Common Core tests still controversial

JULIE LANE PHOTO New Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik (right) promises Board of Education Vice President Thomas Graffagnino he’ll follow the lead of previous superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes.
New Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik (right) promises Board of Education Vice President Thomas Graffagnino he’ll follow the lead of previous superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes.

With just released scores from New York State tests for grades three through eight, a initial glance would conclude that too many district students are failing to meet proficiency levels demanded by the newly implemented Common Core standards.But that’s not how the district and various accounts of the scores see those results, with criticisms mounting of the testing system.

“This is just one measure we use in seeing what our studnets are doing,” said Acting Superintendent Jennifer Rylott. “We are on par with the rest of the state.”

She referred to a Washington Post story, “Common Core tests fail kids in New York again,” noting it reflects the thinking she and former superintendent Michael Hynes have about the value of the tests that students have been ill prepared to take.

The paper quoted educators Carol Burris and Bianca Tanis, both critics of the “botched school reform effort.” Ms. Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, was named by the School Administrators Association of New York as its 2013 High School Principal of the Year. Ms. Tanis is an elementary special education teacher and public school parent in the Hudson Valley area and a co-founder of New York State Alies for Public Education.

The two educators ask why policy makers create tests designed to mark as failures two out of three children and point to the latest scores that reflect proficiency and passing test scores as increasing only one-tenth of one percent in English language arts and 4.6 percent in math. They note that among English language learners, only 11 percent passed the math test and only 3 percent the English test. Special education students showed passing rates at 9 percent in math and 5 percent in English.

What’s important, the educators said is whether the tests are appropriate and fair evaluations of student learning.

“The tests were little more than exercises in frustration,” they said.

Shelter Island scores  reflect that a majority in most tests scored at a level one or two, considered failing grades while smaller percentages passed the tests or passed with significant proficiency. Levels one and two are considered insufficieint while level 3 is passing and level 4 is demonstrating profiency in a subject.

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chartSI test scores
Similarly, in Oysterponds, located in Orient with a somewhat smaller group of students tested, showed between 38 and 86 percent of students demonstrating poor scores while between 14 and 63 percent passed.

In releasing the numbers, state officials hailed overall scores that showed an improvement from 31.2 percent to 35.8 percent in math across all grades and “slight progress in English, going from 31.3 percent to 31.4 percent.
The percentage of students scoring at the partial proficiency level and above in English was up from 69 to 70 percent, according to the statement released by Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and State Education Commissioner John King Jr.

“The test scores show that students from all economic, race, ethnicity and geographic backgrounds can and are making progress,” Dr. Tisch said. “This is still a transition period,” she said. Dr. King noted that the Common Core phase-in is in its fourth year of a planned 12-yeary phase-in.

When the Common Core standards were initially introduced ­— including a new teacher evaluation effort linked in part to test scores — Shelter Island initially embraced the effort. But with time, Dr. Hynes reversed his endorsement of the program and became a leading critic, working with other area superintendents to explore alternative methods of improving education. That included a spring forum at Stony Brook University with several leading educational experts from around the world to talk about efforts that are succeeding in other countries.

While Shelter Island has a new superintendent, Leonard Skuggevik, coming into the district in September, he has publicly stated that it’s his intention to carry forth with various new programs introduced during Dr. Hynes’ tenure in the school district.

In welcoming Mr. Skuggevik to the district, Board of Education Vice President Thomas Graffagnino said, the district has been “doing exciting things” and expressed the hope that the new superintendent would continue on the path set by Dr. Hynes.

“I can’t wait to hellp you move along on that path,” Mr. Skuggevik responded.

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