As state testing got underway earlier this month, an educational forum was held at the Locust Valley Library to address concerns regarding the current education reform and its implications for testing, funding, graduation requirements and teacher evaluations. Educators and parents filled the library’s community room on Wednesday, April 6, to discuss the impact and what needs to happen in order to see any change in the future.
The guest panel included Dr. Joseph Rella, superintendent of Comsewogue School District; Jeanette Deutermann, education advocate and co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) and Long Island Opt Out; Maribel Padin-Canestro, founder of Opt Out Espanol National; Bonnie Buckley, a teacher and special education advocate; and Dr. Michael Hynes, superintendent of Patchogue-Medford School District.
“What we’re doing here is the big picture; we’re fighting to keep the schools going in the way we want them to,” said Deutermann.
The opt out movement has grown over the past few years, with the number of students refusing to take the state math and ELA exams in grades 3-8 increasing every year. In Glen Cove, 43.8 percent of students opted out of the ELA exams and 50.5 percent opted out of the math exams.
Deutermann said that opting out is not an easy decision for parents to make and it is not “taking the easy way out.” By opting out, you are sending a message of more than just not taking the test.
“It isn’t just numbers; we recognize the power that these numbers represent,” said Deutermann. “These numbers represent what parents can do collectively, what teachers can do if they work together with parents. That translates into action from legislators.”
Rella said with public schools receiving less state aid and having less of an opportunity to gain revenue through taxes, the conversation has shifted from the educational agenda to a political agenda. He said that a crisis in public education was manufactured in order to ultimately dismantle and privatize public education and turn over power to the people who manufactured the crisis.
“What’s happened as a result of this whole initiative is that local control is gone,” Rella said.“The tests were designed to have massive numbers of children fail each year.”
He said the underlying reason for this education reform is money and addressed the fact that the tests can have a negative emotional impact on students because they will internalize a negative score, not understanding that the tests do not really mean anything.
“We’re losing a generation of students here,” Rella said. “The political agenda has so corrupted the educational agenda that it has rendered it worthless now. Whatever good there might have been in the original plan has been poisoned to death. We’ve got to throw it out.”
He said the number of opt outs is making the state crazy.
“We’ve got to pressure them,” said Rella. “It’s time to bring the legislators to a ‘come to God’ moment because the people have clearly spoken.”
“Describing how harmful the Common Core standards can be to someone who is not familiar can be time consuming and exhausting because this is not about one problem or one group of students; there are so many things that are wrong on so many different levels. This is about every child that is being educated in public schools,” said Padin-Canestro. “We support tests that are useful…but students should not take tests that are designed to unfairly rate teachers.”
Buckley, a teacher who administered the ELA exams earlier that day, spoke about her daughter, who is a junior in high school and has a learning disability.
“If she was in a testing grade, I would never allow her to sit for these exams,” said Buckley. “Stop feeding the machine; if any of you are in doubt, don’t do it.”
The forum was hosted by Locust Valley Schools Employees Association, Locust Valley Community Members for Smarter Education, Glen Cove Teachers Association, North Shore Teachers Association, North Shore Parent Action Committee, Glen Cove Parents for Common Sense Education, NYSAPE and Long Island Opt Out.