GN school board blasts state testing demands

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The Great Neck School Board passed a resolution decrying what trustees described as the state’s overemphasis on standardized testing to the applause of gathered parents at Monday night’s board meeting.

Board president Barbara Berkowitz read out the statement, which criticized policy makers in Albany for focusing on testing to the detriment of students’ educations.

“The growing reliance on and mismanagement of standardized testing is eroding student learning time, narrowing the curriculum and jeopardizing the rich, meaningful education our students need and deserve,” read Berkowitz.

The resolution also alleged that tests based on the state’s newly approved Common Core learning standards were counterproductive, as the standards have not yet been fully implemented, and criticized testing as not accurately reflecting the performance of disabled students and non-native English speakers.

“The state’s over reliance on standardized testing is adversely affecting students across all spectrums and the morale of our educators, and is further draining already scarce resources,” Berkowitz continued.

Berkowitz called on policy makers, including state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) and state Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck) to work to reduce the use of testing and adopt a more holistic approach to evaluating students.

The state redesigned its grade 3 through 8 assessments for this past school year to conform to the Common Core standards – a set of guidelines, adopted by 45 states and passed in New York in 2011, that proponents say will increase academic rigor and college readiness for students.

The testing associated with the new standards is necessary to accurately measure performance and reduce achievement gaps among students, according to a March 2013 memo sent to school board and administrators by the state Department of Education.

“Assessing what students know and can do with the same tests under standardized conditions throughout the State is a necessary supplement to what great teachers do every day in their classroom,” wrote the department in the memo. “Statewide assessment results are the only way to provide comprehensive information on whether all students in New York State are achieving equally high standards.”

The Common Core standards are designed to increase the real-world applicability of classroom teaching as well as raising the academic bar for students, according to the department.

“The Common Core demands significant shifts in the way we teach,” wrote the department. “Each teacher must adopt these shifts so that students remain on track toward success in college and careers.”

The first round of Common Core testing in April sparked protests and boycotts across New York, with opponents alleging that the tests took educational authority away from local teachers and placed it in the hands of politicians seeking new ways of evaluating school and teacher performance. 

According to a CBS New York report, parents in Rockville Center, Oceanside, Middle County and other districts have boycotted the tests.

Berkowitz said that the district supports the Common Core standards, but not the way in which testing has been implemented.

“It just blows my mind that the board of regents could advocate for this policy,” said Trustee Donald Ashkenase, calling the testing “damaging.”

Also at the meeting, Great Neck Superintendent of Schools Tom Dolan laid out a plan to transfer $2.26 million in retirement reserve funds to a new reserve in anticipation of the ending of the county’s guarantee to pay for the district’s annual tax refunds. 

The funds, which will be put to a vote at a public meeting June 17, was accounted for in the district’s recently passed budget, but the board placed the money in the retirement fund as it could not create the tax refund reserve before knowing tax rolls were finalized, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business John Powell.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has defended his administration’s efforts to end the county guarantee, which places responsibility for school and special district tax refunds on the books of the county – a practice that has contributed to the hundreds of millions in unpaid refunds owed to commercial taxpayers. 

Mangano backed a law revoking the guarantee, which survived a first court challenge by schools and districts but was overturned on appeal. The county is currently challenging the decision made on the appeal

“We are very very hopeful that the most recent decision will be upheld by the highest court in the state of New York, but nonetheless we now have an opportunity to establish a reserve for that amount that is a part of the 2013-2014 school budget,” Dolan said.

The $2.26 million transfer would cover one year’s refund liability for the district, according to Dolan.

School officials have said that shifting refund responsibility would strain school budgets for errors made by the county’s assessment system. Mangano has said much of the fears over the change are driven by misinformation, and stressed that schools would only pay for future refunds, not existing debt.

Mangano told Blank Slate Media in an April interview the change would convince school districts to help the county lobby Albany to change state law to fix the county’s assessment system and reduce future liabilities.

Powell said the reserve is being created as a contingency plan in case the county’s appeal is successful and the law is reinstated.

“To be conservative and to prepare the district for the possible payment of these refunds, we are planning to establish this reserve,” Powell said.

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