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Focus On Education: Common Core state tests and teacher evaluations

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Classrooms across New York State have been stirred up by the Common Core learning standards. All this week WBFO’s Focus on Education takes a look at how Common Core affects testing and how those tests affect teachers, parents, and students.

“I’m all for setting the bar high, but you are setting the bar so high that you are going to defeat a group of people and they’re going to drop out of school. As a middle school teacher I already hear them talking. They say ‘they’ll never pass those tests and they’re done.’ And that will be a shame that they will be defeated by these tests,” said Parent Lisa Arnone.

Arnone says the standardized tests based on Common Core are causing a lot of anxiety for students, parents and teachers. The controversy over Common Core in the state traces back to 2010, when lawmakers in Albany required districts to come up with a teacher evaluation system otherwise they’d withhold state aid.

How are teachers evaluated?

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore explains part of the Annual Professional Performance Review process.

“The ratings are like this. The highest rating is ‘highly effective’, the next rating is ‘effective’, then there is ‘developing’, and then there is ‘ineffective.’ If they receive an ‘ineffective’ rating two consecutive times that can be used in a 3020A proceeding to terminate the teacher,” said Rumore.

The state also required that the evaluation system include a Teacher Improvement Plan or TIP for developing ‘ineffective’ teachers. Regent’s Chancellor Emeritus Robert Bennett explains how educators get these ratings.

Credit Vuorikari / Some Rights Reserved
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Example of teacher evaluation questions.

“It’s a 100 point scale the first 60 points are by the local district on classroom observations, feedback. The next 20 [points] would be based on local assessments or portfolio review. The last 20 points are based on the new state assessments in 3 through 8, 2014 will be the first year for high school assessments based on the learning standards,” said Bennett.

Rumore says every point counts on the Annual Professional Performance Review. 

“They’ve made it very difficult for teacher to get in the ‘highly effective’ or ‘effective’ rating, that’s the problem. So, just the loss of even 10 points can drop you from ‘developing’ to ‘ineffective’ or from ‘effective’ to ‘developing,’” said Rumore.

Rumore says this process creates a ‘high stakes’ testing situation, where state tests can make or break a teachers rating. Parent Karen Champoux says the only way for teachers to best prepare for the assessments is to use the modules provided by the New York State Education Department.

“The promise is that if teachers present the materials within the modules to their students and stick to the minute by minute schedule their students will know everything needed to be successful on the test. But there are several problems with using the modules, including the loss of teacher creativity, riding pacing and incomplete resources, since all the modules are not available yet. The modules that do exist are riddled with errors,” said Champoux.

Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO News
Nate Styles, Shannon Styles & Aiden Styles.

Parent and Teacher at Gowanda High School Shannon Styles says there have always been state tests. State testing has been around for close to 150-years.  The first Regents exam was given in 18-66.  But Styles noted that now educators are scrambling to prepare for them, because they’re very different than they were in the past.

“But now because they’re Common Core aligned the teachers can’t see them until the morning of the test. Then they’re not allowed to grade their own either, so they go to somebody else to grade. So you never get them back and you never know how your students do. So that’s a problem it’s really not helping the teacher evaluate the student in anyway. So all these tests are used for is evaluating the teacher,” said Styles.

What do parents think?

West Seneca parent Molly Dana is one of many that take issue with the fact that those state tests are tied to the teacher evaluations.

“It’s just unfair it’s labeling our teachers it’s labeling our schools,” said Dana.

Parent Crystal Haglund agrees.

“The amount of time and energy that is spent on tests that actually measure very little and are so skill specific is preposterous,” said Haglund.

Lakeshore Elementary 3rd grader Aiden Styles says the Common Core state tests have caused stress and confusion for him and his peers.

“It’s really hard, because we have to do more stuff than just figuring out the answers. It’s a lot different than last year, because last year was easier than this year,” said Styles.

Refusing to take the state assessments

Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO News
Melisa Holden with her family behind her.

Some parents are so enraged by the testing process they’ve refused to let their children take the state tests.  It won’t affect their child’s grades or hurt teacher evaluations.

Melisa Holden says her 4th grader was so anxious about taking the state assessments she decided not to allow her to take them. Holden warns that if a child makes even a mark on the test, it will be judged as if the child took the test and then it would negatively affect their teacher.  If you don’t send your child to school on the day of testing to boycott the exams, your child will then be forced to take a makeup test.  

Holden’s advice to parents who don’t want their children to take the assessments is to send them to school, but be ready to pick them up 5 minutes after the exam begins. The child won’t counted as absent.

“I’d rather have her sitting quietly and reading a book rather than taking those tests, because they don’t really mean anything,” said Holden.

Credit WBFO News file photo
BTF President Phil Rumore.

New York State Education Commissioner John King maintains that state standardized tests are used to inform instruction.

“Defining students and educators simply by test scores, that’s not our position now and it never has been. The Board of Regents and the department has always said that ‘assessments and student performance on those assessments should be a factor in how we evaluate student performance along with a variety of other factors, and should be a factor in how we evaluate educators along with other factors,” said King.

There are some that do find the Common Core learning standards and testing beneficial to students. One Parent from Jamestown who didn’t want to be identified said she’s happy that the standards are challenging her son.

“I also want to acknowledge that in the classroom I do see a lot of the frustration that teachers are discussing. But I see some amazing thinking going on with young kids.”  

Phil Rumore adds that the problem isn’t really with teacher evaluations. He says teachers don’t mind being evaluated, if it’s fair.

“I think the most important evaluation is how you do in a classroom when an administrator comes into the classroom and see how the kids are learning. For the state to give standardized tests, which many people think are developmentally inappropriate, put all sorts of pressure on kids, don’t measure creativity, critical thinking, and all the things we think are important. That’s what the problem is, the problem is the testing of our kids,” said Rumore.

But what does the future hold for Common Core. Many are looking for a delay in the implementation for two years, while others believe New York State should give up on Common Core completely. Tune into WBFO 88.7 FM to hear the final installment that discusses what the future holds for the learning standards.