JOHNSTOWN - Several hundred parents packed the local BOCES?campus Thursday to get more information about the new Common Core educational standards, but some parents said after the event they still have questions.
One parent said her second-grader comes home from school "in tears" over the standards.
The Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services held what it called a Common Core Fair, which included an explanation about Common Core and a short question-and-answer period led by HFM BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel.
Stephanie Andrews, a parent of two children in the Mayfield Central School District, talks about her daughter being pushed to tears because of the new Common Core standards. HFM BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel is standing at left.
In July 2010, the state Board of Regents adopted Common Core standards for mathematics, English language arts, literacy in history and social studies, science and technical subjects. Local districts have implemented the standards.
Michel said the Common Core Fair was not designed to address the political issues regarding the new standards, but to discuss parents' concerns and what they can do to help their children get through the changes.
"We want to show you how to help your child succeed with Common Core," Michel said.
Michel said Common Core came about because of the pressure from businesses, colleges and the military, which were finding the children coming through the education system weren't meeting the standards and expectations of today's technologically advanced world.
"The system itself didn't match the reality that the military, business and college communities [are] seeing now," Michel said.
He said Massachusetts has had the standards for 10 years, and although there was a difficult transition period for that state, Massachusetts students' test scores today are better than those across the rest of the country.
Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Dustin Swanger told the audience he has noticed many students coming to his college are unprepared for the college level.
Swanger said 70 percent of new college students who come to FM have to take at least one remedial course which primarily is math. He said 40 percent of new students have to take at least two remedial courses.
"They are not prepared for college-level work, so I keep talking to the school districts and tell them I want to be put out of the remedial business," Swanger said. "I'm offering more than I should have to, and [the Common Core] is an effort to raise the bar so that when students come to a college campus or get to work in a high-tech industry, they are ready, and that's what we need to do."
During the question period, Stephanie Andrews, a parent of two children in the Mayfield Central School District, asked what parents are supposed to do to help their children who spend hours on homework and often get so frustrated they end up in tears from the stress.
"Every night, my second- grader comes home and is in tears. My husband and I help her the best we can, but my second-grader should not be in tears," Andrews said. "Our second-graders are not thinking about heading into a career field, and our focus used to be reading, but we don't even have time to have her read anymore. We spend 45 minutes on math. I'm not going to make her read after that point."
She said her daughter's teacher is doing a great job and has told them to work on the assignments until they become frustrated and then put the work away for her to cover in class the following day.
"She told me if one student doesn't understand a part, then many in the class probably don't either, and will go over it again with the class," Andrews said.
Andrews and other parents had concerns about how students with special needs are going to get through the tougher standards.
Michel said 170 teachers of special-needs classes are still meeting this week to address how the new standards can be taught and understood by their students.
Other parents questioned how they should address the "mounds of homework," much of which they don't understand. Michel told them to speak with their teachers and principals about the homework issues because they need feedback.
"Your feedback to your teachers is extremely important because they won't know how to calibrate and deal with things if they don't hear from you," Michel said.
After the short question period, about 40 teachers and superintendents from the local school districts were available to talk about the Common Core.
Each grade level was designated to a table to allow parents to walk around to ask specific questions about the assignments their children are bringing home.
Some parents had their children's homework in hand, primarily math.
Andrews said people's questions weren't fully answered because of the way the question period was structured. She said she hopes there will be a different session later in which more focus is on parents' questions.
She said she found the tables helpful. Many of the teachers explained patience is the key and not to get frustrated if they don't understand assignments.
Andrews said the Broadalbin-Perth teachers in particular had the best answers and approach because they are meeting the standards while still finding creative ways to interact and engage the class.
Eight teachers at Broadalbin-Perth were trained by Common Core officials in Albany who were responsible for writing the new learning standards in each subject being implemented across the state.
Broadalbin-Perth Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson said as teachers became more familiar with what Common Core is and what they are expected to accomplish, they did not feel as overwhelmed by the standards.
Parent Aubrey Slape of Amsterdam brought her 7-year-old child and said she is concerned the Common Core doesn't allow teachers to teach more to the advanced students in the class.
Anna Veeder, who has children in Broadalbin-Perth and Mayfield, said she would like the districts to hold workshops to show parents the basics of Common Core so they can help their children with work expected to be completed outside the classroom.
Parents were advised to use a question box in the back of the room to write about their concerns. Within the next week, HFM BOCES will address more of the questions on its website, www.hfmboces.org.
The website already includes quick links directing parents to the specific pages where questions or topics can be addressed, Michel said. He said this was done by BOCES because the state website is difficult to navigate.
To further reach community concerns, many districts will host their own Common Core nights, although not all of them have been scheduled yet, district superintendents said.
The Broadalbin-Perth Central School District will host an event for parents who have children in kindergarten through fifth grade Nov. 12. An event for parents with children in grades six through 12 will take place Nov. 14. Both events will be held at the high school auditorium starting at 6 p.m.
"This was all about parents interacting with teachers to show them how to succeed in the Common Core," Michel said of Monday's event. "I think it went really well."
The Common Core standards have been widely criticized across the state. Many teachers have complained. Some say the standards were implemented too soon. The state education commissioner has heard complaints at forums.