New York Legislature to Reconsider Testing, Common Core

Published August 16, 2013

Lawmakers will review New York’s recent education reform agenda, including Common Core national education standards, in public hearings this fall.

The quality of Common Core, state assessments, and student privacy are the main issues the hearings will address after widespread public outcry largely centered on testing.

“We are holding the hearings to see if we’re getting a good bang for our buck,” said Sen. John Flanagan (R-Smithtown), chairman of the Senate’s education committee.

In New York, education policy and administration is monitored by a Board of Regents consisting of 16 members the legislature elects. In 2010 it adopted a new reform agenda in line with President Obama’s education policy priorities, centered on Common Core, student data systems, teacher and principal evaluations, and overhauling failing schools.

The relationship between the board of regents and legislature is mostly financial, with the legislature funding the board’s plans, Flanagan said.

One Test to Rule Them All
Long Island principal Carol Burris hopes she can testify at the hearings on state testing and Common Core standards. She has emerged as a public critic of both. Burris oversees South Side High School. In 2010 she was named Educator of the Year, and she was honored as New York State High School Principal of the Year in 2013. In 2012, U.S. New and World Report named South Side High School the 22nd best high school in the nation.  

Long before New York agreed to implement the upcoming national Common Core tests, Burris argued tying myriad policies to student test results harms education.

Although assessments are important tools that help educators measure what students know and what they do with information, it is unwise to use them for other things, she said.

“Test scores are used to close schools, evaluate teachers, and to retain students,” Burris said. “When that happens, you have to be careful. They can cause teacher behavioral changes [in the classroom] which [are] not in the interest of the child.”

‘Climate of Fear’
This can mean a teacher tends to focus on students whose scores will improve and boost his or her evaluation, she said. Burris says PARCC testing incorporates the dangers of high stakes testing, a system that has been proven to be inefficient.

Mother and special education teacher Jia Lee, who teaches in New York City, said she became an activist because of testing research federal and local lawmakers have ignored.

“High stakes testing has made a climate of fear in schools,” she said. “It’s all about surviving.”

Other parents joined Lee to start Change the Stakes, an organization campaigning against high-stakes testing in New York.

Privacy Concerns
Parents all over New York have also flocked to public meetings to complain about the state’s partnership with inBloom, a data-mining company partly funded by Bill Gates. The nonprofit initially partnered with eight states to use student information gained through academic tests. To date, five of the eight states have withdrawn from the partnership after public outcry over inBloom’s plans to amass data-points about millions of children, including Social Security numbers, hobbies, attitudes about school, learning disabilities, test scores, home addresses, and more.

“New York City has transferred the city’s information onto the data cloud without parents even knowing about it,” Lee said. “There is no transparency or accountability at the top.”

Mother Yvonne Gasperino, who initiated Stop Common Core in New York State, has partnered with parents in 36 of the state’s 62 counties to fight Common Core standards.

“Sen. Flanagan holding these hearings is a positive” Gasperino said. “My fear is that he will not give the opportunity to testify to both sides.”

Flanagan announced the hearings will start in the third week of September. He plans to hold four all over the state. To save time, only invited testimony will be allowed, but he says there will be opportunities for public comment as well.

“We plan to have a very solid cross-section of opinion,” Flanagan said. 

Image by Ken Lund. This article has been corrected to reflect the accurate number of states that have withdrawn from inBloom.