Monday, December 5, 2016

After the Election: An Opportunity for Teachable Moments

The 2016 Presidential campaign was the most negative, divisive campaign in recent memory.  The winning candidate openly threatened groups of individuals based on religious affiliation, race, sexual orientation, immigrant status, and other perceived differences.  Citizens of all ages have been troubled by the demonstrated intolerance as well as real and potential threats to these groups.   Even as the campaign ended the election elicited not just hateful words but emboldened discriminatory and extremist groups and individuals to target racial, ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants and others.  All of these angry, threatening rhetorical and actual racist, bigoted acts have contributed to a climate of uncertainty and anxiety among Americans who fear that this movement will impose and normalize intolerant and hate-motivated behaviors against vulnerable populations.   Children are foremost among those who are most vulnerable.  

In April 2016, during the height of the campaign, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a 45 year old organization that tracks and monitors the activities of hate groups, surveyed public school teachers regarding their observations of their students’ reactions.  Over 2000 teachers responded.   Their experiences were alarming.   Students of all ages had a level of awareness of the positions of the candidates and their supporters, thanks to access to social media, electronic media and adults’ conversations.    Over two thirds of the teachers reported that children of color, especially, were anxious, confused and scared about what might happen to their families if Donald Trump won.  It was noted that immigrant children and children of undocumented families were stressed and even some African American children worried about being sent back to Africa. 

Over all the teachers felt that many students were discouraged and depressed by what they were hearing from the Republican candidate.  The problem was compounded by these children’s knowledge that some adults in the schools and fellow students shared the candidate’s views.  Teachers saw an increase in bullying linked to the tensions created by the political rhetoric. Since the election, SPLC has documented over 700 incidents of hate-related harassment throughout the country.   We’ve experienced some of those incidents, locally.  SPLC is replicating this survey post-election.

As educators, we especially shoulder the responsibility to ensure that our schools are safe havens for our students. After the election Dr. Cash and I talked about how to reassure our students, who are apprehensive about their future; how to let them know that we understand that some of them are feeling scared and anxious; that we support them and we value them and are committed to ensuring a safe space for all students.  Many of you have read the letter sent to the District community that resulted from our conversations.  But, Dr. Cash and I also talked about the next steps. It’s important that our actions not stop with a letter. 

The question then, becomes what do we, as educators – parents- concerned adults -- do to help our children navigate the new reality that our country is facing?  I think that one of the answers is that we use the events or situations experienced by our students as teachable moment opportunities.  Ironically, too many of our students experience bullying and intimidation in their lives.   However, using these experiences as teachable moments, we have the ability to engage children in personal understanding of why respect is important in building positive relationships; why civility is important in the process of promoting dynamic dialogue; why being empowered is important in developing decision making, problem solving and critical thinking skills that offer the means for self-protection as well as the capacity to support fellow students who are being bullied.  This is not a new idea!  In fact, I know that it’s happening in classrooms every day.  Just last week, to the credit of the school’s administration and teachers, the Stanley Makowski Early Childhood Center held a school-wide anti-bullying series of events.

But, now more than ever I think we need to be intentional and inclusive in making anti-bullying a focus of a community-wide endeavor.  Two years ago, the District held an anti-bullying campaign to heighten awareness about forms/consequences of bullying and how to confront it; members of the Board of Education, the Mayor, the Superintendent and staff rode the anti-bully bus; and visited several schools throughout the District that shared their bully-prevention programs.  I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the students; by their creative responses to bullying and the attention that the District and the City gave this all important issue.   I also learned a new word that day.   I learned what it meant to be an “Upstander”; an individual who sees wrong and acts. A person who takes a stand against an act of injustice or intolerance; a person who is not a “positive bystander,” that’s the definition of an Upstander

Each and every one of us can be an Upstander, and consequently a role model for our children.  And as such, we become the teachable moments that I children learn from – outside of the classroom.  I urge all concerned adults to commit to making ‘Upstander” a word whose meaning becomes an integral part of this community’s vocabulary and visible actions.   

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Night a Reality Show Celebrity Became President of the United States of America

Election night! It wasn’t a very good night.  In fact, it was a very, very, very bad night – sleepless and filled with troubled thoughts about the future of our country.  And I’m not the only person on the planet to have experienced shock, disbelief, anxiety, and acute sadness.  For those of you, who know about the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – Kubler-Ross), my emotions are running the gamut that approximate 4 of these stages.  However, I’m a long way from acceptance and I expect that I won’t reach that stage any time soon, if ever.  Already, news of racist, sexist and homophobic acts unleashed by the words and deeds of the “President-Elect” are being reported throughout the country.  Right here, in the city that wants to be known as “Buffalove”, a black doll was found “lynched” in a room on a college campus.  I’ve also gotten reports from teachers that many of their children of color, especially immigrant children are terribly frightened for themselves and their families.  They believe they’ll be harmed, harassed and/or deported.  How do adults justify scaring and intimidating children?

How is it possible that America elected a reality show performer as its next President?  A reality show?!!  Really?  a “fictionalized”, often scripted fantasy that supposedly depicts the life, trials, tribulations and triumphs of its stars is the basis for the next leader of the Free World?  The problem is that many people believe what they see on these shows is real and that the “stars” are genuine.  Throughout the campaign, there were many times when Trumps’ antics could only be described as appropriate for a reality show; name-calling, veiled and not so veiled threats, outrageous claims and lofty yet improbable predictions about what he’d accomplish as President.  And while these behaviors turned many of us off, they revved up Trump supporters.  “Believe me”; “It’s going to be great!”; “I know more than the generals about Isis”; “Trust me.”  On and on and on; this narcissistic man, talking about how great he is and how he would “make America great again”, never defining what he’d do to realize the “change” his voters said they crave.  But reality stars don’t need to produce concrete plans; they just need to entertain, excite, incite and project a fairy tale “reality” that many dream of achieving.

What will Trump’s America look like?  According to his vision, the reality of the Trump administration is bleak and frightening.  During his campaign he painted a picture of a dark America, lacking in capacity and will to celebrate its history of diversity or recognize the contributions of the numerous groups that helped to make America great.  He forecasted a country that devalues and threatens citizens and residents because their cultural heritage, racial identity or religious affiliations are suspect.  He demonstrated personal characteristics of a self-absorbed man who is petty and mean-spirited, shallow and vindictive, thin-skinned, intellectually superficial and mendacious. He inspired, sanctioned and normalized racist, misogynist and anti- LGBT-Q behavior. He’s a man, who will do anything to win – a role model that few of us would want our children to emulate.  Even Donald Trump’s legendary business acumen and successes are questionable.  His multiple bankruptcies are well-known, “The Art of the Deal” was written by a ghost writer and his refusal to produce his tax returns leaves us wondering about the extent of his wealth.

What will he do about education?  That’s only one of the many important concerns I have about a Trump presidency and share with others who are passionate supporters of public education.  Recently, Buffalo School Board member, Carl P. Paladino, a Trump surrogate addressed a national group of educators and promised that Mr. Trump would “encourage competition in the marketplace and eventually dismantle the corrupted, incompetent urban school districts that we have in America today.”  According to Paladino, Trump plans to severely downsize the federal Department of Education.  Further, the Office of Civil Rights, a unit of the DOE that investigates discrimination in school districts and described by Paladino as “self-perpetuating absolute nonsense”, would be greatly limited in doing its work.  According to Paladino, the job of the Secretary of the Department of Education would be turned over to a non-educator, probably a businessman who would run the department like a business enterprise.  An increase in charter schools and vouchers for private schools would replace public schools.
Public schools are already under siege and the prospect of an all-out war on public education will intensify under Trump and surrogates like Paladino.

Let’s face it, I’m still going through the four stages of grief and will be for some time.  But the last stage “acceptance” may never happen, especially when education is involved.  Our children’s future is tied to education so it is more important than ever that we continue the struggle to ensure that public education remains as a fundamental institution of our democracy.    As we ponder our response to Trump’s America, let’s remember the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The ultimate measure of a man (woman) is not where (s)he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where (s)he stands at times of challenge and controversy.  (I think Dr. King would allow me to make these minor additions).  I also think Dr. King would urge us to pray, remain hopeful but remember that each requires that we also, PUT In the Work!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Words Matter, Mr. Paladino!

This weekend a School Board member made national news when he went on the record to express his views/opinions about our President’s religious affiliation.  Carl Paladino cited patently false and repeatedly debunked accusations that President Obama “is a Muslim, not a Christian.” Further his remarks insinuated that President Obama, if not a Muslim is a “sympathizer”.  Although he leaves the listener to surmise with what or whom the President identifies, he clearly believes the President is un-patriotic, is only supported by the “uninformed” or the “elite” and doesn’t care about the average American. While these remarks would appear to be aimed only at the President, the covert message is that somehow, being a Muslim is a problem; signals un-American tendencies; is intolerable and sinister.   

I am appalled that an educational decision maker would make such remarks without consideration of their impact on the student population he serves.  And as a fellow Board member, I believe that silence becomes complicity in support of this behavior. It should be acknowledged that Mr. Paladino has freedom of speech to express his views.  And he is doing that as a citizen not as a Board member. Likewise, my comments are not made on the behalf of the Board or of myself, as a Board member. In fact, the Board is prevented by Education Law from formally admonishing or sanctioning one of its members.  However, as Mr. Paladino has, I also have the right, and the obligation, to exercise my free speech rights and do so as a grandmother, child advocate and educational stakeholder. 
Buffalo Schools serve over 34,000 students.  African American, Latino, Native American, Asian and Pacific Islanders comprise nearly 80% of our student population.  An increasing number of our students are immigrant children who come from countries where the predominant religion is Islam.   We also recognize that many of our students, American citizens, are Muslims.  Our country was founded on the belief that religious freedom is a fundamental right.     All of our children, regardless of religious preference, deserve and MUST see educational leaders/adults modeling behavior that demonstrates a valuing, respect and tolerance of difference. Our educational system actively promotes the goal that “All students will demonstrate the ability to live harmoniously and to cooperate with others, valuing the enrichment provided by diversity, and incorporating our democratic civic values of equal opportunity, justice, and peace.”  In other words, we message that regardless of race, creed, religion, national origin or sexual orientation we expect the ideal that all will treat each other with dignity, honesty and respect. That includes adults. 

Our students understand coded language.  They are more technologically savvy than most adults and they respond to social media in formats that we’ve never heard of.  Comments such as those made by Mr. Paladino are not confined to CNN or the Buffalo News.  Our students understand the hypocrisy of adults, who exercise situational ethics in their interactions. They reject the attempt to impose a set of standards for behavior on them that are not mirrored in the behavior of those who make the policies. They expect us to model the behavior, adhere to the ideals and validate the goals we’ve developed to guide the system. Yes, words matter, actions matter.  Our students are watching us Mr. Paladino.  What will you do or say next?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Revisiting ELA and Math 2016

It’s that time of year again.  Last Friday, the New York State Commissioner of Education released the results of the annual English Language Arts (ELA) and Math standardized tests.   The results for Buffalo’s students showed an increase in proficiency, 4.5 points in ELA over last year’s tests (11.9% to 16.4%) and a 1 point increase in the Math proficiency (15.1% to 16.1%).  These scores exceed those of Rochester and Syracuse but they’re still low compared to our suburban counterparts.  Buffalo’s scores also reflect a similar small increase noted in the overall state numbers; ELA scores moved from 31.3 %  to 37.9%, a 6.6% increase, while the State Math scores increased by 1%, from 38.1% to 39.1%).

Aligned with the Common Core Learning Standards these tests have been in place since the 2012-13 school year.  A review of four years of test results shows that only about a third, at its lowest 31.1% (both ELA and Math) to 37.9% and 39.1%, of students this year have tested proficient.  Alterations in the 2016 tests such as a reduction in the number of questions and removal of the time restriction on the testing session gave students an unlimited time to complete the tests.  Did these adjustments contribute to the increase in scores?  At this time the State has not studied the impact of these significant changes on the overall test results. In announcing this year’s results, the State Commissioner acknowledged that State Ed could not determine reasons for the increase in test scores and cautioned making comparisons to last year’s test.   The reality is that the State will have difficulty making valid comparisons between this year’s tests and previous ones given the substantial modifications made to the 2016 testing cycle and the apparent failure to build in a method to determine the influence of the changes.   What else is there to learn about the validity of these numbers?  

However for those who profess belief in the sanctity of these tests, Buffalo’s results demonstrate a positive trajectory, are better than two of our Big 5 colleagues and in line with the statewide percentage increases.  Nonetheless in many instances the response to these numbers is the predictable labeling of our students, schools and District as failing and in need of reform.  Most often these calls for reform propose more charter schools, school takeover, e.g. receivership, parental choice strategies, or school closure.  There is little understanding and less dialogue about the substance of the standardized tests, the unfair weight, in the name of accountability, assigned to test results or about the human toll associated with standardized testing.

Opponents of the ELA/Math standardized tests, including myself, have cited the recurring assessment problems of these high stakes tests;

These tests:  1) are not developmentally appropriate – reading levels are far above the grade level being tested 2) are not diagnostic; they don’t provide information that helps the teacher target individual student learning needs 3) are not differentiated by student need as almost all children take the same test, regardless of their cognitive ability or their English language proficiency; it’s a one size fits all approach  4) encourage teaching to the test at the expense of time for other subjects  5) demoralize and frustrate children.

This year, however, I also heard from parents and staff in our District about other ways in which these tests negatively impacted our students’ sense of well-being and self-esteem and contributed to a culture that could impugn the integrity of our District.  I heard of students who were anxious about the tests to the point of getting sick in their classrooms; children who were crying, demoralized and frightened;  and children who sat for these tests for 6-8 hours!  As alarming, I also heard stories about administrators and teachers who sent subtle and not too subtle messages about the critical importance of these tests, not just to the student but to the school:  who convinced parents who were thinking of refusing the tests to change their decision to opt out; who planned school activities that either rewarded students who tested or punished those who didn’t.  To their credit when I brought these incidents to the attention of the administration, these situations were quickly rectified.  Yet, that these incidents occurred at all is disturbing and the ones I heard about were not likely the only ones of this kind.   

The 2016 testing cycle is a pivotal one, not just because of changes made in the testing conditions by the Commissioner but also because these are the first tests given since the Governor’s Common Core Task Force issued its report.  The Report judged the Common Core implementation along with its aligned curricula and tests as flawed.  In an over-due official statement the Report also agreed with many of the concerns expressed by test opponents, e.g. that the “one size fits all” standardized testing system is unfair and in need of an over-haul.  The Task Force recommended more “flexibility for assessments of Students with Disabilities” and the elimination of “double testing for English Language Learners”.  Importantly, the Task Force’s final recommendation proposed that “the results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards…. shall only be advisory and not be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.”  The State Board of Regents accepted the Report findings and recommendations.

I offer this information as backdrop because rarely does the public discourse include or acknowledge the full scope of the data and information on the subject of the New York State ELA and Math standardized tests.  Too often the dialog remains fixed at the level of the “numbers” and what they purportedly convey about the academic health of our schools.  The Common Core Task Force’s recommendations have not taken effect at this time, so in addition to all of the points I’ve made, the 2016 test results still reflect the high stakes “one size fits all assessment” that the Task Force cited as unfair.  Let’s talk, but when we do come prepared to discuss all aspects of the issue.

This article reflects the views of the author and does not represent a formal statement on the behalf of the Buffalo Board of Education or any other organization.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Journalistic Malpractice: A Few Observations About the School Board Elections

Day after day after day, leading up to Tuesday’s school board election, articles in the Buffalo News predicted an Armageddon if certain candidates were not re-elected or elected to the Board.  The headlines screamed warnings about the untenable and catastrophic consequences that would result from the seismic shift of power, if majority bloc members were not re-elected.   They bemoaned the use of the fairly common tactic of challenging an opponent’s petitions as endemic of the “hard-ball, bare-knuckle Buffalo politics” that had infected the electoral process, even though this maneuver was used by their preferred candidate in his first race three years ago.  They conveniently ignored the fact that Mr. Sampson successfully removed Mr. Hernandez from the ballot in 2013 or that Mr. Paladino attempted to knock Mr. Harig off the ballot this year. 

Using vague or few facts to substantiate their recommendations, they endorsed little-known, un- accomplished candidates over seasoned incumbents whose records they tried to trash.   Ironically, they attributed incremental academic successes, e.g. the increase in the graduate rates, to Board President James Sampson and North District Representative, Jason McCarthy.  In doing so, they contradicted their own assessment of the significance of this progress indicator.  They previously downplayed this accomplishment as this is an outcome of Dr. Pamela Brown’s Superintendency.   In this regard, they are consistent, however, in that they’ve never attributed credit to Dr. Brown for this achievement or acknowledged the fact that the schools which were removed from receivership earlier this year also made progress under Dr. Brown’s tenure.

Employing a documented propaganda strategy, the News purposefully published multiple daily articles in various formats, supporting their message of impending doom and gloom.   They lamented the demise of the majority bloc’s “reform” agenda and mused about the chaos the District would experience if the “status quo”, “union supported” minority succeeded in winning a position as the new majority.  One can almost picture the handwringing and hear the moaning of the editorial writers as they penned their fear-mongering opinion pieces. They touted the union’s support of some candidates as tantamount to that group taking control of the District.  Yet, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s bankrolling of the incumbent majority members and at least one challenger was framed as the business community fulfilling its civic responsibility.

The Buffalo News’ unprecedented coverage of the School Board, the candidates, and the issues (as they determined them) was intended to sway public opinion during an election season that had few public forums or other opportunities to meet the candidates.  In the end, voters saw through the ruse and refused to be influenced by irresponsible, biased journalism.  Rejecting the News’ arguments, they cast their ballots for the children.  The new Board-elect is comprised of new and returning Board members, who are united in an agenda that aims to re-focus the Board on the broad educational needs of all children in the District. 

I began writing this column two years ago because a) the Buffalo News marginalized and often demonized the minority women on the Board and Superintendent Pamela C. Brown and b) the 2014 “Vision Statement” advanced by the majority board members was exclusionary, divisive and proposed a “reform” agenda that threatened to “dismantle” our public schools.  Throughout this period I’ve often asked the question when is enough, enough?  Obviously, many of you have answered that question with your vote and the response is, NOW!  I believe that this Board will move forward, collaboratively and cohesively to develop a new vision, one that’s inclusive and puts the children in the beginning, the middle and the end of our agenda.

Barely a week has passed since the election.  And the new Board won’t take office until July 1st.  Yet I anticipate more propaganda from the News.   I urge readers to watch the Buffalo News reports.  Will they be fair and balanced?   If they’re not, call them on it!  We cannot be silent and allow journalistic malpractice to continue and to undermine the new Board before we even convene.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Commissioner Elia in Secret Meeting(s) with SOME Members of the Buffalo Board of Education? Yes!

So, let me get this straight?  Commissioner Elia comes to Buffalo and she meets with Mr. Sampson, Mr. Quinn, Superintendent Cash and members of the business class?  Or should I say bloc? According to the Buffalo News (April 30, 2016), this meeting occurred at the Mansion on Delaware. The News described the meeting as follows: 
In a private room at the Mansion on Delaware, some of the city’s most influential business leaders held court with State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Buffalo Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash. School Board majority members Larry Quinn and James P. Sampson, who is running for re-election in the West district, also attended.
Elia talked about the importance of holding schools and teachers accountable for their performance in the weeks before the election.
The article does not identify the date of this secret meeting, but in a previous article, Tiffany Lankes dropped the fact that Mr. Sampson missed the Buffalo Association of Black Journalist’s candidate’s debate on April 12th because he was having dinner with the Commissioner.   Or could the meeting have taken place on March 31st when the Commissioner visited two of Buffalo’s Persistently Struggling schools to reinforce her message about the importance of students taking the standardized tests.  In fact, her message was so well received that one of the principals of the schools promised to have an “opt-in test assembly” and boasted about talking a number of parents out of refusing the tests for their children.  Ironically, unlike her meeting with parents, in the suburbs, the previous day, the Commissioner did not ask Buffalo parents to “trust her”.  And she certainly didn’t reach out to the minority Board members and invite us to meet with her in the Mansion on Delaware.
But, I’ll get back to that issue later.  Let me ask this question.  And I hope that some of my readers will join me in asking the Commissioner or her Board for an answer.  Since when does the Commissioner of the State Education Department insert herself into local Board elections?  Or even give the appearance of engaging in the process of a community selecting its School Board representatives?  How many other secret meetings have been held with the parties named and unnamed?  And what other topics regarding the Buffalo Schools have been on the agenda?  More Charter Schools?  More Buffalo School closings? Neighborhood Schools?  How the moneyed class will try to influence the outcome of the Board elections?  Certainly the list is endless when it comes to the machinations of the majority members of the Board.

The Commissioner’s actions may not be illegal, but they are dismissive of a group of stakeholders, including Board members; they are disrespectful; they are divisive and they are not acceptable.  The Superintendent also has some explaining to do.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Checking in with a few updates

This week’s column offers an update on several hot button issues that I’ve written about this year:

Opt Out - Over the last few weeks the subject of high stakes standardized (NYS ELA and Math) tests and the Opt Out Movement has occupied much of my thought, actions and writings.  As of last Friday, those tests have come and gone, but the debate continues.  However, this week I won’t dwell solely on the arguments opposing these “meaningless” tests (the Governor’s word, not mine although I agree with him).  I also want to update readers on a few related issues of note.

Last week I recounted some of the reports I received from parents and teachers about the strategies being used to convince, cajole or intimidate parents, students and even educators into “opting in” to these tests.  Unfortunately, we were not unique as similar incidents occurred all over the state.  It’s a sad state of affairs when educators either buy into or are forced into supporting a system that promotes activities counter to sound educational practices, violate parents’ rights and foster intimidation of students by the adults, who should be their role models.  To be fair, many educators did speak up to support parents and students in spite of the bureaucracy and threats of retaliation.

Last year, nearly 240,000 or 20% of New York State’s student population opted out of the tests.  The numbers are not all in, but indications are that this number will hold steady and may even increase this year.  In the meantime, advocates are raising a number of important questions about the tests and the changes the Commissioner said would improve them.  The New York State Education Department supposedly operates on data, which it uses to make decisions re:  policy for example.  The Department had a number of opportunities to collect important axillary data related to test administration.   

1)       How are the test results impacted by children who “opt in” to the tests but are absent one or more days during the testing cycle (the ELA and Math tests are offered during a three day period); so how are the tests scored?  Do those children receive a proficiency ranking? And how are the results factored into the final accountability statistics for each school? And consequently for a District?  How will the accountability of schools and Districts that exceeded 5% opt outs be impacted?

2)      This is the first year the tests are not timed; in other words students were able to take all the time they needed to complete the exams.  And some did; reports are that some students worked ALL day, e.g. from the beginning of school until the end of the school day.  What is the impact of removing the time limits?  Will that improve test performance in general?  The timed tests were 90 minutes, however what was the average time taken by students to complete the tests?  What was the impact on staff time to monitor the tests?

How will the Department collect, analyze and employ this data?   There are concerns, however that the Department did not collect any data associated with question two, specifically.  We’ll see when the report on the test results is released, perhaps in August.

Disparate use of ELA/Math Tests Results in Admissions Criteria for City Honors/Olmsted – This is an issue I’ve been addressing since last December.  The ELA/Math tests are part of the admissions criteria for these schools.  Students whose parents opted out of these tests in 2015 and applied for City Honors or Olmsted were given a score of zero out a potential maximum of 9 points.  After extensive questioning of District Staff, Dr. Keresztes disclosed that applicants from private schools, which do not give the ELA/Math tests, did not receive a zero for this missing score.  Instead the administration doubled their score from the cognitive test, a practice which has been going on for some time.  This inequitable treatment of Buffalo Schools’ student applicants to the criterion schools as documented is unacceptable.  The Superintendent agreed to develop a remedy for this problem, which impacts 95 Buffalo School students.  After more than two weeks, we are still waiting for a resolution.  Parents are concerned and they are impatient.  And so am I.  All students deserve to be treated fairly.  This situation must be resolved immediately.

The School Board Candidate’s Debate or One out of Two Is Bad – On Tuesday, April 12th, the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists held a candidate’s debate at the Burchfield Penny Gallery.  Only the candidates from the Central and East Districts were fully represented.  With the exception of Dr. Harris-Tigg and Ms. Belton Cottman, none of the incumbents showed up.  It’s worth noting also that Ms. Belton Cottman is running un-opposed.    Debates offer an opportunity for candidates to (re)introduce themselves to the community, state their experience and competencies to fill the position, expound on their core issues, and differentiate themselves from their opponents.  This was the first general debate. Future debates are scheduled and one would hope that all candidates will engage in these events.  School Board member is an elected position and as such voters have the right to expect that all candidates, including the incumbents, will honor the system and provide their constituents with comprehensive, which includes face-to-face, information so voters can make an informed decision.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

ELA Tests _The Buffalo Experience

On April 5th, 6th, and 7th, 14,984 Buffalo school students in grades 3-8 were “offered” the first of two high stakes, New York State standardized tests; the English Language Arts.  In the event anyone does not believe that these tests are high stakes, consider the following: 

·         A week before the test was given, New York State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia made a high profile visit to the area.  On the first day, she visited several schools in Districts that had high opt out numbers last year, met with parents and educators to convey her message that she’d heard their concerns, explained that the tests had been improved and that parents should trust and have confidence in the tests’ value as educational markers of high standards.

·         - On the second day, the Commissioner visited two “persistently struggling” schools in Buffalo.  Presumably she got an update on the schools’ progress, commended staff and students and urged them to take the tests.

·        - She met with the Buffalo News Editorial Board, which dutifully reported on the Commissioner’s sincerity, underscored her message (she’s trying to improve the tests) and the need to stay the course, e.g. keep Common Core, keep the tests and keep Buffalo’s schools in receivership even the ten schools that have successfully earned removal from the receivership rolls.

·        - Furthermore, the BN, aka Biased News, published no less than five articles, editorials and opinion pieces stressing the misguided logic and futility of the Opt-out Movement.  In typical propaganda-ist style the articles extolled the “benefits” of the tests and the rationale for subjecting children to take them.  These articles rarely provided objective views that acknowledged the arguments opposing these high stakes exams.

·       -  Today the BN published an article that blames Gen-X parents for the Opt Out movement citing this generation as “independent, cynical and defiant of authority”.  You have to read it to believe it!
·         Business First decided to one-up the BN in an article, citing their own data analysis, which maliciously labeled WNY students and claimed that “The opt-out movement”…..” largely seems to be a revolt of underachievers”.

According to the BPS District the parents of 1,089, 7.8%, far below suburban opt out, refused to have their children subjected to these tests.  While the Commissioner has affirmed a parent’s right to make educational decisions in the best interests of their children, the reality is that it’s an entitlement with a hollow resonance.  I received numerous calls and emails from parents, educators and others about actions by school officials to obstruct or undermine parents’ decisions about test refusal.

In some schools an active campaign to “talk parents out” of refusing the tests was underway even as testing was in progress.  This is not an unsubstantiated report as a number of District administrators confirmed (one in a radio interview) they have engaged in ongoing communications to convince parents that they are mis-informed about the tests and/or students to take the tests.  There were also disturbing reports that students were told they would jeopardize their high school options if they didn’t take the tests.  In fact prior to the tests, parents were sent a letter from the Superintendent that included an admonition that opting out will adversely impact a child’s ability to get into a City Honors or Olmsted.  These criterion schools use the ELA/Math scores in their admissions criteria and opt out students will lose points.  Other concerns communicated to me included:

  • ·         Opt out students were singled out and ridiculed because they were opting out of the test

  1. ·      Threats to punish opt out students by not letting them participate in special events that are incentives/rewards for good behavior
  2. ·         Teachers from several schools reported children getting sick to their stomach and having “melt-downs” in response to the testing

  • ·         Opt-in rallies were held that could be construed as either pressuring or encouraging students to participate in testing;  

  • ·         Parents were called even after their opt out letters were sent in to convince them to retract their letters
  • ·         A high school principal is on the record having sent a letter to parents, which contained numerous distortions of the facts regarding the standardized tests; and tacitly belittled students whose parents opted them out of the tests
  • ·         Some teachers, who had opt out students have felt intimidated by their administration

  1. ·         Test anxiety is felt by staff as well as students

  • ·         A parent believed that her 3rd grader had been bullied into taking the test.  Even though her parent had opted her out, the student was “talked” into taking the test by her teacher
  • ·         In spite of a directive sent to schools to allow opt out students to read selected materials, students at some schools were required to complete an ELA packet
  • ·         A number of schools are to be commended for treating opt out students with respect, recognizing that the decision was made by the parents, not the students.  In those schools students were allowed to read per the Superintendent’s directive.
  • ·         One parent was upset that her children, who opted in and took the tests, were required to sit and stare when they finished the test because other children took more time.  Her child waited for 90 minutes after he’d finished his test

A call to Superintendent Cash to share this feedback resulted in a letter from him to all administrators. The letter reiterated that all students should be treated with “dignity and consistency whether they are participating in test administration or not.”  The time differentiation will be worked out too.

Some will read this article and conclude that the examples of the experiences of some test refusal parents/students is one-sided; or that it is not valid because I didn’t name names.  I am reporting the feedback I received this past week. Unfortunately, there is a concern about backlash and people are reluctant to allow their names to be shared.  I invite anyone to provide feedback, both positive and negative, to me.  This coming week the Math tests will be offered and I’d like to receive feedback as well.  Contact me at   

Monday, April 4, 2016

On the Eve of ELA Standardized Tests: A Message to Dr. Cash

Dr. Cash, as we approach the administration of the ELA tests tomorrow, I understand the District's position and that of many principals and teachers with respect to their support for the tests and their encouragement of student's involvement in those assessments.  You also know my position and reasons why I oppose the tests.  Nonetheless I do believe that each position should be acknowledged and the right to hold that view should be respected.  Certainly the issue has been the subject of heated dialogue between adults. In the last few days a number of parents have written to the Board and to you to express their positions on both sides.  In a number of instances I have not seen indication that the District has responded to those parents.   

I am very concerned, however, that students are being caught in the cross fire and I hope that you will acknowledge that this issue is problematic.  And that you will inform principals, especially those who seem to have taken an over-zealous approach in their support of the tests, of their responsibility as educators to be informative not suggestive or coercive.  Students as well as adults are hearing these messages.

Here are two examples of messages sent by principals to their parents/guardians and students prior to the beginning of the ELA exams.  I’ll leave you to determine which I find more acceptable.

1)  (1)  Good Evening Families,

NYS ELA Assessments will take place this week on Tuesday, April 5, Wednesday, April 6, and Thursday, April 7.  Please ensure that your child is well rested and arrives to school by 8:15 AM.  We look forward to all students applying the skills and concepts they learned this year at X.  Have a great night!

The following excerpt is part of a much longer letter, but is reflective of a clear effort to persuade parents that “opt out” is misguided.  Certainly free speech can be invoked here and I’m fine with that but there are inaccuracies in these statements even as the writer characterizes the other arguments as flawed.  For example, “this year’s assessments have not been developed by a new organization.  This year’s tests were developed by Pearson. Questar, Inc. will not be providing tests until next year.

2)  (2)  “Student refusal of the New York State assessments has historically been low at X. This year we have seen even less activity around this topic, and I believe most parents understand that our new Commissioner of Education, Dr. Mary Ellen Elia, has made aggressive changes to the assessments to satisfy both labor and student-centered concerns. However, several of the written parent communications that we have received to this point reflect outdated or incorrect information that appears to have been derived from templates found on social media. I would like to provide the following clarifications: • New York State Assessments are no longer tied to teacher and principal evaluations. • The state has done away with the previous assessments given to students over the past few years. This year’s assessments have been developed by a new organization, with New York State teachers selecting the questions. • The number of questions and predicted time to complete the assessments has been reduced again this year. • Perhaps my favorite change -- students will have unlimited time to complete the assessments (as a student who needed more time, I can tell you I would have benefitted greatly from this feature if they had it back when I was taking the old California Achievement tests in elementary school!"

I have received information that some principals are/have planned "rallies" for students to opt in to the tests.  Parties, special events or other "rewards" may be offered to students for their participation while denying the students who opted out access to the same benefits.  Such inequitable activities are hurtful to children and I certainly encourage you sending a strong message that these kinds of incentives are unacceptable.

I also am concerned about any public displays of student performance on these tests, especially if they have identifying information.  I think that's a violation of student's privacy and exposes a student to ridicule and humiliation.  Even if this only applies to one school, it's one too many.

Students who are not taking the tests, have not opted out, their parents have opted them out.  That's their right and I question the right of a principal to “talk anyone out” of making that decision.

In your letter to parents regarding how students will be treated, who are not taking the tests, you stated that “Students with notes on file prior to the start of the assessment will not be given examination booklets and will be allowed to read quietly while the test is being administered.”  While the Board has endorsed eliminating the “sit and stare” policy, we will need to develop a policy that specifically spells out the treatment for students who do not take the test.  I would like to put this policy on the agenda for the Executive Committee at its next meeting so that we have a definitive plan for future test situations.

As always, I appreciate your receptiveness to dissenting opinions and your focused commitment to the children.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Commissioner Elia to Buffalo Schools: Trust Me, Receivership is Better! Or Even When you Win, You Lose

Say what?!  Can Commissioner Elia be serious?  First, she comes to Western New York to ask parents to “trust” her and opt in to the one-sized fits all, high stakes, non-diagnostic standardized tests.  On Thursday, she met with parents from several suburban districts to relay the message that significant changes have been made to mitigate their opposition to these tests.  The Commissioner explained that the tests:  are shorter (by a few questions), are un-timed (students can take as much time as needed, if they are working productively), and will not be used to evaluate individual students or as part of teacher evaluations.  She acknowledged that these changes were brought about in response to parents’ activism.  She asked the parents to trust that other changes are in the works and encouraged student participation in the tests beginning April 5th. (ELA tests given from April 5-7; Math tests from April 13-15)

Curiously, Buffalo Public Schools’ parents and education advocates did not receive an invitation to meet for the “trust me” dialogue.  In fact, during the second day of her two-day visit Commissioner Elia visited two “persistently struggling” elementary schools:  West Hertel Academy and the Marva J. Daniel Futures Preparatory School.  One might assume that the school administration and staff received a strong message about the need to maintain “opt in” to the tests.  Perhaps as a result, the principal at one of the schools planned an “opt in” rally for her students.  During an interview with WBFO, she also revealed that she had convinced a number of parents not to opt out of the tests.  This is disturbing since thirty-five percent of this school’s student body are children who are English Language Learners, a group that is particularly vulnerable for testing “failure” due to language and cultural barriers. Why convincing these children to take the test is seen as a positive is beyond me, especially when the principal is quoted as saying that “these kids get frustrated” during the testing.  Further, the Commissioner and the Governor have confirmed the right of parents to opt their children out of the tests.

With the District’s central administration’s solid support for standardized tests for all, however, the Commissioner may not think she has a trust problem with parents and education advocates in the city.  Yet, does she really think that she can engender “trust” with stakeholders by supporting the Governor’s call to keep 70 schools recently removed from Receivership in that state of pre-“privatization”?       

Last summer, following the passage of the Education Transformation Act, 144 schools across the state were identified as “persistently struggling” or “struggling” and placed in Receivership.  The Law gives unprecedented powers to Superintendents to manage these schools for up to two years.  Buffalo has 25 of these schools and most of the other 119 are also located in urban Districts.  “Persistently struggling” schools were awarded additional funding to assist in the implementation of improvement plans designed to move the schools out of Receivership status in one year.  The “struggling” schools also developed improvement plans to increase student achievement during a two year period.  Although there are many problems with Receivership (a legal challenge to the Law has been initiated), the Districts’ staff, teachers, Boards and parents have worked under the rules of the legislation and State Education regulations to meet the demands of this imposed structure.

Last month the District received astounding news that 3 of our “persistently struggling” and 7 of our “struggling” schools had made significant achievement to be removed from Receivership.  The data for this decision was based on the progress made by these schools during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.  We celebrated!  We gave each other high fives!  We congratulated all involved- principals, teachers, students, parents, community members- for their hard work; commitment and perseverance!  And some of us questioned why the schools had been identified for Receivership in the first place!   Bottom line, they’ve met the challenge and they’ve succeeded in compliance with Education law and regulation. 

In spite of the accomplishment of Buffalo’s ten schools (and 60 others throughout the state), the Commissioner rationalized, “I do think that the timing was very difficult.”…… “The schools need an additional year of superintendent receivership to really be able to show the work that they’re doing. I think that’s a reasonable thing to expect ……...”  (Buffalo News, March 31, 2016)  The article continued that she “raised questions about whether taking some schools off the receivership list would deprive them of the attention they needed.”   

So, “the timing was very difficult”?  What the Commissioner does not say is that the data used to determine the progress made by these schools actually covered the two year period prior to their placement in Receivership.  In effect that information suggests the question, “Should these schools have been in Receivership in the first place?”  And now, without any reference to that fact, the Commissioner would maintain schools in an ill-defined, un-tested and questionable state for another year.  In addition, the outcomes of the first year of Receivership are not even known at this point.  The State prides itself on making “data driven decisions”, except in this instance.  As for “depriving” schools of the attention they need, the Commissioner should explain what she means by that statement.   Unspoken:  the Governor has threatened to withdraw the additional funding awarded to “persistently struggling schools” if those schools are moved out of Receivership.  That sounds like coercion not supportive “attention”.

The Commissioner’s message to our students, teachers, administrators, parents on Receivership?  In spite of playing by the rules, meeting and in some cases exceeding the requirements, you can still lose the game!  They’ll just move the goal line.  So, Commissioner, not only is trust in short supply…. But so is belief that the system is fair and equitable……that the rules of the game won’t be changed if the outcome does not suit the powers that be…..that the voices of urban district stakeholders are valued….and yes, that changes made in the tests really do make a difference.

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Resolution to Promote Equity

Correcting Criterion Schools Admissions Policy that Discriminates Against Students Refusing the ELA/Math Standardized Tests

Submitted by Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD, Member at Large, Sharon Belton-Cottman, Ferry District, Dr. Theresa Harris-Tigg, East District

March 24, 2016

Whereas, for months beginning in November up to the present, most recently at the March 9th Board meeting, Dr. Nevergold  has raised questions and concerns about the District’s treatment of the criterion-schools’ applications of students who opted out of the 2015 ELA/Math standardized tests;

Whereas, a combined score on these tests is part of the matrix of the criteria to determine admission to Olmsted, City Honors and DaVinci.  The score accounts for 1-9 points and contributes to the 29-31 overall points that can be awarded to determine student ranking for admissions.  However, a student who refused the ELA/Math tests automatically received a score of zero out of the possible 1-9 points;

Whereas, requests have been made for clarification of the rationale that the District employs to determine why District students do not receive the same accommodation given to applicants from private schools who do not take the State ELA or Math tests.  These students are allowed to submit a “comparable” test score that is used as a substitute for the ELA/Math criterion.  To date there has been no satisfactory response;

Whereas, District staff have produced a March 15, 2015 letter, from Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie (attached), to support the decision not to revisit the District’s position on maintaining the assigned score of zero for these students.  The letter “notified” parents that their decision to refuse the standardized tests would have an impact on their child’s admission’s application to City Honors, Olmsted and DaVinci.  The letter cautioned that “the lack of an assigned value, while not disqualifying the student, will impact the students’ admission’s profile.” Further the letter stated that the same criteria would be applied to students from schools, presumably outside of the District, who had no “similar assessment data”;

Whereas, there are a number of problems with this letter; first, the letter is vague as it does not spell out the alternative assessment data that students outside the District could submit in place of the ELA/Math.  Second, it would appear that such a letter signals the intent to apply the same standards to out of District students as well as in District students when in reality different standards were applied to some out of District students.  And third, just because the District sent this letter to parents to “notify” them of the impact of not taking the ELA/Math tests; it doesn’t absolve the District of its obligation to provide an equitable process that treats all children fairly;

Whereas, following the release of the Governor’s Common Core Task Force, Dr. Nevergold sent another email to the Superintendent on December 15th 2015 requesting a review of the District’s criterion-schools admissions criteria policy, inclusive of the ELA/Math standardized tests score.  This was one day after the District completed the admissions process but before notification to the applicants.

 In part, the email stated:

Consistent with the recommendations of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force, released on December 10th, the New York State Regents voted, on December 14th, to accept among others Recommendation 21 that proposes:  Until the new system is fully phased in, the results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.  More broadly stated the decision is to place a moratorium on the use of the results of these tests until 2019-2020 pending their revision.  That includes the tests given during the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

As you also know, one of the recommendations of Dr. Orfield regarding the criteria used to determine student admission to the criterion schools was “eliminating the New York state tests because the standards have been changed so drastically and their use is too new to support valid predictions…” (The Report: p 81)

I believe that the current reversal by the Regents regarding these tests warrants a revisit by the District of this recommendation and by way of this communication I am requesting that the District undertake this review.  Thank you.  I look forward to your response.”

This request was ignored as have subsequent requests made since January 2016.

Whereas, State Education Law, Part AA, Subpart C of Chapter 56 of the Laws of 2014, subdivision (47) of Education Law 305, directs the Commissioner to provide that no school district shall make any student promotion or placement decisions based solely or primarily on student performance on the State administered standardized English language arts and mathematics assessments for grades three through eight.  The statue does not allow a school district to consider student performance on such State assessments in making placement decisions, but only as one of multiple measures and only if such assessments do not constitute the major factor in such determinations.”;

Whereas, a score of zero for students who opted out of the ELA/Math standardized tests effectively nullifies a student’s application as it makes consideration for admission a meaningless exercise.  And contrary to State Education Law, the substitution of a zero in the absence of the ELA/Math test score constitutes making this criterion a major factor in the admissions determination.  In the case of the City Honors’ criteria, the zero accounts for 29% of the potential score for ranking of a grade 5-9 applicant.  Even more astounding, a child applying for admissions to Olmsted in grades 5 -9, lost 43% of the potential score;

Whereas, a number of complaints have been received from parents who are requesting a review of the District’s policy and procedure that determined the assignment of a zero for the ELA/Math criteria in the applications of children, who opted out of the 2015 standardized test based on the decision of their parents;

Whereas, the right of a parent to make the decision to refuse the tests has been confirmed by the Commissioner of the New York State Education Department and the Governor of the State of New York, who described the tests as meaningless;

Whereas, The District entered into a consent agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, New York Office of Civil Rights (OCR) (case #02-14-1077) in response to a complaint filed against the Buffalo Public Schools.  The complainant alleged that the District discriminated on the basis of race and national origin by using admissions criteria that disproportionately excluded non-white students from enrollment in the District’s “criteria-based” schools; 

Therefore, the District should practice vigilance and diligence in addressing policies and/or procedures that have the potential to create new avenues that set up discriminatory barriers to admissions to the criterion-schools;

Therefore,  the Board directs the staff to immediately provide data regarding the number of students impacted by the current policy; and conduct a review of the policy of assigning a zero to the admissions profile of applicants to criterion-schools who do not have an ELA/Math score because they opted out of the 2015 standardized tests; 

Further, that the staff provide a recommended solution (s) to this issue to the Board at its next scheduled meeting on April 13, 2016.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

ELA/Math_So What Happens to the Test Scores?

On December 22, 2015 Commissioner Elia wrote a letter to Patrick Rooney, Acting Director, Office of State Support, US Department of Education.  This letter is an apparent follow-up to an earlier request from the USDOE concerning the State’s plans for addressing the federal test participation rate. (A 95% participation rate is required.)  The Commissioner proposes a number of actions that obviously speak to last year’s unprecedented test refusal by over 20% of NYS students. 

One particular statement about the ELA/Math Test results caught my attention.  Ms. Elia stated that the State would:  “Eliminate high-stakes for students by reminding districts that, until December 31, 2018, scores on the grades 3-8 tests may not be included on a   student’s official transcript or permanent record.”

Apparently my District didn’t get the word. Until I raised the question student records still carried their ELA/Math scores. But now my next question is what happens to these scores if they are not maintained in student records? 
Last year the Commissioner prepared a “Tool Kit” for Superintendents with materials designed to “inform” parents about the importance of having their children take the tests.  The FAQ Sheet in the Kit offered the following question/answer:

1.    How will my child’s score be used?

·         Scores will be used to tailor instruction to individual students (emphasis added) and measure how well schools, districts, and the State are progressing with the higher learning standards. 
·         State law and Commissioner’s regulations prohibit school districts from making promotion or placement decisions based solely or primarily on student performance on the Grades 3-8 ELA and Math Tests.

Let’s return to my original question.  What happens to the scores for individual students?  Where will they be housed so that teachers will have access to “tailor instruction to individual students?”  I’m even more anxious to learn the answer since traditionally the tests results aren’t even returned until the following academic year.

Has any District figured out the answer to this question?  I’m still asking mine.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

To Test or Not to Test? That is the Question!

To test or not to test?  Actually, for hundreds of thousands of children across the State the answer is a resounding, NO!  Parents continue to refuse the “opportunity” for their children to be subjected to standardized tests in English Language Arts and Math that do nothing to enhance their educational experience.   Instead, for many children these tests cause extreme anxiety, crisis of self-confidence and even physical distress.  And for students in urban districts, in particular, these one size fits all tests unfairly label children as failures and are a major determinant used to identify schools as “struggling” or “persistently struggling” – and for Receivership.

In December, the Governor’s Common Core Task Force recognized that these “high stakes” tests were flawed.  They recommended that the results of the tests, starting with their implementation in 2014 until 2019, not be used for student placement or evaluation decisions.  In addition, recommendations to change a number of current testing procedures were quickly adopted by the New York State Regents.  Yet, in April, the State will again subject students to these meaningless assessments – e.g. they are not diagnostic; they have encouraged teaching to the test consuming time better spent on other educational experiences, such as time for art and music; they are not developmentally appropriate for  the grade level and more.

In spite of the findings/recommendations of the Task Force, State Education Commissioner Elia, who was a member of the Task Force, continues to promote these tests.  Commissioner Elia defends her position by citing that the Federal government mandates that States test all children.  However, she also does not support the Opt Out Movement.  She notes that new tests are being developed and that this year significant changes are being made to the old tests to make them less onerous.  She has urged parents to allow their children to take the tests, noting that the tests have been shortened.  She’s neglected to mention that only two or three questions were removed.  And while children will be allowed to take as much time to take the tests as needed, it’s important to note that the latter is dependent upon the proviso that the student demonstrates that he/she is working “productively”.  In any event, children will sit from 4-6 hours during the testing sessions. The bottom line is that little has changed in the State’s primary goal:  to have all children participate in a standardized testing program that does not measure the diverse abilities of test takers nor provide constructive educational data benefiting students.

The ELA Tests are principally made up of long reading passages.  The paragraphs in the articles are numbered and students are given multiple choice questions or are asked to write short answer responses.  The multiple choice questions give four possible answers.  Students need to reference the article in order to provide their answer.  Educators, who have evaluated the reading level of these passages, have found them to be two to three grade levels above the level of the students being tested.
The Math tests combine word problems along with questions based on charts, graphs and other visuals.  In 2014, I wrote a column entitled, “Are you smarter than a third grader”, in which I provided a sample question from that year’s Math test.  

The following is a sample from the 2015 Math Test for 3rd. grade.

Pedro left home this morning at the time shown on the clock below. Tina left home 20 minutes after Pedro left. Carlos left home 18 minutes after Tina left. At what time did Carlos leave home this morning?

 A  7:57 a.m.
B   8:13 a.m.
C   8:38 a.m.
D   9:13 a.m.

 In case you’re not sure, the correct answer is D.  Remember the 2015 test was timed and almost every child in 3rd. grade, even if they were limited English speakers or had a special disability was given this test.  Only 48% of children statewide answered this question correctly.
As a school board member and educator, I have followed the high stakes testing debate.   I am a proponent of the Opt-Out Movement.    My support has developed over time and resulted from research, reflection and discussions with advocates.  However, belief is not enough if it isn’t married with action, when warranted.  Backing the test refusal movement extends beyond my formal role to my role as a grandmother.  I have two granddaughters who attend a focus school.  After care consideration and study, and with my support, my daughter refused the test for her oldest daughter last year.  This year, as a fourth grader, she will again refuse the test.

I urge readers to take a look at these tests in order to make a firsthand assessment about the suitability of the ELA and the Math exams for all children, not just children of color. This year’s exams will be given on April 5-7 (ELA) and April 13-15 (Math). The State Education Department released a sampling of the 2015 tests in August and you can find these questions and rationales used for grading each test at

You can also join us for a Community Forum on “Common Core State Testing and Curriculum”.  This Forum, on Saturday, April 2, 2016 will feature Principal Jamaal Bowman, the dynamic leader of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action, a public school in the Bronx.  Principal Bowman will speak on his experience teaching to the whole child and not to the tests and the impact this has on children, learning and their emotional and physical development.  This Forum will be held at the Merriweather Library beginning at 11:00am. Please join us.