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Teachers' union uses ads to fight standardized tests

The state's largest teachers union is stepping up its opposition to standardized tests under the new Common Core curriculum, launching an advertising campaign that asks parents to join the fight.

New York State United Teachers, which represents more than 600,000 current and retired teachers and other professionals, is taking out full-page print and online ads this week in newspapers, including Newsday, the union said Wednesday.

The print and online campaign calls on parents to "unite in a strong pushback against the state's over-reliance on standardized testing," NYSUT said. The ads, designed as an open letter, link to a parent petition that will be shared in local districts and via social media, the union said.

The effort has a $250,000 price tag, union spokesman Carl Korn said.

"Teachers are speaking forcefully and eloquently on the harmful impact of too many tests, given too frequently and without giving teachers and schools adequate time to prepare students," said Maria Neira, NYSUT vice president.

Ken Slentz, state deputy education commissioner, said the union's characterization that students are not prepared was "unfortunate."

He and other education officials visited schools throughout the state where teachers are preparing students effectively for the exams, Slentz said. State officials communicated with districts well in advance of the new tests and provided plenty of materials for student and teacher preparation, he said.

New York, like most states, this year began to phase in classroom lessons based on Common Core academic standards, an initiative of the nation's governors and national education groups.

The new tests and the job evaluations that are tied to them are unpopular with many Long Island teachers and principals. Under a state law passed last year, teachers' job performance for the first time is being based partially on student test scores.

Education officials, including Slentz and some district administrators, have said they expect a drop in student scores because of the tests linked to the Common Core curriculum.

"If we waited another year, I'm sure that there would be a group of people who would say we are still not ready," Slentz said.

The union-sponsored ads will appear this week in weekly newspapers across the state, as well as in nearly every daily newspaper outside of New York City -- the Buffalo News, the Poughkeepsie Journal and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle in addition to Newsday. The ads also will be on newspaper blogs, Facebook and Google.

The campaign is one of several efforts by educators objecting to the new tests and the teacher evaluation system.

Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, noted that a grassroots group called New York Principals has a petition with more than 1,500 signatures opposing the teacher evaluations. A group of Long Island principals, including Burris, began that drive in fall 2011.

Burris applauded NYSUT's campaign. The new tests are more difficult, particularly for elementary and middle-school students, she said.

"Reform based on the continual testing of students is not a good way to create positive school change," she said.Two months ago, while on a visit to a Westbury school, Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. invited Long Island school leaders to voice their concerns. He attempted to defuse their opposition then.

"Change is always hard, and I think there are always anxieties in the first year," the commissioner said in a Newsday interview then. "As we work through this first year of implementation, I think anxieties will decrease."

With John Hildebrand

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