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AFTPA Calls for a Moratorium on Common Core, High-Stakes Testing and Teacher Evaluation

HARRISBURG (May 13, 2013) – “AFT Pennsylvania is calling for a moratorium on the requirements for students, teachers and schools associated with the new Common Core State Standards,” said Rosemary Boland, executive vice president of the statewide teachers’ union and president of the Scranton Federation of Teachers during a news conference with Senate Democrats Monday.

Speaking at the Capitol, Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, Democratic chair of the Senate Education Committee; Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny;  and Sens. Judy Schwank, John Blake and Jim Brewster expressed their concerns about the proposed changes.

“We are not opposed to the implementation of Common Core standards for Pennsylvania’s students,” Dinniman said. “But we are opposed to Common Core standards without adequate state financial resources for our schools so that all of our students have the opportunity to succeed under those standards, including those in financially distressed school districts.

According to Dinniman, the implementation of Common Core standards will result in an unfunded mandate of at least $300 million for local schools. There is no specified funding or plan to provide for the remedial instruction, the redesign of curriculum, or the project-based assessments for those who repeatedly fail the tests.

Boland added: “Teachers in Pennsylvania and across the nation support the Common Core State Standards, which establish what students should know and emphasize the problem-solving, critical thinking and teamwork skills students need to be successful.

“A national poll by the American Federation of Teachers shows, however, that the Common Core Standards have been presented unevenly across school districts. A majority of teachers have not been provided with adequate professional development. Nor have many educators had an opportunity to put them into practice and develop strategies that work in the classroom. The federal government spent $350 million developing new, high-stakes tests aligned with the standards, but no resources have been committed specifically to prepare teachers to use the new standards effectively,” she said.

“Among teachers polled, only 27 percent said their school districts had provided them with all or most of the materials they would need to successfully teach to the standards, and more than half (53 percent) had been given little or no training to teach using the Common Core Standards,” Boland said.

“Pennsylvania’s Keystone and PSSA exams are based on Common Core State Standards or Pennsylvania Common Core Standards, and beginning in September, Pennsylvania teachers will be evaluated based on those assessments – despite the fact that most teachers have received neither the professional development nor the materials necessary to ensure their students’ success.

“We believe the Pennsylvania Department of Education must work with teachers to develop an implementation plan that includes high-quality curricula, materials and professional development. Materials must be field tested and adjusted as necessary to ensure that the standards, curriculum and tests are aligned.  Finally, the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the legislature must commit financial resources necessary to ensure success of the Common Core standards. It is unreasonable to evaluate students, schools and teachers until the state has developed a Common Core State Standards implementation plan that includes teacher training and field testing of curriculum, methods and materials,” Boland said.

Schwank, who represents the economically and academically struggling Reading School District, said the new testing will be particularly devastating to fiscally challenged schools.

“School districts like Reading, as well as many others around the state, are drowning in red ink now,” Schwank said.  “These new mandates, without proper fiscal support, will make their financial plight even worse.        
“There is certainly nothing wrong with increasing proficiency standards but students, teachers and schools must have resources to invest to address deficiencies.”

To implement new standards and testing procedures without adding dollars makes no sense, Blake noted. Especially, he said, after the Corbett administration has slashed basic education support by $900 million.

“To add new core testing procedures and a mandate at a cost exceeding $300 million after cutting education support is irresponsible,” Blake said.  “The local property taxpayer is going to get squeezed and economically strapped schools and taxpayers will bear an even greater burden.”

Brewster said instead of implementing more tests and costs, educators and the Corbett administration need to step back and decide whether the current testing structure is constructive. He has proposed Senate Bill 823 to create a bi-partisan commission to recommend changes or a total scrapping of the current student testing procedures.

“My belief is we need to look at what we are doing with student testing and come up with a new, better approach that accurately reflects student, school, teacher and community performance,” Brewster said.  “Today’s tests are flawed and the whole system is need of restructuring.”

Boland added: “I urge legislators and the Department of Education to declare a moratorium on the implementation of Pennsylvania’s Common Core Standards, Keystone Exams and mandated statewide teacher evaluation program until teachers and administrators in every school district have received the training and materials they need to use CCSS successfully. We must make sure that the Common Core State Standards are implemented properly before students, teachers and schools are held accountable.”

AFT Pennsylvania represents 36,000 public, private and charter school teachers and school support employees; community college and university faculty and staff; and state employees across the commonwealth. AFT Pennsylvania is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO.

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