An Important Message from Dr. Bennardo Regarding Commissioner King's Forum


Mr. Dominic LeClaire, Ms. Lisa Brieff, and I took the opportunity last evening to attend Commissioner King's heavily publicized forum at Three Village School District. The auditorium was filled to capacity, and the student government did an excellent job moderating the discussion, but there was little new information shared. Only delegations from those school districts within Senator Flanagan's geographic region were invited to speak, but we were able to attend and follow the proceedings. The format provided a series of registered superintendents, principals, parents, and teachers with an opportunity to share their concerns and suggestions and then gave Dr. King a chance to respond. The first speaker immediately captured the essence of the collective arguments by expressing support for the overarching goals of Common Core standards and offering strong suggestions for modification. These ideas included, but were not limited to:

1.  A reduction in the frequency and length of student assessments to preserve instructional time and address exam fatigue.

2.  A modification of the Common Core implementation pace to allow for progressive mastery of content and the scaffolded development of student skills, as well as the adequate professional development and training of classroom teachers.

3.  An application for a federal No Child Left Behind waiver that would include some more realistic-paced Common Core assessment expectations for limited English proficient learners and special needs children, as well as accelerated 8th-grade Algebra students who must currently take the Regents and the 8th-grade assessment exam.

4. A temporary suspension of the linkage between Common Core student assessments and teacher APPR until the system has been more carefully studied and improved. 

While other speakers added an isolated idea or two, and there were the occasional catcalls from the audience, the foundations of the suggestions rested with slowing down the Common Core timetable to allow for more thorough teacher preparation, progressive student learning, and realistic assessment expectations, as well as a decrease in high stakes testing as both a determinant of student and teacher effectiveness. The Commissioner assured the audience that he was willing to listen to concerns and make adjustments before going on to contend that Common Core was gradually implemented over a seven-year period.  The Commissioner then purported that the abundance on testing was a federal requirement, as were the mandates regarding English language learners and special education participation. In addition, Dr. King reiterated his contention that much of the increased testing was a result of locally negotiated APPR plans and promised to work with districts to minimize the need for additional student assessments in their future plans. As you can imagine, frustration grew as audience members began to feel that responsibility for the problems were being deflected in every direction but the NYS Education Department. 

It is difficult to determine what if anything will change as a result of this most recent dialogue, but it is clear that Dr. King is hearing the public concerns. We will continue to make our opinions known at the NYS level, while maintaining a calm, contemplative approach for the sake of our students, parents, and staff.  We have great teachers, administrators, and parents who are committed to enhancing instruction and preparing our students, regardless of the political battles raging with Albany.   

As Friday's Newsday reported, the Western Suffolk BOCES Superintendent's cluster (of which South Huntington is a member) drafted a letter of moderate tone to the Commissioner, which proposed modifications that might improve the Common Core initiative. This letter came partly in response to the New York State Education Department's call for constructive feedback as an alternative to some of the more confrontational interactions and communications taking place around the state. While the 18 component superintendents certainly had differing opinions regarding content, we did agree on a letter, which included an affirmation of our general support for Common Core principles, as well as some direct suggestions regarding special education and ESL modifications, implementation of timeline restructuring, alternating administration of assessments to decrease lost instructional time, etc. To be quite honest, while we were hopeful that some of the thoughts might be considered, we did not overestimate our degree of influence in the process. Interestingly, once Newsday got hold of the letter, the suggestions drew a great deal of political, school leadership, and media attention. It is our sincere hope that the constructive tone of the communication will encourage cooperation at the state level and stimulate a much-needed move towards program modification. 

A full copy of the Western Suffolk Superintendents' letter can be viewed by clicking on the attached file below: