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Teacher urges rally against state tests; says the math is too tough for 4th-graders

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A Madrid-Waddington Central School teacher says the state Education Department’s changes to standardized tests expect students to perform far beyond a realistic skill level.

Fourth-grade teacher William Gotsch said last week that if school districts do not rally against the changes, students and teachers will suffer as a result.

On Tuesday, Mr. Gotsch asked his district’s Board of Education to urge the state to revisit its new education standards after reviewing the common core sample math questions on the Education Department website.

In the new tests, Mr. Gostch said, fourth-graders will be expected to form algebraic equations from multi-step problems and calculate geometric angles at a level “too high for fourth-graders to complete.”

“I had an advanced eighth-grade student take the test. The student could not get through the first two questions,” Mr. Gotsch said.

The math test for grades three to eight will be based upon the common core, a curriculum designed to catch U.S. students up with world standards.

“I have no problem with the common core, but this test is not the common core,” Mr. Gotsch said. “I was promised with the common core that we would be able to use manipulatives — rulers, protractors and other teaching tools. Instead, our class time is spent reading the textbook. We don’t have time for anything else.”

Mr. Gotsch said he sent the Internet link to the sample questions, which he said is “buried” on the Education Department website, to teachers, parents and administrators in and out of the district to try to garner support for changing the standards.

Madrid-Waddington Superintendent Lynn M. Roy said she will take Mr. Gotsch’s list of concerns to John B. King Jr., commissioner of education and president of the State University of New York, at a meeting in Rochester this week.

“These changes are too much, too soon,” she said.

Indian River Central School District Assistant Superintendent Mary Anne Dobmeier said teachers are working hard to make sure teaching matches the standards that will be tested later this year.

“Math is going to require a real different set of strategies,” she said. “There are not a lot of elementary teachers that have a math certification.”

The district hired two math coaches through a U.S. Department of Defense education activity grant specifically for elementary and intermediate schools to help improve teachers’ math skills.

Philip Snyder, a fourth-grade teacher at Hermon-DeKalb Central School, pointed out that changes to the fourth-grade math assessment are being implemented at the same time as the new teacher evaluation system, the annual professional performance review.

“The major changes required for courses like fourth-grade math are requiring extensive training on the teachers’ part and a whole new way of thinking for students,” Mr. Snyder said.

Teachers’ favorable performance reviews depend in part on how many students pass the standardized tests.

“What they have done has caused an incredible amount of anxiety in our teaching ranks and students,” said Jamie M. Cruikshank, principal of Potsdam Middle School. “We are testing to the point of overload. This is October. My students are already burnt out.”

He said he would rather the state implement the changes in stages, allowing the teachers to design a successful curriculum before they are evaluated.

“Every one of my teachers has approached me,” Mr. Cruikshank said. “I have anxiety over the rate of change that the state is asking us to go through.”

Mr. Gotsch said his concern is not for himself, but for his students.

“If I have kids taking this test in April — remember, this is an April test, not a June test — I will have kids crying and giving up after the first few questions,” he said.

Jonathan Burman, spokesman for the state Education Department, said drastic changes are necessary to ready students for a 21st-century work force.

“The bottom line is that we need to make bold, systemic changes to help all of New York’s students graduate high school ready for college and careers,” he said. “The Regents’ education reforms are essential, and delay only denies our children the best education we can give them.”

Mr. Gotsch disagreed.

“Our kids are being robbed as we race to try to pass this test,” Mr. Gotsch said. “I want my kids to be ready for whatever career they want. I don’t want school to hold them back.”

Times staff writer Reena Singh and Johnson Newspapers writer Susan Mende contributed to this report.

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