Monday, November 18, 2013

Hear Our VOICE!

Dear Member,

Thank you for your swift and diligent response to our action email last week. Our combined voices sent more than 8,000 messages to the US Secretary of Education, NYS Commissioner, Board of Regents and state legislators to lobby for a call to action with regard to implementation of the Common Core.

Moving forward, please consider attending one of the upcoming SED-sponsored forums in order to continue this important dialogue. Recent public recognition by the Commissioner that testing of our children may be too extensive and Common Core implementation can be improved provides us with a great opportunity to continue to press our overall message: SED must be more deliberate and hear the importance of a clear and consistent message that is integral to any reform. With this in mind, we are offering a new campaign CORE to take with you to the forum:
  • Value input from parents
  • Order a one-year delay
  • Implement first, test second
  • Create improved, flexible testing
  • Expand professional development
You will notice that these five key points spell out the word VOICE; this is intentional. Our PTA VOICE must be heard and easy to remember. We stand for sensible measures that will help all children and families realize the promise of the Common Core standards.

Please bear in mind that these five key points are quite concise and meant to get attention. We have outlined with greater detail what the points mean just click here to access those expanded talking points. We ask that you carefully read this information that provides more detail, so that as you talk with fellow parents, attend local or regional forums, or individually advocate for children and families, your VOICE can be heard!

Check with your superintendent or local state legislator or Regent for information regarding participation and look for changes to be posted at:

Thank you for your continued support. 

Lana Ajemian President, NYS PTA
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow! 

Click here to access more information and action tools from our website. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Town Hall Response

The purpose of the NYS PTA sponsored Town Hall meetings was to conduct a forum between members and the Commissioner of the State Education Department regarding the Common Core Initiative and its implementation in New York. This was to be an opportunity for information to be shared, for questions to be asked and facts clarified and for members to share their experiences and concerns.  

Protocol was published with the event announcements and the agenda and time sequence provided beforehand.  Knowing that emotions run high regarding Common Core implementation, adherence to a respectful exchange was requested. This was to assure a thoughtful, constructive forum that could be continued for members across the state, offering the same opportunity to meet with the Commissioner.

The support of our region directors and boards as well as our unit and council presidents of this effort was extraordinary. In order to provide a setting for the forums, they were asked to assist with the effort by reaching out to local school districts for a facility in which to host them. Understanding the importance of our intent, facilities were generously provided.

But our intent was not realized.

The purpose of the Town Hall meeting was not to hold a protest rally, nor to provide a forum for insult, personal attack, or overall disregard – this disregard was not only between the audience and the Commissioner but between audience members themselves. Some asked to be allowed to hear responses while many out-shouted their ability to do so. Despite requests by the Commissioner and NYS PTA to be courteous, disruptions continued and escalated.

Did responses to question take longer than anticipated? Yes, they did.  This part of the program ran 15 minutes beyond what was planned. But, we cannot ignore that much time was spent trying to settle the audience. 

Prior to beginning, it was agreed to extend the statement period to allow the allotted time, if the program ran behind. During the statement period the Commissioner requested to respond to some comments to clarify inaccuracies. Those commenting felt this imposed on their time. Their level of frustration was raised, precipitating more jeers and shouting from the audience and adding to an already hostile environment. It was not constructive or productive to continue. 

The decision to suspend the remaining forums was based on this experience as well as communications that there would be more of the same, yet intensified, ahead.  

Whether a program or advocacy initiative, we talk of the importance of evaluating outcomes of our efforts to determine whether we’ve met our goal -- we assess, we adjust, we regroup. The determination to conduct forums did not rest with the Region Directors, nor the local unit or council presidents. 

The forums were initiated by the collaboration of the State Education Department and NYS PTA.  However, their intended purpose cannot be achieved in similar or more contentious environments. So, rather than repeat the same, we learn from this and we regroup.  

We are now working to find an alternative for parents to both learn and share concerns regarding the Common Core Initiative and its implementation to accomplish our goal and move forward to influence change.

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!

Monday, October 7, 2013

“All Great Change Begins at the Dinner Table”…Ronald Reagan

There’s a great deal of misinformation being circulated regarding NYS PTA and the Common Core Initiative (CCI). Unfortunately, there are those who seem unable to support their stance against education reform on the merits of their case and, instead, resort to manipulation of facts. 

So, let’s set the record straight:
  • At no time has NYS PTA accepted any money, either from private or public corporate, industry or education agencies, to support the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) or assessments in our state.
  • At no time has the NYS PTA president accepted any money, either from private or public corporate, industry or education agencies, to support the CCLS or assessments.
  • At no time has there been an “edict” from NYS PTA that campaigns such as “Lace to the Top” or “Opt Out” could not be mentioned or discussed.
  • At no time has there been an “edict” that individuals cannot participate in such campaigns.
  • At no time has NYS PTA governance or its president asked for members to be silenced regarding their concerns about the CCI or its implementation.
As a Matter of Fact:
  • NYS PTA supports the CCLS and, while not perfect, recognizes the need to ensure all students graduate high school, college and career ready, and; that it is necessary to evaluate progress along the way toward meeting that goal.
  • NYS PTA continues to express concerns over NY’s implementation of and the assessments associated with the CCI. Review the joint statement Common Ground on Common Core.
  • NYS PTA favors positive, constructive collaboration with decision makers. Although NYS PTA does not support negative campaigns such as Lace to the Top or Opt Out, NYS PTA recognizes the decision to do so is an individual one.
  • NYS PTA BELIEVES its role is to provide varying platforms for parent voices. To this end:
o    A survey to more than 20,000 listserv subscribers for feedback on the CCI has been disseminated for the purpose of informing our work on behalf of our membership.
o   Survey comments were collected and delivered to both the Commissioner of Education and Chancellor of the State Board of Regents
o   NYS PTA representatives have been meeting regularly with representatives of NYS Education Dept as well as with the Regents and the governor’s office to share members’ concerns and encourage enhanced parent and family engagement in formulating and implementing education polices
o   Five 5 statewide town hall meetings are scheduled to deliver an update on the state of the CCI here in NY and to provide members an opportunity to clarify information and share concerns with NY State Education representatives.
o   NYS PTA publications and events, such as the annual Legislation Education Conference and Summer Leadership Conferences, have offered many opportunities to build understanding, ask questions and comment.
o   The Deputy Commissioner of Curriculum, Assessment and Technology will be the key note speaker at November’s annual NYS PTA convention; the Deputy Commissioner of P-12 Education plans to participate in a workshop.
  • NYS PTA BELIEVES its role is to provide information and materials for parents and members to become educated on topics and make informed choices; it is left to the individual to exercise personal choice on behalf of their child/student. 
NYS PTA supports the intent of the Common Core initiative, yet at the same time recognizes the flaws of implementation and seeks to address those flaws. Our efforts to support both students and educators adhere to our NYS PTA vision to be the premier child advocacy and parent engagement association to ensure every child reaches his/her potential. 

No, we will not rattle and rail at the gates -- for this only drowns out any chance of being heard as the rational voice of those who understand that change is inevitably accompanied by challenge. Instead we seek opportunity in change; the opportunity to provide constructive feedback from the dinner table to the school room to the state house that builds understanding and support for positive, sustainable education reform.

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Finding Common Ground

When we talk about the issues raised by the Common Core Initiative we need to distinguish between the value of the initiative and the impact of implementation, both on the intended goal and those whom we claim it will benefit.  Some say we cannot completely separate testing from educational program. Perhaps true. But, if we truly believe our goal worthy, we must also look beyond the goal itself to how we get there. And, in order to have any sustainable success, we must make every effort to examine that trajectory with an objective eye.

Many educators, administrators, business leaders and parents recognize both the need for and the value of higher learning standards. These higher standards are intended to give every child the opportunity to meet the demands of a rapidly changing, highly mobile and technical society. The goal is both necessary and laudable.  Toward this end, classroom learning and instructional delivery are undergoing significant transformation as we shift from a system of delivery and memorization of facts to a more useful, creative delivery in order to apply learning in a real world sense. A dear friend who teaches high school honors math/algebra confided that because of the need to integrate new classroom strategies and approaches, after many years in the classroom, she is once again excited about teaching.  And she’s not the only one.

Conversely, at the same time we’ve set the standards bar higher, we’ve also begun the process of assessing what rung, what level, we’re on to reach it.  And perhaps this is where we should take a deep breath, recalibrate, and climb carefully.  How can we determine whether change, i.e. reform, is successful when change is still in progress? To be fair to the integrity of the Common Core, we must be able to distinguish the need for and value of the initiative from the rush to assess whether it is fulfilling its intent. Would we critique an unfinished canvas? Similarly, to judge any new approach to learning before it is carefully and confidently assimilated into classroom curriculum and instruction undermines the excitement, the promise of its end success.

As reform evolves, marking progress is important and dynamic. Good or bad, with the release of the recent 3-8 standardized assessment scores we now have a baseline, the canvas. And, while accountability is crucial in any initiative, patience and caution in holding students or educators responsible for the outcome until they’ve developed the skills and been provided the resources necessary to be successful, is just as crucial.  Good or bad, recent test scores give us an idea of what rung we, the education community, are on in order to attain higher standards. Our students are not less-abled; our teachers are not less-abled. It’s the ladder that’s different. All these scores tell us is that there’s much to do to create solid footing for students and educators to climb it.

That said, NYS PTA has worked throughout summer as a member of the Educational Conference Board, a statewide coalition of education leaders, to identify what needs to be done to steady the ladder. We have not only come to consensus on what’s good about reform, but also what we see as the stumbling blocks to successful implementation. Constructive dialogue leads to solid solutions -- together we found Common Ground on the Common Core, a five-point plan to both address concerns and support successful, sustainable reform. From there, together we speak for every child with one voice.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Open Letter to Education Stakeholders

Dear PTA Members and Friends, 

The Learning First Alliance is a partnership of 16 education associations with more than 10 million members dedicated to improving student learning in America's public schools. Partners share their successes, encourage collaboration at every level, and work toward the continual and long-term improvement of public education based on solid research.

National PTA has signed on to the letter. While fully supportive of the the Common Core Learning Standards, New York State PTA has been collaborating with National PTA staff to seek ways to address issues arising from expedited implementation and assessments. New York State PTA supports the following Alliance letter: 

June 6, 2013


Fifteen members of the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of national education organizations representing more than ten million parents, educators and policymakers, have agreed on the following statement:

The Learning First Alliance believes that the Common Core State Standards have the potential to transform teaching and learning and provide all children with knowledge and skills necessary for success in the global community.

To meet this potential, teachers, administrators, parents and communities are working together to align the standards with curriculum, instruction and assessment. Their work – which includes providing the pre-service and professional learning opportunities educators need to effectively teach the standards, making necessary adaptations to implementation plans as work progresses and field-testing efforts to ensure proper alignment – will take time. 

Rushing to make high-stakes decisions such as student advancement or graduation, teacher evaluation, school performance designation, or state funding awards based on assessments of the Common Core standards before the standards have been fully and properly implemented is unwise. We suggest a transition period of at least one year after the original deadline in which results from assessments of these standards are used only to guide instruction and attention to curriculum development, technology infrastructure, professional learning and other resources needed to ensure that schools have the supports needed to help all students achieve under the Common Core. Removing high-stakes consequences for a short time will ensure that educators have adequate time to adjust their instruction, students focus on learning, and parents and communities focus on supporting children.

During this time, we urge a continued commitment to accountability. We recommend that states and districts continue to hold educators and schools to a high standard as determined by the components of their accountability systems that are not solely based on standardized tests, including other evidence of student learning, peer evaluations, school climate data and more. 

We have seen growing opposition to the Common Core as officials move too quickly to use assessments of the Common Core State Standards in high-stakes accountability decisions. Such actions have the potential to undermine the Common Core – and thus our opportunity to improve education for all students. We must take the necessary time to ensure we succeed in this endeavor.

Cheryl S. Williams

Executive Director
Learning First Alliance


American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE)
American Association of School Administrators (AASA)
American Association of School Personnel Administrators (AASPA)
American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)
American School Counselor Association (ASCA)
International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
Learning Forward (formerly National Staff Development Council)
National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)
National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)
National Education Association (NEA)
National School Boards Association (NSBA)
National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)
Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK)
National Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Testing Opt-Out, Just the Facts

The Issue 
School districts in New York are facing increasing numbers of requests from parents that children be allowed to “opt-out” of state standardized tests. According to the NYS Association of School Attorneys neither the law nor commissioner’s regulations provide any legal right or mechanism for students – or districts – to opt-out of required state assessments.*

Background: What is the “Opt-out” Movement?
Nationwide grassroots groups opposed to standardized testing have become politically organized in the past couple of years. On April 4-7 various groups and opt-out promoters protested at the U.S. Department of Education at an event called “Occupy DOE 2.0: The Battle for Public Schools” in Washington, D.C. Speakers encouraged parents to contact school districts and request that their children be exempted from state tests. Template letters and resources have been provided electronically for parents to use in drafting such requests. It is important that school board members and district personnel understand the arguments that parents may raise in opt out requests. And all need to understand the potential consequences if students do not take state assessments and the options a district has to ensure compliance with the law.

Federal and State Assessment Requirements Do Matter
            State governments’ testing programs are required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). While NCLB is a federal law that is expired, it is still in force. NCLB requires states to administer tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics in grades 3-8 and at least once in grades 10-12. It also requires states to administer testing in science at least once during grades 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12. The state’s accountability system requires districts to have a 95 percent participation rate in these assessments.

            The NYS Education Department’s Office of State Assessment coordinates, develops, and implements the NewYork State Testing Program (NYSTP). NY’s assessment system includes the following:
  •  grades 3-8 in ELA and mathematics
  • grades 4-8 in science
  • Regents Tests
Additionally, some students may take the:
  • New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT)
  • Language Assessment Battery-Revised (LAB-R)
  • New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA)
  • NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress - Grades 4, 8 and 12)
  • PISA ( Program for International Assessment - HS)
However, the testing primarily at issue in the opt-out movement includes testing in ELA and mathematics for Grades 3-8 and testing in science.

What Does NYS Education Department Say About Student Participation? 
Although some states have statutory opt-out provisions, New York does not. Except under specific exceptions, such as those involving students with disabilities, opting out is not permitted under state commissioner’s regulations. Steven E. Katz, SED’s director of the Office of State Assessment, addressed opting out of state tests in a six paragraph memorandum he sent to superintendents in January 2013. Katz stated:

With the exception of certain areas in which parental consent is required, such as Committee on
Special Education (CSE) evaluations for students with disabilities and certain federally-funded surveys and analyses specified under the federal Protection  of Pupil Rights Amendment (see 20 U.S.C. §1232h), there is no provision in statute or regulation allowing parents to opt their children out of state tests.

Katz also said: All schools that administer state operational tests are also required to administer the field tests associated with them.”  Despite this memo, some anti-testing advocates still contend parents have a right to have students “refuse” to take a given test. A recent blog reported that an SED official said districts “are required to place a test in front of all students who are present during the administration or make-up period.” And, that SED explained that “[s]tudents who refuse to take any or all portions of these assessments are coded as ‘999,’ or ‘not tested.’ This code is not to be used as an opt-out option for parents.” While the response contemplates the possibility of a student refusing to take a test, it does not indicate this is lawful or permissible. However, anti-testing advocates may interpret SED’s statements differently.

What Are the Potential Consequences, Really?
There are potential consequences for students and districts when students fail to participate in state testing. As mentioned earlier, in accordance with NCLB, New York State requires each district to have participation of at least 95 percent of a school as well as subgroups of students that are evaluated in the state’s accountability system. Potential consequences include:

·     If a district does not reach the required 95% level of participation, it will not make “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP), and a district’s Title I funding will be affected. There may also be intervention consequences for districts that fail to meet AYP.

Districts’ policies and procedures for determining enrollment and promotion may be triggered. A district’s procedures for promotion to the next grade and/or determinations for enrollment into honors courses/programs or gifted and talented programs may be based on a student’s level of achievement on a state assessment.
It is unknown whether student refusals to take any state assessments will be considered in the calculation of a teacher performance evaluation under APPR. Without SED guidance on these issues, districts face the unknown if a significant number of students refuse to participate in state assessments.

Educate Yourself and Others
  •      Understand the law, excuse the rhetoric. While testing is (understandably) an emotionally charged issue, know that districts have no authority to allow students to opt-out of state testing and that the district’s access to federal Title I money and accountability status would be threatened by participation below 95 percent.
  •      Request that your school district communicate its position. Ask that the district place article(s) in the district newsletter or posting on the district’s website, Facebook page or Twitter feed prior to test administration.
  •       Invite school district officials to a meeting or host a forum.  Provide an opportunity for district officials to explain the district’s responsibilities to administer state assessments. Encourage face-to-face interactions that provide for dialogue and are conducive to good relations.
  •       Understand policies regarding absences and make-up testing. While some may seek to opt-out students, others may simply keep them home on test days. Know the implications of an unexcused absence, for instance, would the district prohibit students with such unexcused absences from participating in extracurricular clubs, athletics, or other school sponsored functions (i.e., school dances, activity nights). Know that not all state assessments can be made up.
  •       Check out your student handbook. Review academic guidance documents that provide important information regarding student participation in state exams and the potential impact of non-participation on grades, promotion and enrollment.
Thank you for your advocacy!

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!

Portions of this blog have been excerpted from an article written by NYSASA

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Are We Willing to See Opportunity in Change?

Over the next two weeks, children in grades three through eight will be taking new State assessment tests based on Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one of several reforms that seem to be converging on schools all at once.  The stress of these tests along with the continual debate about the validity and use of each assessment makes it nearly impossible to separate the good from the bad and the ugly. 

As far as the Common Core initiative, let’s ask ourselves:
  • Is it beneficial for students to be able to move from zip code to zip code or state to state, without falling behind their peers? 
  • Is it beneficial to build a skill base that is applicable to real world experience and prepares our children to compete in a global economy? 
PTA believes that it is because the “Common Core” is both evidence-based and speaks directly to our mission to provide every child a level playing field in order to reach his/her potential. At a time when technology and innovation are eliminating borders between competing countries, how can we not be open to that same evolution in how we approach education reform?  

From its onset, NYS PTA members and parents have expressed their concerns regarding the CCSS initiative, such as whether there will be a narrowing of curriculum, the loss of the essence of the whole child, or the loss of academic freedom, whether it will appropriately address all abilities. Others voice concern about whether decisions are being made by those who actually know and have experience in the K-12 classroom, and about how students/educators are held accountable when many factors beyond the schoolhouse walls can and do impact student success. 

It’s been said that you have to live the questions to find the answers. While there are valid concerns regarding reform, we must also ask ourselves:
  • Is it easier to criticize change than recognize the reason for it?  
  • Is it more productive to rail against the process or to be a part of it?  
  •  How do we develop parameters to measure student growth without a starting baseline? 
  • Which is the wiser expenditure of energy: fighting to maintain what we know and what feels comfortable or opening ourselves to change and help our children and educators navigate safely, confidently through the turbulent waters? 
  • Do we want our children to be able to think creatively and globally and take advantage of the wealth of information that’s right at their fingertips?   
In the end we must acknowledge that success will be best realized by those who know how to be creative in accessing and applying that information creatively.   If this is the goal of the Common Core approach how can we not work collaboratively to verify that this is indeed what is needed, what will work, and what will best ensure that every child receives a world class education taught by world class educators? 
Change is hard and we know it often happens in the extreme.  This will be our experience under current education reform efforts -- transition is and will be anything but easy. But let’s also be realistic about how we assess where we stand at the moment. While perhaps not so in all communities, as a state and nation:

  • we are continually being faulted for falling behind the standard of our past educational achievements, especially in comparison with other economically developed countries;
  • we do have a transition problem when students, especially children of military families, transfer between locales;
  • we are providing remediation to one-third of high school graduates who are unprepared for college;
  • we are challenged by growing numbers of economically disadvantaged and non-English speaking families.

But children of every one of these populations deserve our best efforts. They deserve a level playing field that will prepare them to prosper in a global economy.  Our best efforts are not advanced by being adversarial but instead by being collaborative. Only then will we find the answers to the questions being lived.   

So, rather than seeing education reform as hard, let’s broaden our perspective to view reform as a means of opportunity and hope for every child.  While there may be flaws in the process, let’s offer solutions in place of complaints. The final question to ask ourselves:  Isn’t the potential worthy of the challenge?

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!