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Senators hear Common Core complaints

New York State’s Teacher of the Year testified at a Senate hearing that even she could not receive high marks in her teacher evaluation process, due to what she and others say is the dysfunctional implementation of  the new Common Core standards.

Kathleen Ferguson, the New York State Teacher of the year, was also the teacher of the year in her school district, and has won several awards for excellence in teaching.

Yet, she told a Senate Education Committee hearing on the state’s new Common Core standards, under the new rules, even she could not score a rating of highly effective in the new teacher evaluations.

The reason, she says, is that her marks were based in part on student test scores. She teaches second graders with special needs, who are often behind the level of other children in their grade. But the new standards permit no exemptions for her students.

“This system does not make sense,” Ferguson said.    

Ferguson says her students were required to take pretests for almost the entire first month of school.  The pre tests are used to measure what students don’t know. They are used as a comparison for their performance on tests given at the end of the school year, after they have actually been taught the material. The test scores are then used as part of the new process of teacher evaluations required under terms of federal grants worth millions of dollars that the state has received.

Ferguson says the tests were very stressful for her students.

“When we have tests in every subject almost every day in September, it’s incredibly difficult to lay a foundation of comfort and joy in school,” Ferguson said. “They’re only seven years old.”

Ferguson teaches in the Schenectady City schools, where she says a lack of resources has caused her to spend nearly $800 of her own money for supplies, including copy paper.

Ichabod Crane Elementary School principal Tim Farley called the implementation of the Common Core program “completely disastrous”.

“The anxiety that people keep testifying on is real,” Farley said. “The children are crying. The teachers are crying.”

Farley, whose school is located in the Hudson Valley says  he’s decided not to allow his own four children go through the testing process.

“There is no governmental agency that is going to force my kids to do something that goes against my wishes and what I know is wrong,” Farley said.

State Education Commissioner John King did not attend the hearing. King WAS at a forum on the Common Core standards attended by around 1000 parents at a school on Long Island Tuesday night. Newsday described the meeting as “raucous”, reporting that King was booed and at times, shouted down.

King sent a deputy commissioner, Ken Stenz, to the Senate hearing instead. Stenz admitted to Senators that the launch of Common Core has been rough.

“We know have a lot of work to do,” King said.

Stenz faced extensive questioning from Senators, who say they have received more calls and emails from parents and teachers complaining about the Common Core implementation than they have about any other issue.

Senate Education Committee Chair John Flanagan criticized state education officials for requiring that the Common Core standards be adopted, before they had even finished the lesson plans, known as modules, that would offer curriculum guidance to teachers. He says for instance, seven modules in one subject were supposed to be finished in time for this school year, but only one was actually completed in time. Flanagan likened it to a foot ball team play book .

“If there are 60 plays in the play book but the coach only gives you five and says ‘I want you to go out and win the title’, I don’t know how you do that,” Flanagan said.

“The timeline was not optimal,” Deputy Commissioner Stenz replied.

New York and Kentucky are the only two states who are fast tracking the Common Core.  Last year, two thirds of New York’s students in grades three through eight failed the first round of testing in English and math. Other states are taking more time to make the transition.

Many are asking for a delay, including the state teachers’ union and the New York State PTA. New York State United Teachers is seeking a three year moratorium, The PTA wants at least a year’s delay in linking the student test scores to teacher and principal evaluations. They also say the strict testing regiments need to be more flexible for children with disabilities.

Commissioner King has said he does not want to slow down the program.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.