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Upstate New York Teachers And Administrators Share Concerns

Lucas Willard

From Common Core testing to teacher evaluations, education is one of the most contentious issues in New York right now. About two dozen teachers, administrators, and union officials participated in a roundtable discussion this morning to offer their own ideas on the state’s education policies with their local Assemblymember and Regent Board member.

Democratic Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, who represents portions of Washington and Saratoga counties, organized the discussion with Beverly Ouderkirk, a Regents board member for Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, and Washington counties.

The two-hour discussion covered the implementation of the Common Core learning standards, teacher evaluations, standardized testing, and the funding tied to it.

Jennifer Moreau is a fourth grade teacher at Schuylerville.

“I think giving the stakeholders more input on what the testing is would be helpful. I think no longer tying a teacher’s evaluation to those test scores would be a huge step in the right direction.”

Moreau said state-mandated teaching standards are taking creativity out of the classroom.

“We are the people in the trenches. We are the people, we are the experts. That’s what we’re always told but yet no one comes to us and says ‘What should we do?’

Tom Havens is a retired teacher who now teaches part-time at Schuylerville.  Havens said he thinks the state is wasting its time and money on standardized testing.

“It’s sad to me that teachers have to spend so much time preparing the students for these tests, that they don’t have the time to do enrichment things that are going to be far more beneficial to the kids than these tests, which, in my opinion, don’t test anything important.”

Havens said meeting with the Regent and Assemblywoman offers a “glimmer of hope” that changes could be made.

Tony McCann, a retired teacher from the Shenendehowa district in Clifton Park and an elected representative for the New York State United Teachers, criticized New York’s Regents Research Fellows – private individuals who advise the state education department.

“I mean, they have very high I.Q.s and they come from universities with strong backgrounds in various subjects, but they have none of the background in testing or child development, which is a key factor, or the expertise in curriculum to actually help the teachers in the field, so there’s a tremendous disconnect between State Ed and what’s going on in the school districts.”

Woerner said she agreed with the need to ensure educators are advising the state education department.  She also said she would like a change in the way the state evaluates teachers.

“We want to make sure that we get an appropriate assessment system, one that  is reflective of condition, not ambition, that takes into account the challenges of special needs kids, that is reflective of not just the ELA and math teaching, but all of the other subjects.”

A new teacher and principal evaluation system was pushed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and was passed by lawmakers as part of the state budget.

Woerner said she was uncertain how much could be done before the end of the legislative session in June, but agreed with the teachers that a delay in how educators and schools are evaluated would be helpful.

In late April Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch directed the Education Department to extend a deadline for school districts to approve a new evaluation system from November of this year to September 2016.

This was the sixth discussion with educators and advocates for Regent Ouderkirk, including a summit on teacher and principal evaluations held by the state education department Thursday.

“They deserve the respect and the consideration of us for thoughtful consideration in terms of ‘Where do we go from here?’ We heard it repeatedly yesterday. Let’s do it right this time.  This is too important for our children and for our society not to take the time to get it right.”

Ouderkirk said she also would like to meet directly with students.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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