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Potsdam school board hears common core concerns again

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POTSDAM - While 46 states across the U.S, have adopted the Common Core, New York is the only state to devise lessons plans that correspond with the curriculum.

While the intent may have been worthwhile, board of education member Frederick C. Stone Jr. said he’s worried that teachers are being stripped of their creativity, as many of them are afraid to stray from what essentially amounts out to be scripted lesson plans.

Cassidy Mattimore, who operates the district’s teacher center, said that while they lessons may appear to be scripts, teachers can and should use them as guides, rather than scripts.

“At first teachers read it and say, ‘This is a script,” she said., “It’s more of a professional development guide.”

While some teachers may need the scripts, Ms. Mattimore said in her opinion the teachers at Potsdam have the ability to adapt lessons plans while inserting their own creative touches and still teaching the material required.

“Not all districts have teachers as qualified as ours. Some of them need the scripts,” she said.

Calling the modules “corporate driven lesson plans,” Mr. Stone said he agreed with Ms. Mattimore and said teachers sticking by the plans are being stripped of their greatest asset - their creativity.

“The students are losing, the district is losing, the teachers and parents are losing and the community is losing,” he said.

Board of education member J. Patrick Turbett said the implementation of the Common Core and the new tests that come along with it remind him a plaque that used to hang in his father’s office.

“It said, ‘One test is worth a thousand expert opinions,’” he recalled, noting that the state education department is saying the curriculum and exams for the Common Core were written by education experts,

“It seems like we have 1,000 expert opinions, but no test. Have these been tested?” he asked, to which Mr. Stone replied, “Our students are the test.”

Board of education member Rachel Wallace also voiced displeasure with the new curriculum.

“I don’t even know where to start, honestly,” she said. “The kids are stressed out about it,because the teachers are already stressed out about it.”

She continued, “The thing I’m hearing from parents is they can’t even help their kids with their homework and these are really professional people who know how to do math.”

Board President Christopher C. Cowen said that is something he’s personally encountered himself, while trying to help his own children.

“I’ve seen my kid’s homework and it’s not that I can’t do the problem, but I don’t know what they’re asking,” he said, adding teachers using the worksheets provided by the state are distributing homework assignments that often contain errors.

“There’s at least one error per night,” he said. “It’s corporate driven instruction that they were pumping out to try and meet a deadline.”

Leading up to this week’s meeting, Mr. Cowen said he spoke with teachers and even administrators from other districts.

“We all have a problem here,” he said. “I was in the middle school today and talking to a very reputable teacher who is only about halfway of where they should be.”

He then gave the analogy of building a house from the roof down, as he believes the Common Core is doing.

“How can you expect third graders to be learning stuff when they haven’t been doing this for the first three years?” he asked.

Superintendent Patrick H. Brady agreed that the Common Core could have been implemented in a better manner.

“They could have put off the core for a year. They should have put off the core for a year,” he said, adding things are bound to get better.

“From what I’ve seen in other states achievement initially goes down, but as people get used to it, achievement goes back up.”

Mr. Brady also noted that while statistics make it appear that achievement went way down with the implementation of Common Core testing last year, if the scores required to pass were not raised, data shows that student achievement across the state actually increased.

Maureen Moose, who is involved in the district’s PTSA, shared concerns she said many parents have.

“Parents feel like this has been dropped on them like a bombshell,” she said before reading from a prepared statement.

The goal of having every high school graduate be prepared for the rigors of adult life is a reasonable goal. Improving the standards of failing schools is a reasonable goal, but somewhere along the way to achieving these reasonable goals we have lost sight of the fact that not all children reach linguistic and developmental milestones at the same rate,” she said.

“As parents and educators, we all know that tasks simple for one child may require substantial effort and time for another child to master. Requiring all students to master the same task within the same time frame is unreasonable.”

Ms. Moose continued, “Is a school system that cares about meeting standards more than they care about the growth of individuals really what we want for our children? It certainly isn’t what I want for mine.”

Mr. Brady said the concerns expressed by Ms. Moose, as well as board members who have children in school have been heard, and he’s planning on holding a parent information night at some point in the near future.

“What I would like to do is have a parent’s night, where we could talk to them and provide some support for them,” he said, adding that he felt it was important for the district to be “immersed in it” prior to holding an information night.

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