LIVE BLOG: Common Core Forum in Rockville Centre

Check back for live updates from Thursday night's forum at South Side Middle School.

Hundreds of parents and educators gathered at South Side Middle School Thursday night for a Common Core forum.

Check back here for live updates from the forum.

7:49 p.m. Superintendent William Johnson reviews State Testing

"[Recent standardized tests] were far longer than they needed to be, they were unnecessarily complicated. There was confusion on why children got answers wrong," said Johnson. "When the data arrived on our doorstep... we had a minimal amount of information to review in detail in order to modify our instruction and curriculum."

There was no reason to believe the scores they got were reasonably representative of child's learning.

Many teachers who are teaching the new curriculum are struggling, realizing it is inappropriate for that developmental level.

7:59 p.m. We are continuing to develop plans that we are working out and sharing with you [parents]. We will invite parents to notify us that they are opting out but are still working out activities for those students. Schools are working to ensure something meaningful for them to do and with proper supervision.

8:01 p.m. Data sharing on InBloom
The issue is simple. We have data connected to your children, the state collects data, we collect it, keep it in our district, said Johnson. The state this year decided to collect an array of information that is "at best incidental." How important is attendance data, and a student who is absent for any number of reasons, the information goes to the state. The issue is keeping information guarded.

We are very sensitive to that. We have done everything we can and address legislators. Regents agreed to hold off for three months, but the war is not over in this and we should not pull back. - Johnson

8:05 p.m. Audience Q&A Begins

Jack Dalty - I agree essentially with everything Dr. Johnson said, but I have other considerations. RVC ranks very high in the country, has IBM program, so when I looked at the scores, I looked at RVC as a prestigious district, but when compared with other districts, I was surprised. Garden City scored substantially higher than us in every category. They spend a little less than us per student, per district. They do not have an IBM program. They are not listed in top 100 in country. What's going on? Maybe we ought to find out what they're doing.

From a money point of view, we pay high taxes for schools in Nassau County. Wantagh scores were the same but their budget is $20 million less than ours.

8:09 p.m. Johnson responds that one thing to know is that we had a substantial number of opt outs last year. We don't believe scores were representative of what we did. We have alternative information. We could sit here and compare with other districts, but I try to stay out of that. Our population here is different from Wantagh or Garden City. We have plenty of information to suggest we are successful at what we do... When our students to go to college, we are very proud of what they do when they leave. While we believe exams are important, they aren't a "hallmark" of what we do.

8:13 p.m. Resident acknowledges the confusion. I have a masters plus 33 credits and I can't help my fifth grade daughter with math. How responsive is the state to our concerns? Is it set in stone?

Johnson responds that while the Regents board has been responsive, there are times they consider me a fly in the proverbial ointment. Some believe opponents to be "crackpots" who don't fully understand the common core, but we don't believe that. 

Math teacher Kristi Bonino adds that if as a parent, you feel you can't help your student and the child can't understand it either, write a note to that teacher and they can reevaluate it. While parents are trying to help with simpler or clearer methods, the children are learning the many different ways their minds can act as a calculator.

8:22 p.m. Johnson adds, If we have parents who don't fully understand this, we're introducing concepts to children that are foreign to parents and we need to share that information with parents.

8:27 p.m. Assistant Superintendant Christopher Pellettieri adds that some online modules now offer videos so parents are able to follow along as well. We are trying to adjust and react by offering these resources on parent pages.

8:30 p.m. Parent asks about testing: Has there been discussion on replacing Common Core tests with NWEA tests? If we have discretion in what we teach, do we have discretion in what tests they take?

Johnson responds that algebra is a unique situation. This is the first and only time we'll have the opportunity to give students a choice between algebra exams. Our students will take both. The more familiar you get, the better they were. Tests were given at the same time teachers were learning how to do it. What we are ensuring is that eighth graders are taking both exams, but we will still have most of our students eligible to move on in math.

Pelletieri adds No Child Left Behind requires the state to use the same test to evaluate everyone. We would like to use NWEA, but we can't. We got Commissioner King to take the NWEA exam in Rockville Centre to show him that it is a positive experience and test. We would like to use NWEA as a 3-8 assessment, but we are not permitted to do that.

8:39 p.m. A parent reiterates frustration at not being able to help their students with homework. My daughter who could add great now has problems with math. I think the majority of parents feel the same way, that our kids are lacking infromation. Our teachers are doing phenomenal jobs, but they are in larger classrooms, and things are progressing to quickly before they can even get the fundamentals down.

We really need to take a stand, not against our school district, but against our state. Our teachers went to college to teach our kids. They're now being told everything you went to school for, just throw it our the window. You have to relearn everything you did, understand it, and teach it. I think parents need to get out there and opt out.

Johnson responds that there was no transition plan that went into place. Most of us who have worked on implementation have taken more than a single year to do it. I understand the frustration, we live with the same frustration. We need to better communicate with you, and much of it needs to be face-to-face.

8:46 p.m. A father of three asks what the administration's position is on should our children be participating in state tests or should they be opting out? Our sixth grader's perception was that friends were opting out. Called school to get position on it. It felt like the school was punting the issue back on the parents. We rely on the administration for guidance.

Johnson responds: I'm pained by the position the state has put me in. Exams used this year and last year understand that I think we need to redesign the tests. They are not properly assessing students or yielding data to make us better. However, I am still a state official and I swear every year to uphold the NYS Constitution. It's my obligation under the law to administer the test. Children have a choice. I can support the choice the children have, but there are places that have said you are insubordinate for opting out. We have tried to honor the will of the parents and not put children in the middle. We asked parents to communicate their wishes and we will honor their choices. This year, we are working on a logistical plan on separating the children who opted out.

I can tell you what I feel about the tests and that I work day and night to change these exams...But I have an obligation to uphold the law. Children shouldn't feel that they are doing something wrong by not taking it and we are trying to honor the rights of a child who doesn't take the exam.

A child who doesn't take an exam doesn't get a score. When we don't have a score, we can't do anything with the information. We use NWEA data as a replacement. If they don't get a score, the state won't take away aid or federal funding.

8:56 p.m. A parent asks are we under a mandate to administer a practice test? I find it to be a time suck for a test we don't value.

Principal Darren Raymar agrees, it does not have to be a practice test, the practice can be in the classroom and in instruction.

Johnson adds that the practice is embedded in curriculum. We need to get information that the kids have learned something. We are fools if we don't take exam questions and embed them into curriculum.

Principal Shelagh McGinn adds that we get numbers now but we don't know what it means. It used to be that we could ask why a class got a particular question wrong. Teachers are now using questions that were used on the ELA, taking the data to inform instruction. They did not sit for a 90-minute test.

Raymar adds we are not doing strict test prep, but rather implementing skills and strategies the kids need.

9:01 p.m Is there a grade that is particularly disadvantaged? If so, are there plans to bring those kids up?

Johnson responds that it is the current eighth grade. We did the best we possibly could to make sure our kids won't be hurt. Kids still have to go into common core geometry and we are prepping that course.

Parent responds that the sixth and seventh grade is also at a disadvantage given when changes went through. What are we doing to catch kids up?

McGinn responds that we reallocated resources, created double periods of ELA out of what was once a double social studies. We put it in place last year, it's here this year, and we plan to keep it.

Johnson adds that virtually everybody but kindergarten should have had at least a year of preparation. An entire generation is at somewhat of a disadvantage because of how it was implemented. I think the best thing would be for the state to back away from the test for now. Some of the people who wrote these things were not particularly knowledgable in early childhood education.

9:06 p.m. I have three middle school children. Why is it that every kid is being forced to learn the same curriculum? I can't spend two hours every night looking at a website. I can't be the only one in this situation.

McGinn responds that every student is an individual. We need to continue to have meetings and to anyone with those feelings, please give your guidance counselor a call and have a conversation.

Parent responds that when I went to back to school night and said the math wasn't on that level, why isn't there a class for children who aren't as up to speed.

Johnson responds we've been successful at providing differentiated instruction. One of the fault lines in common core math is just that, there are a lot of things presented as unnecessarily difficult and complicated and over time, there needs to be a change. One of the real problems is that it is unnecessarily problematic for children who, under the old system, would do very well.

Noreen Leahy adds that we are being forced to put all kids in the same group, which is a positive thing because now these children are no longer sidelined if they are struggling. These are things we need to have in place so special needs students don't fall behind. RVC has been committed to educating all kids and having high expectations for all kids way before Common Core. I don't think the answer is excluding children and giving them a different curriculum.

9:15 p.m. Father of two RVC kids says I'm concerned that this meeting that is so well attended, how many of us know that Common Core is not a law, but a regulation. Not one state legislature has approved it. We're the voters, we didn't decide on Common Core. The ELA curriculum leaves a lot to be desired. I think we need to come together to decide not to let regulators impose this and tell them this is not good enough.

Johnson responds that legislators have had meetings and may get involved in the implementation of it.

9:17 p.m. Question: is there a disadvantage to a child who opts out? If enough parents decide they don't agree, will that have the ripple effect we hope for? Who is making this test and why don't we get the data to use constructively? Can we impact that?

Johnson: Children have no consequences for opting out in this district. If they opt out of eighth grade algebra, they won't get a grade to help graduate, but when they count toward graduation, I would suggest taking them.

If the state has nobody sitting for their exams, what happens? If the state doesn't have enough people taking the exams, what happens? There is no will by the state to substantially change the exam until or unless 1. the legislators get convinced that they need to get involved, and 2. if parents speak loudly with their feet and their children with their pencils, then the state will have to respond.

In many districts, there are consequences, they are not eligible for honors classes, etc. This test isn't a valid measurement of anything.

Why is the state doing something for $150 million for something that should cost $10 million? Pearson is making tens of millions of dollars, we're spending money on something that doesn't benefit us. I'm more concerned now about children being tested unnecessarily and being discouraged.

9:26 p.m. Parent: If the school won't be penalized with federal funding, I have friends in different districts who are being told the opposite and being told we'd lose public funding. I believe you, but we seem to be the minority.

Johnson: We are. Their taxes may go up but not because they are losing state aid. NYC was denied state aid for a year and still got it at the end of the year. I have an obligation, if I broke the law, I could put the district in harm's way and we could lose state aid. But I'm not breaking the law and I'm not encouraging anyone to break the law, so what happens when children exercise their right not to take the exam? There's a category for us to ID a child who didn't take an exam, so they recognize that children will opt out. Exercising their right not to is going to be honored by this district and nothing happened to us. We're still here. We didn't lose aid. We didn't get a letter telling us you're bad. Why put parents in the position to file a class action suit for forcing their children into something?

I will continue to uphold the laws of this state but I will also protect the rights of our children.

9:31 p.m. We are embedded into the lives of your children. The opportunities your children have enhance their humanity, to encourage them to participate in the world as artists, to get involved in office. We work to get them college ready but what does that mean? It means they are a full human being.

9:33 p.m. Parent asks What data is required to be turned over? Why do we turn it over? Can parents opt out of turning over information to the state? What are the guarantees that they won't sell that data?

Data Coordinator Donald Chung responds that we provide some information but nothing the state doesn't ask for. We still must provide the state with the data. My question about InBloom is that it's basically a parent portal. I don't understand why RVC data has to go into a cloud for you to access it. You can access it now. There's no reason for a student's disability to be out there, modifications to be out there. There have been questions regarding parent information, addresses, emails. We haven't provided it but it is on the table for them to ask for it.

Johnson encourages people to contact legislators and tell them how you feel about it.

AIS and reading teacher Michelle DiMartino: No child is defined by any assessment. We believe in multiple measures and we have access to multiple forms of data. So the tests, whether your child takes it or not, we have enough information to tell if a child is progressing and meeting their goals.

Johnson: It's a human issue, not a testing issue. We look through the eyes of a variety of teachers to get to know these children and put together programs that make sense for them. Test data is part of that but it's only one part.

9:42 p.m Johnson: We are doing everything we can to subvert InBloom, we did not choose a dashboard. 

9:45 p.m. Johnson: The state copped out and created a module. They should have written a curriculum but instead wrote modules which are basically prescriptions of things to be done in the classroom. The state has adopted Common Core. We have no choice but to implement it. We write the curriculum.

9:47 p.m. Parent comments: Please bring questions to PTA meetings and Board of Ed meetings. 

9:49 p.m. I was concerned that my kids were worried their teachers would lose their jobs. This is a guinea pig period and there is a lot at stake.

Johnson on using test data to evaluate teachers: I think it's a poor way of utilizing state test data. The added pressure we're putting on teachers is effecting children. I'm hoping it doesn't in RVC. We've written a plan where it's nice to have that info but we don't need it and they can feel comfortable and confident that we won't misuse bad test data. 

We could spend the whole night talking about the evaluations. Evaluations have been a critical component for us. It teaches us how to teach our teachers and how to help them improve with responsibility on the teachers. Every time we raise that bar, they have made it. I am embarrassed with the way the state has misused data that should be used to help children. We believe in accountability and in evaluation but also in improvement and we've learned over the years how to make it a better system.

9:53 p.m. Johnson concludes forum

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