Tag Archive | "New York State Department of Education"

Refuse the Test Movement Growing on the East End

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Parents bring their children to the Sag Harbor Elementary School at the start of the school day. Photo by Michael Heller.

Parents bring their children to the Sag Harbor Elementary School at the start of the school day. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

A grassroots movement of parents who say the government is taking the creativity out of learning—and doing so in impractical ways that help neither students nor schools—is growing statewide and across the East End, with many parents refusing to let their children sit for the tests the state uses to judge public education.

Advocates for local control of education were outraged when Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through sweeping education reforms as part of the New York State budget last week (see related story), which include further linking teacher and school performance with student performance on tests written by a private company, Pearson, rather than educators.

The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) sent parents a letter last week clarifying its position on test refusal.

According to the letter, TASH “strongly supports a parent’s right to advocate for his/her child and refuse the New York State ELA and Mathematics assessments in grades 3-8. As a collective body, TASH believes that the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers and lifelong learners who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to live good and purpose-filled lives. We believe that the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice. TASH opposes the over-reliance on high-stakes testing that is currently being pushed by both the federal and New York State governments because this testing has not been used to further instruction, help children, or support their educational needs. These commercially prepared assessments are not transparent and teachers, parents, and students are not permitted to discuss the content or to know which questions students answered incorrectly.”

These tests are administered over the course of several weeks each spring in addition to other state-mandated tests throughout the year. Last year, the State Education Department administered the tests on the new federal Common Core curriculum before providing lesson plans or textbooks. This year, schools are more familiar with Common Core, but unions and school boards alike have expressed concern over the connection of a teacher’s or administrator’s employment with a test that doesn’t take into account outside factors such as poverty, non-English speaking students or parents, or what a teacher does in their classroom aside from drilling students for the test.

Parents can “refuse the test” by writing a letter to their child’s school requesting their child be excused from the tests. When other students are taking the test, those who have excused are provided with another space to be so as not to disturb the testing.

Shona Gawronski has had five children attend Sag Harbor’s schools, and this year she is  refusing the test for her youngest two, a son in fourth grade and a daughter in seventh grade, as a form of activism in support of strong public education.

“I’ve been a parent [in the Sag Harbor School District] for 18 years and I’ve seen such a…decline in not the quality of the teaching but the parameters in which the teachers can be creative in their teaching,” she said. “Everything is evolved around these state tests—math, science and reading—and not so much the arts and…the more creative aspects of education.”

Tim Frazier, principal at the Southampton Intermediate School, said that, as of the start of the April break last Friday, about 10 percent of his students had refused, and he expects that number to increase by test time next week.

Aside from the political message it sends Albany, the movement to refuse the tests could have big implications on the performance of teachers and schools. Often, the students refusing to take the test are those who will do the best.

“Those scores will be reflecting the performance of my school and the performance of my teachers, so it’s really not a good place to be as an administrator at a public school right now—especially if a high percentage of students refused to take the test,” he said.

“There are so many other factors that go into making a ‘highly effective’ or highly performing teacher than just how…students do on a test score,” he added. “The state minimizes it to look at just that number instead of looking at all the other factors.”

Many teachers don’t actually teach the subjects being tested and are evaluated based on students they have hardly any contact with. A special education, technology or health teacher will get a score linked to how their students do in English language arts and mathematics.

But with the bill already passed and the governor showing no signs of changing his mind, advocates for education say refusing the test as their best option.

“When Washington, D.C., linked 50 percent of teacher evaluations to standardized test scores, teacher turnover increased to 82 percent, schools in communities with high poverty rates showed large or moderate declines in student outcomes, and the combined poverty gap for D.C. expanded by 44 scale-score points, causing poor students to fall even further behind their affluent peers,” said Anthony Chase Mallia, a seventh grade mathematics teacher at Pierson Middle/High School in Sag Harbor. “It is time to begin to acknowledge that the accountability movement has failed.”

 

The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor is inviting those seeking more information on test refusal to attend a forum on Thursday, April 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Whalers’ Church, located at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor. For more information on test refusal and other commonly asked questions, visit the New York State Allies for Public Education website, nysape.org.

New York State Budget’s Education Reforms Draw Criticism

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Just before graduation, Jessica Warne takes one last walk down the hallway at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor. Photo by Michael Heller.

Just before graduation, Jessica Warne takes one last walk down the hallway at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

New York’s school districts have watched Albany intently since January, when Governor Andrew Cuomo promised a $1.1 billion increase in education aid on the condition that the Republican-controlled State Senate and Democratic-led State Assembly agree to his series of education reforms.

Those reforms, called a “disgrace” by the state’s teachers’ unions and denied by a growing movement of parents who are “opting out” of state tests, include linking teacher evaluations more closely with student test scores, making it harder for teachers to be hired and easier for them to be fired, and allowing state takeovers of schools whose students perform poorly on tests.

Democrats in the Assembly, members of the governor’s own party, voiced their strong opposition to the reforms as they voted on the budget on Tuesday, March 31, but conceded that passing the budget and avoiding a government shutdown was of greater priority than preventing the education overhaul. An aide  to Senator Kenneth P. LaValle confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the budget’s final language was still being worked on before the formal adoption. By Wednesday, some concessions had been made, but not enough to quiet the worries of educators across the state and the growing opposition of parents and their children.

Although legislators, educators and teachers unions opposed the bulk of the reforms, the primary standout is teachers’ evaluations, which will be taken further out of the hands of the schools themselves. The governor wanted half of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student performance on state tests, which educators and parents alike have decried, saying the system would put even more emphasis on “teaching to the test” and less on creative, engaging learning.

Administrators and school board members in Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Southampton and Bridgehampton have publicly spoken out against the governor’s reforms.

“It is ridiculous,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the Sag Harbor School Board, at a meeting last month. “It just puts more pressure on that single test being the only measure of effectiveness…it’s very unhealthy—this increased anxiety-ridden testing environment that the governor’s creating and ratcheting up.”

The new budget removes teachers evaluation planning from the legislative process and places the power of determining the weight of the various components, primarily test scores and observations, into the hands of the State Education Department, which will have to come up with a plan by June. The department gained notoriety last year for its haphazard rollout of the Common Core standards  when it administered tests to students before providing teachers and parents with basic materials like lesson plans and textbooks.

Under the new evaluation system approved Tuesday, teachers will continue to be judged on the current scale as “ineffective,” “developing,” “effective,” or “highly effective.” Those who teach math and English to third through eighth graders will be judged on their students’ performance on state tests in those subjects and high school teachers will be judged on the Regents exams. Educators whose courses don’t end in state exams, such as art or kindergarten teachers, will be evaluated based on “student learning objectives” determined by the state.

Observations conducted by a principal or administrator within the school and an “independent” observer from a different school will also play a role in a teacher’s grade. Lesson plans, student portfolios, and student and parent feedback surveys may no longer be considered in determining whether or not a teacher is doing their job.

In addition to requiring that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on tests, the governor wanted 35 percent to come from an observer from outside the district, with the remaining 15 percent determined by the teacher’s school itself, numbers that education proponents are urging the state to abandon.

“The idea of a teacher evaluation system being related to 85 percent coming from outside local control is absolutely horrific,” said Jim Kinnier, a math teacher at Pierson Middle/High School and president of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor, who fears the Education Department is under the governor’s control and will end up implementing his desired weighting regardless of the input of legislators and educational experts.

“A lot of what this is, is the governor is unhappy with the teachers union on the state level because the teachers union didn’t endorse him…. a lot of this on his part is an eye for an eye kind of thing.”

Other components of the budget will make it harder to become a teacher in the state, which has been struggling to recruit new educators in recent years, and for teachers to keep their jobs. Every five years, teachers and administrators with lifetime certification will be required to register with the state again and complete 100 hours of continuing education or professional development under “rigorous standards” to be released by the Education Department. There is no funding mentioned to help school districts comply with the mandate. The state’s graduate schools of education will be required to “adopt rigorous selection criteria,” including a cumulative 3.0-grade-point average during an applicant’s undergraduate career. Teachers will not be able to qualify for tenure until they have taught for four years, as opposed to the current three.

“We’re reading articles about less and less people wanting to become teachers in New York State because we have a governor that’s creating a platform that seems to be…hostile to teachers and children, both,” said Ms. Tice.

In addition to the teachers union and state legislators, a grassroots movement of opposition has formed in the state and is swiftly growing on the East End. New York State United Teachers Union President Karen Magee encouraged parents to “opt-out,” or remove their children from standardized testing, saying it is the only effective method of resisting the governor’s changes, and a group of local parents is taking up the charge, opting their children out of the state exams, which begin on April 14.

“The goal for us parents and teachers is to get as many families to refuse the test as possible, because that’s where it gets noticed,” said a Pierson Middle School parent who wished to remain anonymous until the group comes out publicly. “I don’t really have a political bone in my body, but at this point it’s really hard to ignore…. the testing is ineffective and it’s not pro-student, it’s not pro-teacher, it’s not pro-school.”

Mr. Kinnier said he is generally in support of standardized testing because it helps teachers to serve their students and “the school can look at their program and make adjustments based on results. It allows you to compare where our students are compared to other students across Long Island and across New York and I think those are good things.”

On the state exams for third through eighth graders, however, teachers do not receive students’ results. They are given a numerical grade of one through four for each student, but no additional information on what a student struggled with or what areas were challenging, so they cannot diagnostically look at the right and wrong answers and adjust their program accordingly.

“The state exams on the seventh and eighth grade level are more challenging than the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam,” said Mr. Kinnier. “And the reason why the state makes the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam so easy is because it’s one of the requirements to graduate from high school, so they have these other tests which their only purpose is to judge teachers.”

Teachers across the state write the Regents exams, which are included on students’ high school transcripts, but Pearson, a for-profit testing company with strong lobbies in Albany, writes, administers, and grades the exams for younger students.

“That’s another thing that virtually all teachers are opposed to—these state exams ought to be written by teachers and not a for-profit test writing company,” said Mr. Kinnier.

The teachers union is “taking a close look” at how the state is spending money for testing purposes and links between leaders in Albany and profiteers at Pearson, he added.

State Aid for Sag Harbor Uncertain as Governor Cuomo Holds Education Budget Hostage

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By Tessa Raebeck

With Governor Andrew Cuomo holding school aid in limbo in hopes of forcing the New York State Legislature to adopt his educational reforms, next year’s school budgets—and educational mandates—remain a mystery to school boards and administrative teams trying to prepare for the 2015-16 school year.

“What the governor is doing is he wants to push his reform package,” Tommy John Schiavoni, legislative liaison to the Sag Harbor Board of Education, said at Tuesday’s meeting.

In January’s State of the State address, Governor Cuomo agreed to grant an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, in state funding to New York’s schools if and only if the legislature passes his reforms. If the legislature—which, divided between a Democratic-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate, is often at a standstill—fails to do so, the governor threatened to limit that increase to 1.7 percent. In the meantime, those crafting school budgets must play a guessing game without direct information on how much state aid they’ll receive.

“He has publicly said that if he doesn’t get it, they’re going to hold back money from education,” Mr. Schiavoni said of the governor.

The reform package proposed by the governor includes teacher evaluations with 50 percent based on standardized tests, a proposal rebuked by the state’s teachers unions.

“I think that is certainly something that will affect us [and the annual Professional Performance Review] we’ve developed in Sag Harbor,” said Mr. Schiavoni.

Governor Cuomo is also requesting a five-year tenure plan to “make it easier to discipline teachers,” Mr. Schiavoni said. If enacted, the governor’s plan would make it easier for teachers to be fired and harder for them to be granted tenure.

Other reforms the governor is compelling the legislature to adopt include: raising the number of charter schools in the state by 100 and requiring those schools to accept less advantaged and lower-scoring students; starting a pilot pre-K program for 3-year-olds; sending specialists into schools that have been designated as “failing” for three years; and creating an education tax credit for private, public and charter school donations.

The governor’s office will not release the final financial numbers until the budget has passed, which could be as late as April 1. School districts, in turn, must tell the state comptroller’s office whether they plan to pierce the state tax cap, enacted in 2011, by March 1, at which point they could be missing information vital to understanding next year’s finances.

In other school board news, Superintendent Katy Graves said the district has accepted the i-Tri program, a self-empowerment group in which middle school girls focus on building confidence, mental health and physical stamina over six months, culminating with the girls racing in a triathlon in July.

The program was expected to be voted on by the board on Tuesday, but did not end up requiring a vote because there are no longer any transportation costs associated with it.

Theresa Roden, director and founder of i-tri, “has such a wealth of volunteers that are willing to come from the community into the school building that it’s become a facilities use agreement,” Ms. Graves said.

There are no costs for the district, but the program will use Pierson’s facilities and the administrative team, who will help i-tri with the selection process, which favors girls who are not involved in interscholastic sports.

Pierson Middle School Vice Principal Brittany Miaritis said the school is dispensing a survey for i-tri this week to “figure out girl selection for the program.”

The board’s next meeting is Monday, February 23, in the Pierson library. A budget workshop will be held at 6 p.m. followed by the regular meeting at 7:30 p.m.

Sag Harbor Students Fare Well on Standardized Tests

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Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

 

By Tessa Raebeck

While board meetings at the start of the school year can often be tense, the mood was light and cheerful Monday, September 8, as Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves updated the Board of Education on the district’s results on state assessments.

At the educational workshop, Ms. Graves, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols and Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone compiled an extensive presentation of history, graphs and raw data on Sag Harbor students’ test performances.

“I always caution everybody that it’s only one piece of what we’re looking at,” Ms. Graves said of the data. “We take our data and we bring it to our teachers and our teachers take us that next part of the way.”

Sag Harbor fared well out of the 64 districts in Eastern Suffolk BOCES that took standardized tests in 2014.

Out of those districts for ELA, Sag Harbor’s fourth grade ranked 11th, the fifth grade ranked fourth, the seventh grade ranked third, and the eighth grade ranked fifth.

Mr. Nichols said the sciences at the high school level are all strong.

“Much like at the middle school,” he said, “we far exceed the New York State average in every discipline with the exception of mathematics, which you’ll see we’re still on par with New York State, but certainly not performing at the level as you see in other disciplines.”

He added that after two years with the Common Core, “We’re seeing some patterns in the assessment results and we’re able to allocate resources accordingly to where we’re focusing.”

In an effort to raise math achievement, the district has added math specialists at the middle school and elementary school, as well as teaching assistants who are trained in specific areas to add to “key instructional times,” Mr. Malone said.

Instructional time in math for the sixth grade has been doubled and math exposure is increasing for all middle school students, Mr. Nichols said.

Standardized testing of New York State students dates back to 1865, when Regents exams were first administered as high school entrance exams. Younger students began being tested in reading and mathematics in 1966, in writing in 1983 and in science in 1989.

The required tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and math that students take in fourth and eighth grade began in 1999. After President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind” Act in 2003, which expanded the federal government’s role in student testing by requiring states to develop assessments in order to receive federal school funding, all states were mandated to administer ELA and mathematics tests for all students in grades three through eight and science tests twice, once during grades three and five and another time during grades six through nine. New York State chooses to administer the science exams in grades four and eight.

At present, Sag Harbor students are given the following state-mandated tests: the New York State Alternate Assessment (only for students with severe cognitive disabilities); one speaking test and one listening, reading and writing test for English as a Second Language students; ELA tests for students in grades three through eight; mathematics tests for students in grades three through eight; a science performance test for grade four; a science performance test for grade eight; a written science test for grade four; and a written science test for grade eight.

High school students are also required to take the following Regents exams, which are in the process of being aligned with the new Common Core curriculum: Grade 11 ELA; either integrated algebra or geometry or algebra II/trigonometry; grade 10 global history and geography; grade 11 U.S. history and government; and a choice of earth science, living environment, chemistry or physics.

Testing this year starts September 29 with the alternate assessment and runs through June 24 with the last Regents exam.

Implementation of new exams is usually done slowly, but New York’s recent switch to Common Core raised protests from administrators, parents, teachers and students across the board last year due to its fast implementation.

“It was a blindside to the educational community who were used to things being implemented in a fairly strategic fashion… Most teachers and most educators didn’t have a problem with the Common Core, they had a problem with the implementation and how that felt,” Ms. Graves said.

The first administration of the Common Core Geometry Assessment will be this year. In 2017, this year’s 10th graders will be the first grade required to pass the Common Core Regents Exams with a 65 percent passing grade in order to graduate and in 2022, this year’s fifth grade students will be the first required to pass the Common Core Regents exams at “aspirational performance levels” of 75 to 80 percent.

The administrators’ presentation on the data is available online.

Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

Sag Harbor School Board Budget Finalized, Parking Still Under Discussion

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Members and mentors of the Pierson Robotics team were among the range of Pierson students recognized at the Sag Harbor School Board's meeting May 6. In addition to the robotics team, recently returned from a national championship, the board congratulated and recognized students who participated in the NYSSMA musical competition, were inducted or are members in the National Honor Society and who performed in last week's production of "Fantasticks," which everyone agreed was "fantastic." Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Members and mentors of the Pierson Robotics team were among the range of Pierson people recognized at the Sag Harbor School Board’s meeting May 6. In addition to the robotics team, recently returned from a national championship, the board congratulated and recognized students who participated in the NYSSMA musical competition, were inducted or are members in the National Honor Society and those who performed in last week’s production of “Fantasticks,” which everyone agreed was “fantastic.” Photo by Zoe Vatash.

By Tessa Raebeck

In an effort to address questions and inform the public about a $36.8 million proposed budget, the Sag Harbor School Board of Education will bring its 2014-15 budget plan to community forums this month.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and John O’Keefe, the district’s business administrator, will visit the Noyac Civic Council on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The duo will also make a presentation at the Sag Harbor Elementary School following morning program on Wednesday at 9 a.m., again that day at 2:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle-High School library and at 3:30 p.m. in the elementary school library. While the latter two sessions have been scheduled for staff, school board vice president Chris Tice said Tuesday that members of the public are welcome and encouraged to attend any of the presentations.

This year, the average proposed school tax increases in New York are dropping below 2 percent for the first time in over 40 years, with an average of 1.83 percent on Long Island and 2.01 percent statewide, according to Newsday, due to the pressures of a state-mandated cap on the property taxes a school district can levy.

Some expenses, such as employee pension costs, are exempt from the calculations, so each district’s individual cap limit varies, based on those exemptions and other factors like voter-approved construction costs.

For Sag Harbor, the tax levy cap is lower than average at 1.51 percent.

The proposed 2014-15 budget has a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, with an increase of $1,360,881 or 3.83 percent in spending from last year. The monthly impact on a house valued at $1 million is projected to be an increase of $5.83 in Southampton and $5.80 in East Hampton.

“This budget is the result of some key strategic planning that has gone on over the years,” said BOE member Daniel Hartnett at a budget hearing Tuesday night. “You can’t get to this point—with, frankly, low budget numbers, preservation of staff, preservation of program, in fact, some incremental building—without strategic planning.”

The budget and school board vote, for which all registered voters in the school district can cast ballots, is Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson gymnasium. On Thursday, May 8, at 7 p.m. the district will also host a candidates forum in the elementary school gym. There are three school board seats up for election. Incumbents Theresa Samot and Sandi Kruel are seeking re-election with Diana Kolhoff and Thomas Re also vying for seats.

In other school news, several board members who served on the Educational Facilities Planning Committee again brought up the issue of parking. At its last meeting, the board voted to move forward with a parking plan that would add minimal spaces, compromising with a group of residents and Pierson neighbors who were worried the original plans would encroach on Pierson Hill, discourage alternative modes of transportation and ruin their view.

Board member Susan Kinsella asked the board to consider going with a larger option, but having half asphalt parking and half “grass parking,” referencing a presentation on Eco-Raster, a permeable paver that is a green alternative to asphalt, that Gordon Herr made to the board in March.

“I just think it’s a wiser plan, I think it’s more responsible,” said Ms. Kinsella, adding the plan would increase parking while sustaining the green vista.

“I think when the community truly realizes that you’re spending $220,000 to lose 10 parking spots to make it pretty, it’s not what they voted for. Sorry,” added Trustee Sandi Kruel.

Under the current plan, seven spaces would be lost in the Jermain Avenue parking lot, with the potential of adding three, pending the relocation of a tree. Ten spaces would be added at the Division Street lot by filling in the tree wells there, so the net gain of the entire project is three to six spots.

“At the end of the day, those members [of the community] should have been there for the last three years, not the last three minutes,” Ms. Kruel said.

Ms. Kinsella and Ms. Kruel, adamant that the committee they served on had intended to increase parking, asked the board to consider the half grass, half asphalt plan.

Mr. O’Keefe said in addition to bidding the smaller lot as the primary, they could “bid the green as an alternative” and “see how that would work out.”

“I think that would do wonders on building a bridge back to the center on this very difficult discussion for many, many years,” said Mary Anne Miller, a longtime board member.