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Seventy-two Massena Central students opt out of Common Core math assessment


MASSENA - There were a number of empty seats when Massena Central School students sat down last week to take the recent Common Core math assessment.

Interim Superintendent William H. Flynn said parents of 72 students opted not to have their child take the test.

Earlier this year, 21 students at J.W. Leary Junior High School did not take the Common Core English language arts assessment. Eleven students also opted out of that test at Jefferson, Madison and Nightengale elementary schools.

Mr. Flynn and Evelyn M. Fiske, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said the new curriculum that was introduced this year has been a challenge for teachers, students and parents, which may have led to the high number of students who opted not to take the test.

“I think most likely the Common Core math had an implementation that threw students into a curriculum where they didn’t have previous instruction,” Ms. Fiske said, noting most of the frustration was in math “because of the nature of the change” in the curriculum that students were learning.

“We had probably a few more issues with the math curriculum,” Mr. Flynn said.

That’s despite what Ms. Fiske said was an “unprecedented” amount of staff development this year to prepare teachers for the new curriculum. She said teachers who instruct in Common Core subjects have had a minimum of 18 hours of professional development to help them tackle the Common Core curriculum. But, she said, any time there is a change, teachers have to spent more time preparing to teach it to the students.

“Our teachers have really done a nice job,” she said.

Many parents have shared concerns about not being able to assist their children with math homework because of its complexity.

“It is a very different way of looking at mathematics. I think parents have found it very difficult. Even at the younger years, they’re not familiar with the way mathematics is being taught. That’s frustrating when you can’t help at home,” Ms. Fiske said.

She thinks there has been too much emphasis on students needing to meet proficiency instead of how taking the test can provide district officials with information they need to tailor their instruction in a way that addresses student needs.

“It does give us valuable information about our curriculum. Unfortunately we won’t have good feedback on what works and what didn’t work,” she said, noting that teachers can “tweak” the curriculum to address the needs.

It also assists them in identifying students who need extra help in learning the curriculum’s standards.

“It does provide us with information on who needs academic intervention services,” she said.

But, with more than 70 students not taking the test, it makes it harder for district officials to determine how much extra assistance a student may need, according to Ms. Fiske.

“We’ll have to look at multiple measures as far as their performance throughout the year,” she said.

Districts are expected to have a 95 percent participation rate on the tests and, if they don’t meet the required participation rate, it could affect the school’s adequate yearly progress measure from the state Education Department. The AYP is used to determine is a school district is in good standing. Schools that do not have 95 percent participation for three consecutive years could have to develop a state-monitored improvement plan.

“There is a safe harbor where you can utilize your participation from the previous year to kind of help you out. We don’t have those calculations yet” to determine if they’ve met the required participation rate, Ms. Fiske said.

The Potsdam Central School District had 48 middle school students and eight elementary student opt out of the math test. They had 23 middle school students and four elementary students opt out of the ELA test.

In Brasher Falls, 10 St. Lawrence Central School students opted out of the math test. Five had opted out of the ELA test.

Norwood-Norfolk Central School had five students opt out of the math test. One had opted out of the ELA test, but a second student decided to opt out part way through the test.

In the Parishville-Hopkinton Central School District, four students opted out of the math test and two students had earlier opted out of the ELA test.

Colton-Pierrepont Central School had one student opt out of the math test and none opt out for ELA.

The Ogdensburg City School District had seven out of 723 students in grades 3 through 8 opted out of ELA testing; 11 students out of 723 in grades 3 through 8 opted out of math testing.

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