Speaking out on the Common Core

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder has learned in the last two weeks how widely read her Superintendent’s Page on the Voorheesville Central School District web site has become with educators.

Just one day after New York state announced the disappointing Common Core test results for math and English Language Arts from grades three to eight, Snyder voiced her displeasure on the site. “These tests were intentionally designed to obtain precisely the outcomes that were rendered,” she wrote. “The rationale behind this is to demonstrate that our most successful students are not so much and our least successful students are dreadful. If you look at the distribution of scores, you see exactly the same distances as any other test. The only difference is that the distribution has been manipulated to be 30 to 40 percent lower for everybody.”

Her message was not the spin that was coming from state Education Commissioner John King Jr. “I understand these scores are sobering for parents, teachers and principals,” King said on Aug. 7, the day the results were made public. “It’s frustrating to see our children struggle. But we can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by frustration; we must be energized by this opportunity.”

For better or worse, many educators have echoed King’s sentiment. That’s the company line.

But not Snyder, who leads the Voorheesville schools that are located in a western suburb of Albany. Within days after her posting, many educators have reached out to her with thanks – from across this state, nation and Canada – for what she said about the tests.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” she said of the response in a phone interview. “I now know what ‘going viral’ means.”

A lot of the support she said she is receiving is coming from other school leaders across the state “who wish they could say the same thing,” but fear the ramifications could include losing their jobs.

Snyder, however, is unwavering in her stance. When it came to the past year’s tests, students in her district scored remarkably better than the state average of the 31 percent proficiency rates for English and math. In English, Voorheesville grade five students had a 60 percent proficiency rate. In math, third-grade students had a rate of 74.8 percent.

Demographics, Snyder noted, had a lot to do with the results. Voorheesville has an enrollment of about 1,200 students and boasts a graduation rate of 97 percent. The crucial ingredient for the success is the district is quite wealthy with only 5 percent of the student population being eligible for free and reduced lunch.

“I love teaching and learning, but I find(these results) disconcerting,” she said.

The transition is far from complete. Teachers across our region – and state – are being dictated to teach the same curriculum that has some, including Snyder, shaking their heads.

“How many of us truly believe that expecting first-graders to understand and explain why Mesopotamia is the cradle of civilization is reasonable?” she questioned on her web site. “How many of us truly even imagine that 6-year-olds should be able to identify cuneiform and hieroglyphics or understand the importance of the code of Hammurabi? Check it out – then I suggest you let your legislators, and the Department of Education know what matters to you.”

At www.engageny.org is the curriculum model in detail. Those with children attending area schools may be shocked at what books students will be reading and what topics are being addressed in each grade.

“I think it’s the parents who will have to turn the tide on this,” Snyder said.

There have been some changes in our newsroom this summer.

Diane Chodan, who has been with the OBSERVER since 2010, has been named our Lifestyles editor. Katie Atkins is the staff writer who will be filling Chodan’s past chair, covering Stockton, Cassadaga and the surrounding schools. Atkins is a graduate of Mercyhurst University and a Chautauqua County native. Greg Fox, another Chautauqua County native and recent graduate from the University of Rochester, joined our news staff in June and is covering the Fredonia area.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.