Carmela Solomon, who has two children in the Mineola School District, is sad to say that learning is not fun for her sons anymore.
“It’s gotten better but it hasn’t been an easy couple of months and I fear the standards,” she said to about 70 concerned parents and educators at a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at Mineola Middle School. Her fear: second- and third-graders will have to go to summer school.
A panel of teachers and administrators—Assistant Superintendent Patricia Burns, Middle School Principal Matthew Gaven, Jackson Avenue School Principal Cindi Gonzalez, English language arts developer Jodi Helming and mathematics coordinator Nicole Bartone — faced parents concerned about the new state standards and testing in the “common core curriculum.” Superintendent Michael Nagler moderated the talk.
Solomon was worried about the childrens’ confidence. “If they’re struggling at this point, this much, and their confidence decreased,” she asked, “what are we doing in our classrooms to build that back up?”
Nagler said Mineola has modified curriculum to fit student needs, and that he too, is not a fan of the state assessments, although he believes in the core education.
“It’s no one’s desire to have kids upset.” Nagler said. “It’s not anyone’s intention to have anyone’s children upset about their work. I would not advocate for it if I didn’t believe the curriculum was solid.”
Mineola is currently in its second year of the new English common core curriculum and it the first year in the math.
“We’re implementing the Common Core in a different way than other school districts in the state,” Nagler said. “We’ve been planning this for three years now.”
Three years ago, Mineola adopted The Northwest Evaluation Assessment (NWEA) and the district feels is a better evaluation tool than the common core. Twelve districts on Long Island utilize the system, which analyzes state test scores to determine educational growth in students..
“I’ve been saying for three years that the state exams are flawed,” he said. “They’re new exams. They’re not reliable and won’t be reliable for several years.”
The biggest drop-off from Regents exams to common tests was in eighth-grade math this year, where Nagler had previously estimated that 92 percent passed the Regents last year, while just 25 percent passed the new test this year.
“To chase the state exams is a folly we don’t want to participate in,” Nagler said. “I believe in the standards. I believe in the curriculum that our teachers created and continue to modify.”
Mineola parent Mary Goodfellow took issue with the new standards and curriculum, calling the common core a “lemon” and found her son’s math is difficult to help him with. Her daughter will be opting out of the common core exam in June.
“Say whatever you want about scores, it doesn’t matter how much you say you’re trying to tailor this, we’re not buying it,” she said.
Mineola does not have a policy for students who opt out, according to Nagler, a tactic more families are resorting to. Opting out was a much-debated topic at the recent common core forum with State Education Commissioner John King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Nagler indicated that there could be a plan in place by January.
The state’s common core test of English rated 39.8 percent of students in Mineola “proficient.” But NWEA analysis of those state test scores, averaging across all the tested grades, found 70 percent of Mineola English students proficient.
In math, state scores showed 43.7 of Mineola math students were ‘proficient’ while NWEA counted 84.1 percent.
Nagler feels state exams are not the best indicator of student progress at present.
“It’s going to be at least three years before [the state] gets [common core] to where it should be,” said Nagler. “We need to look at something else. What is our child’s growth. That is what the NWEA tries to measure. It’s not perfect but at least we know that’s about your child…where they started in the fall and where they ended in the spring.”
Carla Malaro, who has one son in Mineola High School and another at Hampton Street said “she’s thankful for the job the school is doing” but is concerned that while learning to analyze and interpret texts and different math, her little children to skip critical fundamentals.
“At that age, I want to know that they can do the basics,” she said. “Can they tell time? Can they count money? I don’t see that.”
Jodi Helming, English language arts developer, said many kindergarten teachers shared her concerns.
The next round of testing in Mineola is the Regents exam in January. English and math assessments in third-through eighth-grade in April and May.