248 LI principals join protest against over-testing

Wheatley School Principal Sean Feeney, Belmont Elementary School

Wheatley School Principal Sean Feeney, Belmont Elementary School PDS Principal Valerie Jackson, Archer Street School Principal Paula Lein and Jericho Middle School Principal Donald Gately are seen from front to rear at Wheatley School in Old Westbury. The principals are spearheading an effort to raise awareness among parents about the increased testing their students are facing under new state standards (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

More than 500 principals from across the state -- nearly half from Long Island -- have joined the movement against the newly revised state assessments, saying that students are being tested too much with no clear benefit to their education.

In an open letter to parents from New York State principals and written by local principals including Sean Feeney of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury and Carol Burris of South Side High School, the group outlines 11 problems they see with the state assessments and cautions about the tests' future impact.

"Under current conditions, we fear that the hasty implementation of unpiloted assessments will continue to cause more harm than good," read the letter drafted last month. It has 3,160 signatures, including 248 principals from Long Island.


DATA: English opt-out numbers | Math opt-out numbers
LI test scores - ENGLISH: Grade 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
LI test scores - MATH: Grade 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
MORE: BOCES proposes changes | Take a sample math test


This latest missive against the more rigorous Common Core learning standards and the high-stakes testing associated with it follows a week where top state education officials faced irate parents, teachers and others in two community forums on Long Island.

Also, the New York State PTA called for a one-year moratorium on tests linked to Common Core curricula, even as it continues to support the more rigorous national academic standards.

Another community forum is scheduled for Nov. 26 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Eastport-South Manor High School in Manorville. Seats in the school's auditorium, which has a capacity of 1,000, will be available on a first-come basis. The event will be live-streamed also, via a link from State Sen. Kenneth LaValle's website. Additional seating will be available in an overflow room.

LaValle, a Port Jefferson Republican, has asked superintendents of the more than 30 school districts in his senatorial area to select a speaker/questioner and has advised them that questions will be reviewed beforehand.

The last Long Island forum this year is scheduled for Dec. 9 in Nassau County, but a time and location have not yet been announced.

New York State Education Commissioner John King Jr. and chancellor of the State Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, called the community forums "tremendously helpful" in a statement released Friday.

Jon Burman, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said that the state is seeking adjustments for students with disabilities and those who are English-language learners and wants to avoid double testing of advanced math students in eighth grade.

"The Board of Regents and the commissioner are committed to the uninterrupted implementation of the Common Core in New York's classrooms. At the same time, however, we will continue to seek public input and will make adjustments along the way," Burman said.

The principals' letter says that testing has increased dramatically and the tests take too long. It also said ambiguous questions are peppered throughout the exams and that children have become stressed out taking them. The tests threaten other instructional initiatives and widen the achievement gap, the letter said. Educators say there is no way to know how the tests help children and how much they cost local taxpayers.

Two local principals in 2011 wrote a similar note about teacher evaluations, which for the first time were tied to student performance. While the written protest didn't stop the state's move to the controversial evaluation system -- New York's participation was tied to a $700 million federal grant -- Feeney said the note raised awareness about the plan.

"We felt that the state Department of Education wasn't listening," Feeney said. "Were we surprised when the state Department of Education continued to not listen? Sadly, we were not."

Valerie Jackson, principal of Belmont Elementary School in North Babylon, said she has nothing against the philosophy of Common Core, but rather how it was implemented.

"Teachers and principals don't mind being evaluated -- it's not that we don't want that process," she said. "Our motto here is 'Preparation yields success.' We need to be prepared and I feel from the rollout from New York State -- they didn't prepare us, they just threw it at us." With Jo Napolitano

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