Attn: Ms. Trina S. Newton, Superintendent of Schools
Administration Center, Geneva City School District
400 West North St.
Geneva, NY 14456
Open Letter to Ms. Trina Newton
Dear Ms. Newton:
In recent years I have been assigned to administer New York State Assessments to students during testing days. I am requesting to be assigned alternative duties during these assessments in the future. As an employee of the Geneva City School District, I feel it is my duty to speak up when practices and policies that cause harm to our students are in place. The assessments administered by Pearson for the State of New York are part of a scheme that is causing harm to our students and may ultimately cause the Geneva City School District to cease to exist as we know it. Participating in this process seems to be the wrong thing to do.
Through the course of my duties as a proctor last Spring, I reviewed the assessments that fourth grade students were administered. As a long time educator, I was very dismayed. These tests seemed to be designed to trick students into answering incorrectly rather than to think through logically and develop sound answers based on facts found in text or mathematical information. Sadly, it is impossible for me to discuss these tests frankly because there is a gag order on all teachers in New York State regarding the contents of the exams. This gag order was put into place after poorly designed and nonsensical test items were made public in 2012. If I were to reveal specific questions, even after the fact, I would put my career at risk.
Outgoing Education Commissioner King has stated that parents deserve to know how well their children are performing. If this is the case, it is essential that parents see the actual tests after they are administered and graded. When the State only releases excerpts from exams, it promotes a culture of distrust. How can parents determine the value of a test if they are never permitted to see the document? Parents also should clearly understand the cut score system. They need to know that these cut scores were designed to fail the majority of students in the State. The results were determined before the tests were taken.
The Governor and State Legislature have acknowledged that the roll-out of new assessments is flawed and, therefore, have delayed consequences for students for several years. At the same time, the Governor has now decided that 50% of an individual teacher’s evaluation should be based on these same flawed tests. Does anyone really think that this is going to result in less pressure for students? The Governor has also decided that 35% of each teacher’s evaluation will be determined by an outside observer. This leaves the Geneva City School District with 15% to work with. Having spent eleven years of my thirty year career working as a middle and high school principal, I am appalled. The Governor does not trust the Board of Education in Geneva with the education of the children in this community. It is only a matter of time before all local control is removed.
I am encouraged by the actions of the Geneva Board of Education on January 12, 2015. The Resolution on High Stakes Testing and the Resolution in Support of Correction of Inequitable and Discriminatory Funding of State Aid are important statements of principle from the elected leaders of our school district. I fully support the sentiments of these resolutions and stand with the Board of Education. Sadly, our Board of Education is hamstrung by New York State. If the district administrators and our Board of Education do not bow to the dictates of the State Education Department, it is threatened that State Aid will be withheld and the district could conceivably come under the direct control of the State.
It is time for all stakeholders in this educational community to make their voices heard in Albany. The students, Board of Education, and educators need your help. Please take a stand for local control of your school district. Geneva is a unique and wonderful place with amazing promise. I am thankful every day that I have the opportunity to serve the young people of Geneva. I wish to continue my service with the support that we truly deserve from our State leaders.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of my request for re-assignment.
Kenneth P. Foster
Instrumental Music Teacher
North St. School
cc Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo