A crowd of 1,200 people filled the auditorium of Ward
Melville High School for a two-hour long event that harshly criticized the
Common Core curriculum, its implementation and high stakes testing among other things.
Standing ovations and rounds of applause were given to many of the night’s speakers who blasted state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. on recent education mandates.
“We are abusing the children in the state of New York,” said Comewsogue PTA president Beth Dimino to rousing applause. “You have awakened the mommies and you are in trouble. What’s going to happen is hundreds of thousands of mommies are going to fill out this form to refuse to take this test because the mommies in New York refuse to abuse their children.”
Speaker after speaker, 36 in all, comprised of parents, teachers and administrators, reeled off reasons why they believe that the reform needs to be remediated. Concerns ranged from over testing, to poor implementation and lack of financial resources.
King, in three, five-minute answer sessions attempted to address the concerns of the sometimes unruly crowd, though he appeared to offer not much in the way of new information for the audience.
"We remain committed to the work on the Common Core,” said King. “We join the rest of the country in that work who have all come together because of clear need for our students to graduate ready for college and success.”
His answers were often met with the audience replying, “what about the kids?”
Jennifer Bradshaw, assistant superintendent for Smithtown schools said she supported the common core standards, but not with the way changes were being made.
“It’s the way we are making those changes, she said, ”The tests say 70 percent of students are not prepared. They do nothing to measure the countless critical skills we teach every day in schools”.
It was a sentiment echoed by other superintendents.
“I support the standards,” said Susan Agrsuo, superintendent for Kings Park schools. “I also believe state tests are important, they serve as outside benchmarks to measure by, but clearly there is too much testing.”
King said in grades 3-8, the state only administers two tests beyond what is required by law.
“The board and the department are concerned about the environment where we have more tests than we need to inform good decision making,” said King.
But the answers weren’t proving to be enough to satisfy the boisterous crowd, which filled the 950 seat auditorium and an estimated 400 that watched a live televised stream in the school’s cafeteria.
“Slow down fix the mistakes…you no longer stand with the students or the teacher of this state you stand with the governor and you are failing, not us," said Eric Gustafson, a teacher in the Three Village school district.
Meryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, who was on stage with King, at one point had to ask the crowd to allow King to answer.
“We know you are passionate, but we have heard you, please hear Mr. King,” she said.
Special education was also on the minds of many who questioned the rationale behind administering tests designed for the general education population to students with special needs. According to Tisch, special education is under the guidance of the No Child Left Behind Act.
“It is a federal requirement that students be tested in their chronological age, not their cognitive age,” said Tisch. “In January, we are going to the federal government and asking for a waiver from the requirement.”
The crowd left virtually no stone unturned, addressing King on the sharing of student data and its security, to teacher reviews and mandated curriculums.
One speaker from the Sachem school district likened the implementation to building a plane while in the air.
“What has happened to the common sense of the Common Core? If this initiative does fail it will be due to pilot error with you and the state at the controls,” she said.
King told the crowd that he would listen to the concerns brought out at the forum.
“I take very seriously the feedback given and we will continue to make adjustments but I want to be very clear the work on the Common Core is about the work that will ensure their success,” said King. “We are committed to the success to the Common Core.”