuso. “The important thing we need to do is align what we teach with what we test.”