NORWALK, Conn. – Board of Education personnel repeated the same message over and over again Thursday night: Norwalk school children are exceeding their expectations in the transition to Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
This was repeated in answer to tough questions from some of the more than 100 parents attending a forum about CCSS held at the Norwalk Public Library and hosted by the Norwalk Education Foundation, parents who were in a no-nonsense, skeptical mood.
“Is there any data to say this will work?” Thomas Mahoney asked, after listening to an hour-long PowerPoint presentation about the transition from Norwalk educators, who expressed satisfaction at the nearly full library auditorium.
Mahoney referred to news stories that report a backlash against Common Core, concerns about its costs and negative reactions to tests.
“Why are so many states pulling out?” he asked. “That is why, I think, there’s a crowd here. … Is this going to work for my kid?”
District Math Specialist Craig Creller, head of the Norwalk Common Core Transition Team, said that no states have pulled out, that the news reports are exaggerated. Common Core was voluntarily adopted by 46 states because children in Tennessee should have the same opportunities as those in Massachusetts, he said, adding a patriotic note: “This is the United States of America. … We want high standards for all students.”
Norwalk has already been using CCSS in mathematics for two years and that has provided two years’ worth of data for some students, he said.
“Our students are far exceeding our expectations in mathematics,” he said, emphasizing that kindergarten students, who are fully immersed in Common Core for mathematics, are doing very well.
A woman who said she assists in a kindergarten classroom echoed the sentiment.
“There are kindergarten kids that I didn’t think could do it,” she said. “They have been able to add when I didn’t think they could, and their reading is phenomenal, too.”
A mother of a kindergarten student said she keeps thinking her daughter isn’t doing it right but the child has it down.
“She is really learning,” she said.
Some parents objected to the use of standards. Deputy Superintendent Tony Daddona said standards aren’t new.
“We have always based our curriculum on standards,” he said. “The standards have changed somewhat but not drastically.”
One mother questioned why the students weren’t being tested for two years as the Connecticut standardized testing has been phased out, but the Common Core Standards will not be phased in until next year.
“We’re still doing our own benchmarks assessment standards,” Daddona said, meaning, the children are taking Norwalk-centric tests.
Middle School English/Language Arts Department Head Tritty Kelly said parents could go online to the new parent portal and see their child’s test scores. Many of the parents hadn’t heard of the parent portal. School officials promised to put the link up on the BoE’s website.
Ponus Ridge Middle School teacher Joe Giandurco said he and other teachers have questions, too. Tests begin April 1, according to Creller, but Giandurco said the wireless installations aren’t done yet and teachers don’t know what tools the children will be using. There will only be about a month for practice once the technology is in, he said.
“Its a huge concern for all middle school and probably all teachers,” he said.
District Testing Specialist Diane Filardo said there will be one test for all middle school students, that the children are learning to use the tools very quickly.
Chief of Technology, Innovation and Partnerships Ralph Valenzisi had said that 2,000 Chromebooks are being deployed throughout the district with an eye toward making sure that each school had the same ratio of students to new computers. But Giandurco said that there aren’t going to be enough Chromebooks to go around, meaning there will be children who won’t be involved in the testing, who will be in the hallways making noise.
Filardo said there are committees at every school studying the issue. Children can rotate through computer labs, and those not testing can have a double period of working on other things.
“There are creative ways and every school is looking into it,” she said.
Board of Education member Mike Barbis, who attended the event along with BOE Chairman Mike Lyons, handed his card to Mahoney, the man who talked of national news reports.
Mahoney said he thought Creller’s answer to be “incomplete.”
“I think they’re describing a Disneyland of Education,” he said. “What is happening in the classroom is not the same as what they are describing.”