Letter: Ending “sit & stare” could increase opt-outs, cost Saugerties money

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

I offer the following as a private citizen:

A few years ago, Dick Iannuzzi, President of the New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT), met with Gov. Cuomo and the commissioner of education regarding “Race To the Top” (which included Common Core standards, annual assessments and teacher evaluations), with all parties in agreement.

Then, once “Race to the Top” was accepted, school districts would meet with their respective labor groups (teachers’ associations) to hammer out an agreement. In Saugerties, a committee of nine was created consisting of the following individuals: assistant superintendent, High School principal, director of special ed., and six teachers (two from junior/senior high and one from each elementary school). That committee made a recommendation that the Saugerties BoE accept the APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review), which is part of the STA contract.

APPR document, page 7, states: “NYSED has determined that a district arrives at the composite score in the following manner: (1) Twenty (20) points will come from the growth on New York State Assessments. This will come from State provided student scores comparing growth with similar past test scores. This would apply to teachers who are responsible for students who take the Grades 4-8 English language Arts (ELA) and/or Mathematics (Math) tests. This is known as the State Growth Score (SGS)”


APPR document, page 9, states: “The SGS is for teachers whose students take a State Assessment and the scores from these Assessments can compare student growth to those scores of similar test. These are teachers who teach students who take the Grades 4-8 State Assessments in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. The score is determined by the State and will be available to Principals after the State Assessments have been scored.”

On October 14, 2014, the Saugerties Board of Education voted unanimously (George Heidcamp, Tom Ham, Donald Tucker, Angie Minew, Richard Petramale, Charles Schirmer, Damion Ferraro, Flo Hyatt and Krista Barringer) to accept the recommendation of this committee to adopt the new APPR to replace the original plan, which was adopted in December 2012.

Saugerties School District has always had a greater than 97 percent participation rate in taking these tests. If too many students refuse (opt-out) and this number drops below 95 percent then the District is at risk for penalties which may include loss of state aid, and loss of local control of our schools. Programs for children may need to be cut, or local taxpayers will have to make up the difference in lost aid. This could be devastating not only to the district but taxpayers as well. When some local districts loosened their requirements as to how students could refuse the tests, the number of opt-outs increased dramatically, resulting in a “chaotic situation” and concern about the impact on funding.

I understand and respect every person’s right to protest a cause, and parents’ right to have their child refuse to take these tests, however, it puzzles me when I hear parents say that they’re opposed to the weight that the tests will carry on teachers’ evaluations, so they are “supporting the teachers by boycotting the test.” How is this beneficial to their children? I thought it was about the kids?

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said that parents who boycott the state exams are giving up their right to know how their children are doing in school. She further said, why on earth would you not want to know whether your child is on track for success in the fifth grade or success in college? Why would you not want to know how your child and your school are doing compared to other children in the district, region and state? Why would you not want to know the progress of our multi-billion dollar investment in education? Why would you not want to know whether all students are making progress, not just the lucky one? She further said, “We are not going to force kids to take the test, but we are going to continue to help students and parents understand that it is a terrible mistake to refuse the right to know.”

Bottom Line: Regardless of which side of the topic you’re on, it’s a very emotional issue. I agree wholeheartedly that there are flaws in the Common Core implementation, as well as in some of the tests, and I know that Saugerties CSD has some wonderful, dedicated teachers, but until such time that the Board of Regents changes laws and regulations, the BoE and administration have an obligation to administer the tests to all students in grades 3-8 in accordance with and in the manner prescribed by the law.

George Heidcamp

George Heidcamp is president of the Saugerties Board of Education.