Common Core adaptations trouble local educators

New state testing has been trial-by-fire, officials are told

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The Rhinebeck and Red Hook Boards of Education, like others across the state, are grappling with the behemoth task of implementing the statewide Common Core standards.

At Rhinebeck’s Oct. 22 BOE meeting, district officials heard from educators about their struggles to get the new education-standards program off the ground.

The State Education Department adopted the Common Core standards in 2010, adjusted the standards in 2011, or “New-York-State-ized,” them, and issued its first assessment at the end of the last school year, according to Marvin Kreps, Rhinebeck’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction.

“This essentially gave us one summer and full instruction cycle… before they started testing. So that gives you an idea of the great pace and the things that are changing rapidly,” Kreps told the board.

Kreps said that part of the schools’ struggle was because the state has not yet released some of the teaching modules that were supposed to be in place for this year.

Donna Gaynor, Kreps’s counterpart in the Red Hook District, had the same complaint at the Red Hook Board of Education meeting on Nov. 20.

At the meeting, Gaynor passed around old ELA tests for fourth and seventh grade students and compared them to sample Common Core tests. The Common Core tests were larger and featured questions that utilize phrases like “best answer.”

Gaynor said she felt that fourth-graders are not ready to handle these types of questions where multiple answers are right and students must discern the “best answer.”

In a recent district-wide message, Red Hook Superintendent Paul Finch wrote, “The State Education Department instituted a CCLS testing regimen without an adequate implementation timeline for the curriculum. This is grossly unfair to students, teachers, and administrators.”

In his message, Finch said that the overall vision of Common Core is commendable, but that the ideals were getting lost in stacks of paperwork and technology glitz.

“A convincing case can be made however, that the emphasized skills…do, and will, continue to constitute a necessary skill set into the foreseeable future. That said, the impact of rapid technological change on our society might ultimately make other skills or qualities more necessary,” he noted.

The national Common Core standards have become a divisive issue across the state, with many concerns by educators, administrators and parents. Some claim the testing is too much and not effective, while others accept the standards but are troubled by their implementation.

“In my opinion, and the opinion of some of my colleagues, the Common Core standards are inherently good. The students having such a deep knowledge of subjects is beneficial,” Barbara Rizzolo, a Rhinebeck third-grade teacher, told the Observer. “However, the speed at which it was implemented is overwhelming. Yes, we worked long and hard this summer aligning our curriculum to the Common Core. However, there is so much information that we teach the students in a year that it is difficult to be on top of the realignment of all of it quickly.”

At their Sept. 11 meeting, the Red Hook BOE passed a resolution protesting high-stakes testing, saying that federal funding for school districts has become too dependent on standardized testing as a measure of school success, while not providing enough funding for testing implementation.

Chancellor Livingston Principal Brett King told the Observer that schools have some freedom to shape implementation but school districts are getting guidelines on a national level that they have not had before.

“It’s easy to just adopt,” he said, but added that there were flaws in the teaching modules that were handed out by the state and so he decided to retool them with his staff.

The staff did curriculum work with outside consultants, such as Ric Campbell of Bard College.

“This summer we brought almost every teacher I have” to work on the new curriculum, King added.

Meanwhile, the requirements apparently call for more testing for students. And
Rizzolo, for one, has concerns about that.

“I personally worry about concentrating so much on [common core testing] that we lose sight of the fact that children should be doing fun activities throughout the year to develop a true love of learning,” she said.

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