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Nassau superintendents: End teacher evals tied to test scores

Joseph S. Famularo, superintendent of the Bellmore Union-Free

Joseph S. Famularo, superintendent of the Bellmore Union-Free School District, speaks to Nassau County school superintendents during the Financial Forum of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents at the Leon Campo Center in Westbury on Friday, Feb., 6, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Nassau County school superintendents are asking the state to stop using student test scores to measure teachers' performance, start working on a system that requires less time devoted to testing and review the current standards.

In a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo dated Thursday, the superintendents noted "serious missteps" in the state's education reforms, especially regarding teacher evaluations, and noted they "stand firmly against the continued distortion of curriculum driven by this flawed accountability system."

"It is because of our residents' deep commitment that we feel a responsibility to protect our education system from misguided policy decisions, however well-intended they may be," read the letter signed by Lorna Lewis, president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, and Joseph Famularo, president-elect of the organization. Lewis is superintendent of the Plainview-Old Bethpage school district, and Famularo serves as superintendent in Bellmore.

They wrote that they understand the need for a system that ensures highly effective instruction, but said "the exaggerated use of student test data" undermines that goal. The letter cited position papers by the American Educational Research Association and the American Statistical Association that question such use of student test data.

Equally flawed, they said, has been the attempt to devise a rating system for the vast majority of educators who teach subjects or grade levels not associated with the state exams in English language arts and math given to students in grades three through eight.

Lewis and Famularo's letter asked for a moratorium on test scores tied to teacher evaluations. Also, they said, the state should develop a computer adaptive testing system, which will require far less time for testing, ensure academic-appropriate questions and return usable data in a timely fashion.

The council includes superintendents of Nassau County's 57 public school districts, including Nassau BOCES, with a student population of about 220,000 students, according to its website.

A state Department of Education spokesman, in a response Friday, said Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has traveled the state extensively and has spoken with parents, teachers, students and school administrators, repeatedly saying she is committed to a thorough review of the state's learning standards, assessments, and teacher and principal evaluations.

"The department has launched an extensive survey to gather public input about the standards; that survey has drawn thousands of thoughtful comments," spokesman Dennis Tompkins said. "We have made the state tests shorter, signed a contract with a new testing company that calls for greater teacher involvement in the development of the tests, and committed to advancing the use of computer-based and adaptive testing. Finally, evaluations should be about getting teachers useful feedback about what's working in their classrooms and what's not."

The governor's office did not comment Friday. Cuomo's office coordinated five simultaneous "listening sessions" across the state attended by members of the governor's appointed Common Core Task Force.

A session on Long Island, held Nov. 6 at Stony Brook University, drew many critics of Common Core.

Cuomo appointed the 15-member panel in September to conduct a review of Common Core academic standards, curriculum and exams.

The governor has directed the group to submit recommendations in December that he could choose to include in his 2016 legislative agenda.

Over the past three years, implementation of curriculums and tests aligned with the Common Core standards has spurred a growing test-boycott movement in states across the nation, with parents pulling children out of standardized tests.

Last spring, the revolt in New York was the largest in the country. More than 200,000 students in grades three through eight opted out of state tests in English language arts and mathematics in April, with about 70,000 of those students in school districts on Long Island.

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