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So far, parent group is sitting out dueling Common Core forums

Two sides of a heated debate over the role of testing in New York State schools are rushing to plan a series of dueling forums to give parents a platform to share their concerns.

The State Education Department is scheduling more than a dozen small forums about the Common Core, the state’s new standards, to replace ones that Commissioner John King canceled over the weekend. And the state teachers union is planning forums of its own in response to King’s decision.

But a statewide parent group caught in the middle of the fight isn’t sure if it’ll participate in either.

“Until we can tone down some of the emotion, we’re not sure we’re ready to go out into public forums yet,” said Richard Longhurst, executive administrator of the New York State Parent Teacher Association.

Longhurst said his group had already turned down an invitation from the state teachers union, which hastily announced Thursday afternoon that it plans to host at least four forums in different parts of the state. Union officials said the events are meant to “fill the void” left when King cancelled plans to meet with parents after he was confronted by a raucous crowd of parents and teachers at a meeting in Poughkeepsie last week.

“These forums will allow the voices of parents and educators to be heard,” said Dick Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers.

The union said it remains a staunch supporter of the Common Core, which schools have been adopting as part of their classroom instruction for the past two school years. But the process has been bumpy, with complaints from teachers that they are ill-prepared to make the transition. Union officials blame the state, which they say has not followed through on a promise to develop a new curriculum aligned to the standards.

The latest fight is over new tests that have been designed to assess how well students are learning under the standards. Last year, the first when students took tests tied to the Common Core, scores fell statewide, drawing parents’ concerns. The tests will also play a significant role in how teachers are rated, though the union has called for a three-year moratorium on the test scores being used as part of evaluations.

The state PTA co-hosted the meeting in Poughkeepsie with the State Education Department, which Longhurst said affected its response to the union’s invitation.

“We weren’t ready to make that kind commitment given our experience last week,” Longhurst said.

Longhurst said the PTA’s executive committee will convene over the weekend and meet with King and the State Education Department on Monday before deciding whether to sign on for another round of public meetings.

“I’m not sure what will happen going forward and I’m not sure whether we’ll participate,” Longhurst added.

Shortly after the union announced plans for its own forums, an SED spokesman said that King would schedule about 15 meetings that will be smaller and “more regionalized” than the ones planned by the PTA.

“We’ll be hitting every corner of the state,” said the spokesman, Dennis Tompkins. “We’ll be doing many more than five.”

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