Shelter Island educators share views on Common Core ‘opt out’

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Shelter Island School Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott said the state keeps moving standards of testing so districts at times don’t  know what’s a passing grade.

Shelter Island School Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott said the state keeps moving standards of testing so districts at times don’t know what’s a passing grade.

The contentious issues for Shelter Island educators isn’t whether testing serves any purpose, but how it’s being conducted and whether it could result in stripping local school districts of the right to make their own decisions.

Four Shelter Island educators — Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik, Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott, Shelter Island Faculty Association president Brian Becker and vice president Lynn Green — joined more than 1,000 educators, parents and others who gathered at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University last week. They were there in solidarity to encourage parents to exercise “the opt out choice” to have their children not take the Common Core standardized tests.

It was Mr. Becker and Ms. Green who extended the invitation to the administrators to join them at the demonstration.

The Shelter Islanders aren’t necessarily endorsing the opt out action, they said. But they have real concerns about the way the testing is being conducted and could be used to bounce experienced teachers out of classrooms if a certain number of their students fail to perform successfully on those tests.

Proponents of Common Core, including Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation has bankrolled its development, note that it is essential to prepare American Students to compete with their Chinese counterparts and students of other developing nations in a rapidly expanding, high-tech 21st Century economy.

Mr. Skuggevik sent letters home to parents last week informing them that their children in grades three through eight could opt out of the testing with no penalty for doing so.

“Parents should decide what is right for their kids,” he said.

At issue for Mr. Skuggevik is that the state wants 95 percent of students in a district to take and pass the tests and there could be a penalty to the district eventually if that doesn’t happen.

The state could not only fire the superintendent but take over the district if it decided that insufficient progress is being made in educating students.

The problem, Mr. Skuggevik said, is the district not only doesn’t get information on test content in advance so it’s clear what the students need to learn, but even after the test, there’s no feedback except the scores. Even that’s not received in a timely way so adjustments can be made to class assignments.

Without such information, it’s impossible for the district to make decisions to improve curriculum, the superintendent said.

Furthermore, the state keeps moving the bar so the district doesn’t know what a passing grade is, Ms. Rylott said.

Shelter Island doesn’t try “to teach to the test,” Ms. Rylott said. And every effort is made to reduce stress students may have about testing. On test days in the past, the Parent Teacher Student Association and class mothers provided breakfast for students and after the tests, students got a recess period to relax.

Students are tested in English language arts and math on separate days with those in grades three to five taking a 70 minute test in each subject and those in grades six through eight testing for 90 minutes in each subject.

For Mr. Becker and Ms. Green, the issue of Common Core tests is “who’s running the school,” Mr. Becker said. The tests “take away the whole concept of what a public school is supposed to be,” he added.

Testing can be a good evaluative tool helping a teacher know which students need help with what work and how the teacher might adjust a lesson to improve communications with the student, Mr. Becker said.

But the way these tests are conducted, they provide no such information.