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Northport lobbying for Common Core reforms

Above, Matthew Nelson, Northport-East Northport assistant superintendent for instruction and administration, and below, parent Nora Beck. Photos by Susan Risoli
December 11, 2013 | 04:51 PM
The controversial Common Core State Learning Standards prompted discussion at Monday night's Northport-East Northport school board meeting, and members unanimously agreed to endorse a letter from the Suffolk County Superintendents Association expressing concern with how the standards have been implemented.

At the same meeting, school district officials also discussed the consequences of students opting not to take statewide tests that evaluate their proficiency in the new curriculum.

The board unanimously passed a resolution to send a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in support of the superintendents' letter that was sent earlier this month to both state Education Commissioner John B. King and Cuomo.

The district's letter will be signed by board president Stephen Waldenburg, Superintendent Marylou McDermott and representatives of the United Teachers of Northport union; the Northport Association of School Administrators union; the Parent Teacher Association Council, and the Special Education Parent Teacher Association. Antoinette Blanck, president of the teachers union, said at Monday's meeting that her union agrees "wholeheartedly [with the county superintendents' letter] and will sign on behalf of the teachers."

Last month, Northport-East Northport school district sent its own letter to King. That letter stated that the district supported the underlying philosophy of the Common Core, which promotes "college and career readiness," but it criticized implementation "done in haste" without preparation for students and teachers. It also called for educators' Annual Professional Performance Reviews to be based more on classroom learning instead of students' state test results.

Matthew Nelson, assistant superintendent for instruction and administration, said in a phone interview Tuesday that if school districts have concerns about the Common Core, they should express them because while "we all see some promise in moving forward with rigorous standards for our students … in the end, though, the devil's in the details, and I'm not sure we hit the right implementation the first time through."

At Monday's meeting, Norwood Avenue elementary school parent Nora Beck asked what would happen if a child opts out of taking state tests. Nelson said that students who attend school but don't take the test "are not punished in any way … but when a student comes to school on the day of the test, they're going to sit with the test."

Nelson added that if a school district falls below an average 95 percent participation rate in state assessment testing over a two-year period, the district would "start to be put into a 'school in need of improvement' cycle" by the state Education Department.

That means "we'll be told how to use our money … the state takes over leadership of your programs."

Waldenburg noted that such an outcome when "the school district can gradually lose control" is "very damaging to the district."

Nelson also said it is important for students and educators to continue to be part of the assessments, "so that we have a voice after having participated."

"Assessment is part of instruction," he said. "It's how you determine … whether we're hitting the mark, whether children are learning what we're teaching."

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