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Roger Tilles warns of 'dangerous' overemphasis on education testing

State Regent Roger Tilles leads a public Q

State Regent Roger Tilles leads a public Q & A at the Port Washington Library. (Oct. 2, 2013) Credit: Barry Sloan

One of the region's top education policymakers warned a Port Washington gathering Wednesday night that what he termed a "dangerous" overemphasis on testing threatened to undermine a statewide movement toward high-quality Common Core academic standards.

The speaker, Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the state's Board of Regents, said he supported Common Core, like most educators, because "it makes kids think."

Tilles said, however, that Core standards were becoming confused with new tests that were rushed into place in April, and were being used to rate students' achievement and teachers' job performance. He noted that hundreds of local parents had refused to let children be tested, and predicted that the opt-out movement, which he personally did not endorse, could grow in the future.

"I really don't want to see the Common Core lost, and I hear that," Tilles said. He acknowledged that his opposition to using standardized tests in rating teachers was a minority position within the 17-member Regents board.

The Regent won frequent applause from about 150 parents, school officials and others gathered at Port Washington's library for the event sponsored by Port Washington-Manhasset League of Women Voters.

Some parents questioned Tilles's endorsement of Common Core standards, however. "I don't see how he separates testing and Common Core," said Jill Mindlin, a Port Washington mother of two, who spoke with a reporter when the session ended.

Many of the Island's education leaders contend the state moved too fast in stiffening test requirements, and that this could reflect negatively on national Common Core academic standards, which have been incorporated into new test questions. Specifically, critics say teachers have not been adequately trained to deliver upgraded lessons in English and math that would have prepared students in grades 3-8 for tougher tests.

As evidence, school groups note that the State Education Department has so far provided only a fraction of planned curriculum guides, or "modules," for classroom use. A recent Nassau BOCES study found that of 53 modules planned -- 28 in English and 25 in math -- a total of 18 have been posted so far on a state website.

Results of state tests administered in April showed that more than 60 percent of the Island's students scored below proficiency, angering many parents.

"I think there is far too much standardized testing going on in classrooms," said Deborah Brooks, a Port Washington attorney and parent, who has a daughter in fourth grade. "It's a good way to make kids hate school."

State education officials assert, on the other hand, that an urgent need to boost students' academic achievement allows for no delay. New York is among the first states to enact tougher testing based on Common Core, and the rapid pace of implementation here has won praise from federal education authorities who have provided Albany with nearly $700 million in "Race to the Top" education-improvement grants.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. underlined what he viewed as the urgency of the situation during a recent visit to Dix Hills, when he cited international and national test results suggesting that even suburban New York schools that were relatively high achieving had not kept pace with schools in other advanced nations such as Japan, Germany and Canada."America's urban school districts underperform compared with their suburban counterparts," King told an audience of local school administrators. "America's suburban school districts underperform compared with their international counterparts."

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