Four Long Island school superintendents took their objections to Common Core testing and related “reforms” on the road Monday night to a public forum at Sayville Middle School attended by about 150 parents, teachers and others.
The school chiefs, all from central or eastern Suffolk County, contend the state’s tough new tests in English and math, tied to classroom evaluations, have forced teachers to spend too much time prepping students for those assessments.
The result, these administrators say, is that students often have far less time than in the past for in-depth research on other subjects — for example, history and civics.
One of the superintendents, Steven Cohen of the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District, said such curriculum changes are being pushed by political and business leaders, many of whom enroll their children in exclusive private schools that don’t adhere to Common Core standards.
“I don’t know of a prominent reformer who sends his or her kids to a public school — not one,” Cohen said.
Cohen is one of the organizers of the “Educational Crossroads” series of forums, along with three other superintendents. They are Michael Hynes of Patchogue-Medford, Joseph Rella of Comsewogue and David Gamberg, who supervises both the Greenport and Southold districts.
In November and December, the four school executives and their allies held forums in Southampton, Levittown, Hicksville and New Hyde Park. They’re due to appear at Saxton Middle School in Patchogue at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and at several other locations including Port Jefferson Station in the weeks to come.
Cohen said the group’s intent is to go beyond “sound-bite” statements on school issues, and to give parents, teachers and others an opportunity for thoughtful discussion. Monday night’s session was co-hosted by the Sayville Council of PTAs, and the Sayville Teachers Association, a union group.
“This is a make or break year,” said one parent leader who attended the forum, Gigi Guiliano of East Islip.
The educational road tour has drawn detractors as well as fans.
“I think they’re way out of line, and I wonder why the State Education Department isn’t cracking down,” said Andrea Vecchio of East Islip, co-founder of a regional taxpayer group, Long Islanders for Educational Reform. “They’re managers. They should be sticking to their administrative jobs.”
In a recent letter to school superintendents statewide, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said: “Now that we’ve put the use of assessments for evaluations on hold, we can take a step back, catch our breath and work together to structure a reasonable path for our students.”
Supporters of the Common Core — a set of academic standards adopted by New York and more than 40 other states — say that complaints of a shallow curriculum are unfounded. Supporters note, for example, that the Core’s math standards are intended to reduce the multiplicity of topics covered by state curriculum guides in the past so that students can focus more attention on real-world problem-solving.
Opponents of tests based on Common Core standards have steadily gained traction, nonetheless.
Last spring, parents across the state pulled more than 200,000 students, or 20 percent of those eligible, out of state tests — the biggest test boycott in national history. The opt-out movement was centered on Long Island, with districts such as Comsewogue, Patchogue-Medford and Shoreham-Wading River recording test-refusal rates of more than 60 percent.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other state leaders have acknowledged that their efforts to boost academic standards have backfired, and have taken limited steps toward repairing the damage. Last month, the state’s Board of Regents approved a four-year moratorium on linking results on state tests to evaluations of teachers and principals.
Regent Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents the Island on the board, said the move “will increase the amount of time that teachers have to teach regular subjects” — as opposed to teaching to the tests.
One lingering issue is the so-called Education Transformation Act of 2015, which Cuomo pushed through the State Legislature in April. The law remains on the books and would require districts to base up to half of teachers’ evaluations on state test results once the moratorium expires.
Cuomo aides have insisted in background briefings that there’s no reason to change the law. Cohen and other opponents want the law rescinded and replaced with an evaluation system developed by professional educators.