Common Core, state tests changing because of protests

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For people who believe protests fall on deaf ears, here is some good news — changes are now being made to the new Common Core and State tests assessment standards. The changes are believed to have come about due to protests throughout the state where students showed up for, but refused to take State tests. At the Onteora Central School District Board of Education meeting October 18 at Phoenicia Primary School, Superintendent Bruce Watson presented the New York State Education Commissioner’s report with the recommended changes. “This came out of what they heard out of schools and towns when the standards and testing were introduced,” Watson said, “and they’re committed to make this a worthwhile assessment event.” Committees were formed of teachers, administrators, parents, and people in higher education who reviewed the standards. The outcome will affect 60 percent of ELA (English Language Arts) standards, and 85 percent of math standards. Oversight will continue with educators. “So I think in the beginning when people were angry with this and those who said ‘we’re not gonna participate,’ I think they had a pretty good reason,” said Watson. New York State was granted a Federal waiver, “until they retool their parameters…” said Watson, “…and this is a good thing.” The State targets a submission of new Math and ELA standards by March 2017.

Watson said, “There are no changes to the 2016/17 standards, so this year the teachers are teaching what they know and there is no major change.” Teacher assessments tied to student performance have been put on the back burner for now. “It takes a lot of stress away from the teachers and I agree with this…it shouldn’t be there,” he said.

The curriculum stays local, Watson said, however it must align with standards to the Common Core, “so we have local control. It’s up to us to do a great job with our curriculum…” During a recent Superintendent Conference day, teachers worked in teams, reviewed the new standards, and suggestions for changes were sent to the State Department of Education. “As a district we had input, which is great and our teachers gave input,” said Watson. In 2018, grades three-through-eight will be given new exams with all test questions written and reviewed by educators. Watson warned that Computer Based Testing (DBT) is coming soon and it’s time to prepare. Districts can volunteer to use the new system-for now, however it will eventually be mandated.

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In other news…

Trustee Valerie Storey asked if there could be a parent and student survey regarding homework. She explained that when reading the Bennett Intermediate School parents handbook, she discovered that students in grade-four are required to have 60 minutes of homework, and grades five-and-six, 75 minutes of homework nightly. “I’d really like us to look at our homework, is it appropriate, 75 minutes for a fifth-and-sixth grader…That is a lot of time that they have to do homework.” Storey said this was discussed in the past, but pointed to more media information she said is coming out that is beginning to show that homework does not always have a positive benefit for students. Trustee Laurie Osmond agreed and added that students at the Middle/High School level should also be included because homework is often given on weekends and over holidays.

School Board President Bobbi Schnell will be taking a leave of absence for two months due to a family emergency. Vice President Kevin Salem will be taking over for her in the interim and the board will select a Vice President at some point in the near future.

The Onteora School District is hosting a second drug forum on October 25, with a presentation by Ken Bartolo at 7 p.m. in the High School Auditorium. Titled, There And Back, Bartolo, a former professional Lacrosse and college football player, will speak of his life’s journey including prison and overcoming 27 years of addiction. Additionally from 6 p.m.-7 p.m. and 8 p.m.-9 p.m. several local agencies will be on hand for an information fair, including the Ulster Prevention Counsel, Ulster County Suicide Prevention Coalition, Rt. 212 Coalition, and Family of Woodstock. This event is free and for more information about Ken Bartolo, see kenbartolothereandback.com.

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