Nevergold: “The majority says No”

BY DR. BARBARA SEALS-NEVERGOLD

By this time, many of you know that in December 2015, the Governor’s Common Core Task Force released a landmark report condemning the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and its aligned curriculum and standardized tests.  In a series of recommendations the Task Force strongly suggested creating new developmentally appropriate tests for students with disabilities and students who are not proficient in English; reducing the time students spend taking these tests;   and most importantly placing a moratorium on the use of these tests in evaluating individual students and teachers until 2019-20.  In fact, there were 21 recommendations in total. The Board of Regents quickly endorsed and accepted these recommendations.

While the recommendations have been widely seen as positive and progressive, many questions have been raised about the magnitude of their impact in addressing the numerous problems related to the Common Core as well as how they will be implemented.  The Task Force recommendations regarding the Common Core aligned tests, a.k.a. high stakes tests, essentially confirm test opponents’ claims that the tests are developmentally inappropriate, unreliable measures of children’s abilities.  In other words, the results of these tests are not accurate measures of children’s proficiency in English Language Arts and Math.  The Task Force charged State Ed with the task of developing new tests to determine student achievement and by extension school and school district performance.

This writer has also raised specific questions about how the Task Force recommendations relate to Receivership.  The ELA and Math standardized test results are major determinants in the State’s accountability system for identifying “struggling” and “persistently struggling” Receivership schools.  Further, the State has mandated that receivership schools show “demonstrable improvement” in one or two years or face further threat of being placed under an outside receiver.  While there are a number of data points that Receivership schools can use as evidence of progress, a number of these are based on improvement on the standardized tests from year to year.  A question that no one seems to want to ask or want to answer:  How will this change as a result of the Task Force mandate on testing?

The Buffalo School District has 25 receivership schools, more than any District in the state. On numerous occasions, since the imposition of Receivership, I have requested Board in-servicing and dialog about the Board’s and Superintendent’s working relationship and other details of the law. The Board and the District would benefit if the Board had a clear understanding about issues such as:  the relationship between the receivership schools and the non-receivership schools, or the Board’s fiduciary responsibility since we establish, monitor and modify the budget, which includes the budgets for the receivership schools.   The Regent’s acceptance of the Task Force recommendations is a major development in the State’s implementation of the Common Core and its high stakes tests.  However, the majority Board members refuse to educate themselves or consider potential ramifications of the change in the State’s implementation of the Common Core.  The Buffalo District is a system.  It’s impossible for changes to be made in one part of the system, which don’t have an impact in another part of the system; sometimes un-intended.

It came as no surprise when the Board majority voted against a Resolution to the State Education Commissioner and the Board of Regents.  As Mr. Quinn curtly observed, “Receivership is the best thing” to happen to this district.  Of course, we disagree but the request to the state is not about the personal differences between the minority and majority members of the Board.  It is not a request to reverse Receivership.  We understand that it is the law. We believe that we have a responsibility to the students of this District and a fiduciary responsibility to request that the State answer the questions arising from the Common Core Task Force recommendations.

The Resolution calls on the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department “to conduct a detailed, open and transparent review and analysis of the use of the ELA/Math standardized tests results as determinants to assess school qualification for receivership; to invite parent, educator, student and other stakeholder input and feedback in the process; to clarify the recommendations of the Common Core Task Force as they apply to the state assessments and use of assessment data, and to develop future recommendations for appropriate determinants for school receivership.” 

Three years after an admittedly rushed, poorly thought-out and abysmally rolled-out Common Core State Standards, the State is now backtracking on a plan that was touted as the solution to New York State’s education woes.  Seemingly little was learned from past experience however.  Following on the heels of CCSS, Receivership was also hastily passed into law and equally rushed into implementation. While the law imposes the same restrictions and requirements on each District, it does not account for unique situations that an individual District may encounter.

In Buffalo’s case, the District has an OCR complaint regarding equitable admissions to our criterion schools.  The District has worked diligently to create a process that is more inclusive; however it includes the use of the ELA/Math test scores in the admissions criteria.   The Task Force’s Recommendation 21 states: Until the new system is fully phased in, the results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students. The transition phase shall last until the start of the 2019-2020 school year.  What does this mean for the District’s criterion-schools’ admission’s plan?  The District cannot answer this question on its own.  We need the State’s input.

The Board minority intends to forward its original resolution to the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department and we are asking the community to join us in requesting a response from the State.  If you would like to add your name to this request, please send an email to bnevergold@gmail.com.  We believe our request is not only reasonable but responsible and an ethical application of our obligation as public officials.

Dr. Barbara Seals-Nevergold is an at-large member of the Board of Education. 

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