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Madrid-Waddington parents fear state standards will leave children behind

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MADRID — Madrid-Waddington Central School parents are worried that more stringent state standards will hinder their fourth-graders’ math ability in the long run.

This year, the state Education Department introduced new math tests for grades 3 to 8 based upon the common core, a curriculum designed to catch U.S. students up with world standards. As a result many teachers and parents say they are scrambling to keep up with the new standards.

Anita M. Cafarella said her son, Thomas A.D., 10, of Waddington, used to love math. Now they spend up to one hour on math homework alone, five nights a week. Each night he learns a new topic. His mother said Monday that Thomas doesn’t have enough time for his “brain to soak in” the material.

“It’s become overwhelming for him,” according to Mrs. Cafarella. “Thomas does not enjoy learning the way he always enjoyed it in the past. When you start taking the fun out of learning, then you lose the interest.”

David J. Bailey of Waddington said he and his son, Ethan, 10, spend an inordinate amount of time on math homework.

“It is over the top as far as its rigor and as far as what it should be measuring,” Mr. Bailey said. “It is beyond what a typical fourth-grader should know. He should not be expected to do eighth-grade math for a test that measures student growth and achievement.”

Mr. Bailey said he, like many parents, has noticed psychological changes in his son as a result.

“Think of yourself as the learner,” Mr. Bailey said. “I think frustration is a hallmark of what these kids have to go through, including my son ... If you had to accomplish a particular task five times longer or not understand it after the first 10 tries, you would do what every other frustrated person would do. You would throw your hands up. It’s very difficult to learn anything under these circumstances.”

Matthew Daley, who began his role as elementary school principal this year, said he immediately noticed the growing changes among students, parents and teachers.

“There is a level of anxiety on the part of teachers and students relating to the enormous emphasis placed on state assessments,” he said. “The teachers and students put in hundreds of hours of teaching and preparation time during the school year to learn to teach the test.”

Teachers this year will receive performance reviews based in part on how well students do on standardized tests.

The assessments, Mr. Daley said, are “mere snapshots” and not a true indicator of student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

“The purpose of state and other mandated assessments are to show student growth and achievement in order to provide instructional programming to better meet the needs of our students,” he said.

However, Mr. Daley said, the amount of time teachers spend attending mandatory training designed to instruct them in administering, scoring and interpreting the results of these assessments has become disruptive in the continuity of instruction in the classroom.

“Highly qualified teachers need to be in their classrooms doing what they do best — teaching,” he said.

Madrid-Waddington officials said last week they will voice their concerns about the standards with state officials.

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