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State education commissioner discusses Common Core at forum in Jamestown

JAMESTOWN – Parents troubled by a series of changes in public school education – from tougher state tests to an overhaul of curriculum standards – had a chance to make their voices heard tonight when State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. was speaking at a forum at Jamestown High School.

The auditorium appeared to be about half-full with around 600 people in attendance.

Among the topics slated for discussion were the Common Core standards, which have come under fire recently.

“We’re committed to the Common Core,” King said to a group of reporters before the forum, “because we know that it’s a path to having more of our students prepared for college and career success.”

Chancellor Emeritus Robert Bennett, who joined King at the forum, noted the current degree of public interest in education. “I would say to you unequivocally that the attention on public education currently is unprecedented,” he said.

King agreed. “We may not always agree on every issue as a community, but I hope that we will have a constructive discourse,” King said. “And I want you to know what we are listening.”

However, he said, education officials are “unwavering” in their commitment to the Common Core. He said state education officials are making adjustments.

Both King and Bennett said a similar forum in the Buffalo area is in the works, and King said he hopes to announce details soon. A group of Buffalo parents and teachers concerned about the new tests had chartered two buses to tonight’s forum in Jamestown.

Andrew Ludwig, a parent and a principal in a public school, said he has heard many concerns from parents and students about testing.

“You nod your heads, sometimes you smile, but I’m not sure you’re really listening,” Ludwig told King and Bennett.

Chris Cerrone, a Springville parent and a Hamburg teacher who has been active in anti-testing advocacy, said that his fifth-grade student’s schedule recently changed to increased English Language Arts instruction. The change, he said, was driven by “test scores and test preps.”

“You can blame it on the school districts all you want,” Cerrone said. “It’s the high stakes nature.”

Kimberly Moritz, superintendent of the Randolph Central School District, offered King some support: “Your agenda has helped us accomplish more.”

Bobbie Jo Carlson, a special education teacher who said she spoke to King as a parent, described her six-year-old son’s “zest for learning.” Last year, she said, he brought home creative work almost every night.

“This year, he has brought home zero handmade creative pieces of work from his school,” Carlson said.

She ended her remarks by telling King that her kindergarten son was doing test prep in school.

“My child is not a test score,” Carlson said.

King, in his response, deflected the notion that the Common Core standards squeeze out creative work and said that districts make decisions about how class time is used and how instruction is approached.

In response to concerns about a new data portal that will use a nonprofit group to process student data, the commissioner noted that the state has had its own statewide data system for more than a decade.

“Student’s personal information is not released,” King said. It is only released to those that have educational purpose to use it, he said.

King also addressed the pace at which the state has implemented assessments aligned with the Common Core. New York is among the first to give the Common Core-aligned tests in some grades. He said educators in other states have complained that they are teaching to the new standards, but still testing based on the old standards.

“Every state has this choice about when to switch to the assessments so that the instruction and the assessments align,” King said.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are holding their own meetings to hear concerns. School boards have called on the state to scale back standardized testing, and superintendents have spoken out about the pace at which change has been thrown at schools.

Some parent groups have joined teachers unions in calling for the resignation of the state education commissioner. Other parents are working to exert pressure on state lawmakers who appoint top education officials.


News Staff Reporter Denise Jewell Gee was reporting from Jamestown.