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State task force holds hearings Friday on Common Core

A handful of 6th-grade students at Southside Middle

A handful of 6th-grade students at Southside Middle School take the Common Core mathematics test in Rockville Center, April 24, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A state task force will hold simultaneous public hearings on controversial Common Core academic standards, testing and curriculum Friday in Stony Brook and at four other sites across the state, amid complaints by many parents, teachers and others that the late-afternoon format will hinder attendance.

The hearings, described as "listening sessions," all will run from 4 to 6 p.m. Aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the forums will give interested citizens a chance to testify for three minutes each on a first-come, first-served basis.

Many educators and others on the Island said the combination of short notice, the starting time and the location will make it difficult to attend the forum, details of which were posted on a state website Tuesday afternoon. The forums' time frame initially was 3 to 5 p.m.; late Wednesday afternoon, state officials pushed it later.

"We're dealing with two days' notice for a task force meeting which has been billed as a way of seeking meaningful input from school board members and others on Common Core concerns," said Lorraine Deller, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association. "We don't see it that way."

Where and when is the hearing?

The session for residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties will be held at Stony Brook University's Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology, 1500 Stony Brook Rd. On-site parking is available.

Two task force members from the region will be on hand to hear testimony: state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Constance Evelyn, superintendent of the Valley Stream 13 school district.

Check-in begins at 3:30 p.m., and written testimony also will be accepted, either at the event or on the task force's website at Other hearings are scheduled in Long Island City, Queens, and in Purchase, Loudonville and Batavia.

Cuomo aides responded to complaints of a rushed hearing schedule by noting that the task force has been asked to report back to the governor by December. That would allow Cuomo time to incorporate task-force recommendations into his legislative agenda for 2016.

"We set an aggressive time frame and are scheduling accordingly to ensure that everyone in every corner of the state has a chance to participate," said Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman.

What is the context for this panel's formation?

Cuomo appointed the 15-member task force in September and directed it to conduct a sweeping review of Common Core academic standards, curriculum and exams -- the second such effort in less than two years.

It is headed by Richard Parsons, former board chairman of Time Warner Inc. Members include State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher.

Parsons chaired a similar group, also named by the governor, that delivered a report in January 2014. That report's recommendations, many of which were adopted into state law and regulations, included a ban on state testing for students before third grade and a restriction against including scores from new Common Core tests on students' permanent records.

The recommendations did not include a moratorium on using student test scores in evaluating teachers' job performance -- a move demanded by parent and union groups. Subsequently, growing numbers of parents pulled their children out of state tests in April 2014 and again last spring.

Is the task force considering the teacher job-evaluation system?

Teacher evaluations -- the most controversial aspect of educational policies pursued by Cuomo -- are not on the task force's agenda. However, Elia is conducting her own review on behalf of the state Board of Regents, to which she reports.

The overlap in state-level reviews, coupled with the hurried schedule, left many parent and school representatives doubtful that their participation in forums will have much lasting impact.

"I might as well talk to a wall, but at least it's on the record," said Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore mother of two and leading organizer of test boycotts on the Island.

Others were more optimistic. Representatives of statewide school organizations pointed, in particular, to the governor's recent appointment of a former Westchester school superintendent, Jere Hochman, as his chief adviser on educational issues. As schools chief in Bedford, Hochman criticized the state's teacher evaluation system for what he described as its "gotcha" approach.

"I take the selection of Jere Hochman as a sign that the governor and his senior staff wanted somebody who knows how schools work, and how state policies affect schools," said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "We have to wait to see how all this unfolds, but we're encouraged."

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