By Anya Tikka
FALLSBURG New York State Commissioner of Education Dr. John B. King, Jr. faced some challenging questions from the educators on his visit to Sullivan County last Tuesday.
The state ed chief was at Fallsburg HS at the request of the county’s School Boards Association to present the new New York State regulations regarding student testing and school reform.
Accompanied by the Deputy Commissioner Ken Slanz and the New York Board of Regents member James O. Jackson, Dr. King first gave statistics about the existing state of education in the state and in Sullivan County, then went on to outline the steps the state is taking to correct the problems, and finally answered questions from the audience, with District Superintendent Larry Thomas moderating.
Dr. King said New York State has a 73 percent graduation rate, and the county 72 percent, emphasizing, “We have to do better to succeed globally… We have to have college- and career-ready high school graduates.”
In order to do this, he added, “We have to raise our expectations.”
This in turns means taking concrete, measurable steps, and the process has to be data driven. The answer? It’s called the Common Core State Standards that involve both reeducating educators, and continuous assessment of students in the form of testing. The program was adopted in 2010, and continues to be developed and implemented. It has already been adopted by 47 states and the District of Columbia.
The program involves changing of institutions, and improving skill sets by coaching principals and teachers in a continuing professional development, explained Dr. King.
It also means, for example, in math, the emphasis has to be to teach conceptual understanding, so students go out ready to practice and apply their knowledge in real life situations. The program is based on principals driving teacher effectiveness, and that also means principals need to get into the class room. Superintendents have huge challenges, Dr. King went on to say. Assistant Commissioner Slanz added, “Efficient use of time is important… allowing principals to be in the classroom. We need systemic professional development.”
King stressed the importance of harnessing technology in the education system, because it’s everywhere in today’s society. Five-year olds with iPods and the knowledge of technology that didn’t exist when their teachers were young have difficulties in preserving the relationship of teacher and student that can be corrected by adopting more use of technology by the schools, he said.
Dr. King explained the need for Standardized Testing, saying that there hasn’t been adequate data about the real results of the schools.
“We had found that schools did not report correctly. Some left out sub-group results, and some pushed through underperforming students to graduate, in order to stay on the ‘good school’ list,” King said.
An educator from the audience asked, “Is this in the best interest of the child? The kids are tested after two days from coming back from vacation. I believe it’s not in the best interest of the child.” Many in the audience applauded.
Dr. King, looking a little surprised, said, “We may ultimately have to agree to disagree.” He explained that in his opinion it was in the long term best interest of the child, saying that tests are necessary tools, testing real life readiness to perform in careers and colleges.
Another educator from the audience raised questions about the resources available to reorganize in today’s economy, and King acknowledged it’s a tough question.
“If we stay in our current projections, it will get worse,” he said. “In five years, there’s going to be a $25 billion gap between what’s needed and what can be done.” He went on to say, “How can we NOT afford to do this.”
Regent Jackson added, “There’s no perfect way to do this, but we need to set the course.”
The three presenters agreed that the education system is facing very tough challenges, and said the Regent’s tests in January 2012 were going to be canceled due to lack of funds, until a group of philanthropists got together and gave the state $1.5 million for the tests. But no one knows what’s going to happen next year.
Monticello Superintendent of Schools Daniel A. Teplesky asked if it’s fair to third graders who are 8 years old to sit for 70 minutes in multiple-choice tests.
Dr. King said an e-mail was sent out by mistake stating the 70 minutes, but the test time for the younger grades would be less than 70 minutes.
He added that there’s a need for accurate data, and non-multiple tests can produce false reads, but also said that already more writing has been added to tests.
Slanz agreed, “We have to find balance.”
Although the meeting was open to the public, the auditorium was only about one third full, mostly with school administrators and teachers.
More information about the program is available at engageny.org.