Disagree with editorial on opt-out impetus
As a public school teacher, I was disappointed to read the April 12 editorial, “Be aware of influences before opting out of tests,” and especially this paragraph at the end, “Parents and their children are being used by the teachers unions against Gov. Andrew Cuomo as political leverage for what the unions want to accomplish with regard to standardized testing, particularly eliminating it or significantly reducing its influence as a tool in teacher evaluations.”
This opt-out movement was never initially encouraged by the teacher’s union. It was a movement that was begun by parents throughout the state who were worried about the amount of tests being given in our public schools. These parents were worried about what the tests were doing to their children and how it was impacting on their child’s overall education.
In the past two months, I’ve attended two education rallies, one at the state Capitol and another at Burnt Hills High School. At both rallies the topic of opting out of the state tests was never mentioned. What was mentioned was the fact that teachers, students, and their parents are all tired of the amount of testing going on today in our public schools. Teachers are also unhappy that Gov. Cuomo would want to evaluate them up to 50 percent based on a test that does not accurately represent what goes on in our classrooms.
I have been a high school and middle school teacher for over 30 years, and I have always taken great pride in my work. I have been evaluated fairly for all these years by professional administrators who have provided me with valuable feedback on my classroom teaching both in regards to the course content and in my interactions with the students. I see merit in having a portion of this evaluation based on a state teat, but 50 percent is extreme.
As a teacher in the Bethlehem School District, I know that an administrator may wander into any of my classes at any time. I have been visited five times this year by administrators, and only twice was it set up beforehand. In my opinion that has always been the best way to judge a teacher.
Scoring well on a standardized test that does not reflect what I have been teaching is low on my priority list. I want my students to be excited about reading and writing, and I want them asking difficult questions. I want to challenge them creatively, and I want them to be lifelong readers with a willingness to always keep learning. Young people want to be challenged, and whenever we do test prep they groan and complain and can’t wait to get back to the exciting stuff.
I recently read a book, “The Test” by Anya Kamenetz, the NPR [National Public Radio] education reporter. It gave a very readable and thorough report on the testing mania currently taking over our country’s public education system. It pointed out “..that standardized testing has become a $2 billion industry controlled by a handful of companies and backed by some of the world’s wealthiest men and women.” I have read numerous accounts that many of these same people and companies have given significant donations to Gov. Cuomo in his last election.
The testing companies want these tests to be difficult because according to Kamenetz, “. . . over 60 percent of the test companies’ revenue comes from prep materials, not the test themselves.”
Yes, teachers are frustrated. According to a Quinipiac poll 63 percent of New York residents disagreed with Gov. Cuomo’s education plan while only 28 percent agreed with him. I also know someone who works for a state assemblyman who told me their office received over 1,000 calls critical of the governor’s education plan while only a handful called in favor of it.
Despite this Gov. Cuomo continued on with his strategy to continue these high stakes tests and to put a higher percentage of them as part of each teacher’s evaluation. He also wants to bring in evaluators from outside the school district to observe teachers.
What the governor has not said is something that Kamenetz pointed out, ” . . . of the 50 million students in American public schools, 22 million receive free and reduced-price lunches. Their families earn less than $50,000 for a family of four. Poor kids don’t get as much sleep. They often come to school without breakfast. Their vision goes uncorrected. They are more likely to suffer from toxic stress — a parent in jail, abuse, trauma, or risk of homelessness.”
It’s obvious a standardized test is not such a priority to these students, and yet teachers will be evaluated, perhaps up to fifty percent, based on how well these students complete a test they know has very little significance to them.
Teachers are hard-working people who care very much for their profession and especially for their students. We are unhappy with the amount of testing and what has happened with this latest state budget. We have protested professionally. We have called our legislators, and the public has supported us.
If a child wants to opt-out of taking the state test, all I tell them is our policy at Bethlehem, which is to have their parents write a letter to the principal. I am not encouraging or discouraging students to opt-out and neither are the teachers unions. In America we have the right to speak up about laws and policies we disagree with and opting out of state tests is one way of making a statement.
Notar’s contributions to community run deep
Re April 1 article, “Joe Notar dies, helped Democrats take control of Schenectady gov’t in 1975”: I was saddened to learn of the passing of former Schenectady City Councilman Joseph Notar.
Within the article it noted that among his many accomplishments was Joe’s support for the city parks department and investing in upgrades to Central Park, a treasured recreational asset. Unfortunately, I never met Joe Notar and first heard of his name when I was handed an archival folder with newspaper clippings when I first accepted the job of race director for the Stockade-athon Road Race in 1998.
I feel it is important to share with your readers that Notar’s early support of the parks department, and his general interest in sports in general, were a significant factor in the creation of the inaugural Stockade-athon Road Race in 1976 as a celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of the United States.
The Stockade-athon Road Race was then organized by the city Parks Department under the management of Eleanor McGrath, who ran the department at that time. She designed the first t-shirt and initiated the early press releases to draw interest to the race. Two park employees, Chris Carroll and Mark Mindel, laid out the first course that utilized sections of the high school Grout XC course in Central Park, before exiting the park for a tour of the historic Stockade District and downtown proper before returning to Central Park. All of these individuals credit Joe Notar as a wonderful source of support as the plans proceeded.
The first event drew a modest 80 finishers, but the timing of race was critical to its rapid growth. In 1976, native New Yorker Frank Shorter won the Olympic marathon, and in the following five years, Bill Rodgers won the Boston and New York City marathons four times each, ushering in an era where U.S. athletes were dominating the sport of distance running.
By 1980, the Stockade-athon was drawing over 1,000 participants when the Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Club agreed to manage the popular event after experienced park personnel moved on. The following year, The Gazette newspaper signed on as the title sponsor that helped ensure years of future success.
Fast forward four decades, and the Stockade-athon Road Race will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Nov. 8, 2015. During the past four years, the race has drawn in excess of 1,600 finishers each year, one of only 10 15K road races in the country that remain this popular. Most of the others are in major cities line Portland, Ore.; Tulsa, Okla.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Jacksonville, Fla.; and New York City. Of these 10 major 15K races, the Stockade-athon is the oldest and the first to reach the 40-year milestone.
However, perhaps an even more rare accomplishment is how the Stockade-athon continues to draw the very best amateur distance running talent from across the Northeast. Schenectady is rightfully proud of the National Championship won by the Union College hockey program last year, just as Albany is equally proud of the remarkable three-year stretch where Albany University made the 64-team NCAA basketball tournament.
When amateur athletics are on display at such a high level, the whole Capital District takes interest, and there is a general uplifting feeling to be part of such an experience.
What distinguishes the Stockade-athon from just about any other road race in upstate New York, with the exception of the World Class Utica Boilermaker, is the level of national class runners who travel to Schenectady each year, and have for decades, to compete in this classic urban road racing championship. Just last year, with the change of the start to downtown Schenectady, a new major sponsor in MVP Health Care and championship sponsor support from Fleet Feet Sports, the Stockade-athon was won by Josh McDougal, a former NCAA national cross-country champion.
The women’s winner was two-time New York state runner of the year Megan Hogan, originally from Saratoga Springs, now living in New York City. She broke the event record that stood for 20 years. It was previously held by seven-time Stockade-athon champion Lori Hewig. In total, 58 distance runners ran nationally-ranked times on the hilly Stockade-athon course in 2014.
Over the years, there are certainly too many individuals and several key sponsors and race directors that have allowed the Stockade-athon race to grow into a very popular community event, augmented by very select amateur talent at the front of the pack. However, there is no question that the Stockade-athon’s humble beginnings trace back to the honorable Joe Notar, a sports fan and big supporter of the city parks and recreation department.
Categories: Letters to the Editor