Nevergold’s open letter to Commissioner Ellia

BY BARBARA SEALS-NEVERGOLD, PHD

I have been writing about the problems of standardized tests, specifically the tests that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards and administered by the New York State Education Department.  Components of the State’s accountability system, the results of these tests are used as a major factor in the decisions that label children, schools and school districts as failing and identify them for receivership.  High Stake tests opponents have fought to bring attention to the institutionalized disparities created by these tests, especially for minority children, poor children, children with disabilities and children who are not native English speakers.  They have questioned the validity of these tests and whether they actually assess student achievement in English Language Arts and Math, the two areas targeted by the State and the Federal government.  And in singling out the validity of these tests, their use as reliable measures of school and school district accountability is also questionable.

Then in December 2015, Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force issued a report that called for sweeping changes in the application of Common Core standards, aligned curriculum and standardized tests.  The Task Force agreed that the standardized tests’ outcomes were not reliable and as a result should not be used to evaluate students or teachers.  The New York State Board of Regents endorsed and adopted all the Task Force’s recommendations.

However, numerous questions remain about the implementation of the Task Force recommendations particularly as they impact Receivership schools and students who are disproportionately minority, poor, have disabilities or have limited English proficiency.  Thus far, my requests to the Commissioner and NYS Board of Regents for clarification have been met with silence.  I call it the strategy of “ignorance”.  Ignore her and she’ll go away.  It’s not a new strategy; just another way to marginalize and discount voices that the powers that be don’t want to acknowledge.

A Resolution, submitted by the Buffalo Board of Education minority, calls on the Board of Regents and the Commissioner to convene a group to study the implications and impact of the Governor’s Common Core Task Force on all students, but particularly those in Receivership Schools.  This is not just a Buffalo issue as there are another 119 Receivership schools throughout the State.

My second letter to the Commissioner is a follow up to one I sent at the beginning of the month.  It accompanies the Resolution and the signatures of over 115 educational stakeholders who support the request.  Thank you to those individuals who have joined us in this quest.  We are determined not to be ignored!  Join us by signing an online Petition to support this cause.

January 21, 2016

Dear Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner Elia:

My letter of January 3, 2016 expressed serious concerns and questions about, what I perceive, as a conundrum resulting from the recently issued Common Core Task Force Report.  I cited a number of the Task Force recommendations related to Common Core aligned standardized tests, in particular Recommendation #21.  That all-encompassing recommendation (p. 36 of the Report)  proposing that “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.” appears easily explanatory on its face.  Yet I’ve spoken to many educators who are not sure how this will apply to all students. I believe that I’ve raised a number of reasonable and important questions about the implementation of this recommendation and its impact on students and schools in Receivership.  You have my previous letter so I won’t be repetitive.

However, I also want to share with you a situation that may be unique to Buffalo as another example of why the Task Force Recommendations require a robust, transparent and inclusive review.  As you know 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.  In light of Recommendation #21, we have to ask ourselves how this decision impacts the District’s criterion-schools’ admission’s plan.  I’m not sure that the District can answer this question on its own.  It has been posed to the Superintendent.

Commissioner, I do thank you for the telephone call from Deputy Commissioner Ebert.  We had a cordial conversation but my questions were not fully addressed.  I appreciate her time and understand that she will be making a trip to Buffalo.  I look forward to meeting her during her visit.

On January 13th, my Board colleagues; Ms. Belton-Cottman, Dr. Harris-Tigg and Mrs. Kapsiak co-sponsored a Resolution (attached) to request “the Board of Regents authorize the 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.” 

The Resolution did not pass, so we want to make it clear that this is not a resolution that the Buffalo Board of Education has officially endorsed.  However, there is community support for our request as evidenced by the attached list of supporters gathered in a little less than a week.  And a city-wide parent organization has passed a similar resolution, which will be forthcoming.

I want to be clear that our goal is to initiate a dialog regarding the practical effect of the Common Core Task Force’s Recommendations on our students and our schools.  We respectfully request a written response to this request.

Sincerely,

Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD

Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold is an at-large member of the Buffalo Board of Education and its past-President. 

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