Kelly, Hovey talk Common Core with Board of Education

April 28, 2014

Sen. Kevin Kelly and state Rep. DebraLee Hovey recently joined the Board of Education to discuss Common Core and other upcoming educational initiatives.
—Kait Shea photo

By Kait Shea | Monroe Courier

Common Core state standards were once again the topic of conversation at last Monday’s Board of Education meeting, where members discussed the effect of state mandates on the town’s educational system with Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-21st) and state Rep. DebraLee Hovey (R-112th).

Kicking off the dialogue was Kelly, who noted local concerns about how Common Core was implemented and asked for feedback on the issue, saying, “so that as we go and make decisions in Hartford, we’re better informed to help you do your jobs because it’s important that we both get it right for the benefit of our children.”

In reply, Superintendent of Schools James Agostine said the district had reacted to Common Core legislation “very, very appropriately” when it was first adopted in 2010 by committing itself to actualizing Common Core standards. The problem, he said, was that the initiative was rolled out so rapidly that many people could not properly distinguish among Common Core standards, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing and teacher evaluations. The SBAC is one of two multi-state consortia awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010 to develop an assessment system aligned to the Common Core state standards by the 2014-15 school year.

The fact that multiple, large transformational changes have been introduced to the district simultaneously has created a “mish-mash” in people’s minds about what is positive and what is negative about each of the programs, Agostine said. The Common Core standards, he said, are not part of the curriculum but rather what drives it. And although Monroe teachers have become comfortable with the standards and are succeeding in their implementation, it would have been a much smoother process had the initiative been rolled out on a grade-by-grade basis.

At the same time, the required testing on Common Core standards has overwhelmed many district teachers, who will be evaluated, in part, on their students’ test scores, Agostine said, which “opens up a whole different discussion.” Accordingly, he said, administrators are doing their best to be sensitive regarding how the initiatives are rolled out and managed because they recognize that teaching students must come first.

Assistant Superintendent John Battista agreed, noting that the part of the Common Core that has created the most angst has been the fact that the standards, teacher evaluations and student evaluations were all introduced at the same time. The district should be given time to get to know and understand the standards before being evaluated on them, he said.

Battista’s sentiments have been felt in many districts throughout the state, which believe rolling out Common Core over time would have been less stressful and made the evaluation process far more meaningful, Kelly said.

Jeff Seymour, president of the Monroe Education Association, said another area of concern is the amount of time it takes to prepare students for the SBAC’s electronic testing style, which is drastically different from the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT). The district opted to become a pilot in the statewide testing before it is officially rolled out in the 2014-15 school year.

Seymour, a teacher at Masuk, said he has found the test to be extremely daunting. Accordingly, he said, it seems inevitable that teachers will try to figure out what the official SBAC will look like and, whether consciously or not, start to incorporate test-taking strategies into the curriculum. Seymour’s children, who attend school in a different district, found the SBAC confusing because they were unsure of what to expect from the test and, finding that it was unlike anything they’d ever seen before, weren’t ready to deal with it, he said. Consequently, he added, if teachers are spending part of the school year preparing students for the style of test they’ll be taking, it will take away from the time necessary to meet Common Core standards.

Seymour added that he sensed many of the new educational initiatives were coming from “top-down,” causing some mistrust among teachers as to what is really being implemented. Teachers are losing confidence in what they’re doing because of confusion on many different levels, much of which is related to the SBAC test, he said.

Hovey agreed that many Common Core decisions were part of a top-down process, which has caused things to “bubble up” in Monroe and other districts within the state.

Accordingly, Hovey said, “we want to make sure that we’re doing the bidding of this community and that we feel solid with every decision we’re making when it comes to those education votes on the floor of the House.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, Agostine addressed Kelly and Hovey, saying, “Both of you taking the time to come here is a great thing because if that dialogue continues we can help shape legislation in a way that’s meaningful, I hope, in the future.”

“You couldn’t be more right that we need to have the conversation,” Kelly said. In a press release after the discussion, he added, “The Monroe school district has been preparing for these new standards for an extensive period of time. Administrators and educators are working hard, but clearly many concerns about the program remain statewide. I look forward to continuing to work with local school districts to make sure we are doing the best we can for our children.”