ST. GEORGE – The Washington County School District Superintendent Larry Bergeson held a question-and-answer meeting Thursday for parents concerned with the state’s implementation of the Common Core initiative. Members of the school board, teachers, as well as state representatives were also on hand fielding questions from a crowded room.
“Let me make something clear,” Bergeson said as he began the meeting “we may not give you the answers you want to hear. We simply don’t have control over everything. We are holding this meeting because we want to answer questions, we are not hiding things. We are trying to do the best job we can.”
Nihla Judd of St George was the first to address the superintendent. She related how her first-grade grandchild brought home a book entitled “Clothes.” The book referred to the first people as being ape-like creatures who were covered in hair and didn’t wear much clothes, she said.
“Why do we have this social agenda going on in school,” Judd said, “when we want our children to learn facts and figures?”
On one occasion, Judd’s grandson’s mother asked him to clean out a water dish, she said. He went to use a sponge and when his mother said: “Don’t use that use a paper towel,” the boy replied that a tree gave of its life for a paper towel, that he would not throw boxes away, and became upset because in school he was taught he had to recycle.
“Common Core is unconstitutional and has not been through legislation or parent review,” Nihla Judd said. “When are we going to draw a line in the sand and say ‘no more’? We need to be Davids and stand up to Goliath and tell the federal government that we are not going to adopt a program that is harmful to our children.”
Bergeson said one thing that the district does have control over is curriculum. As to the items being brought home, he said he would look into that and see what exactly is happening and take appropriate action.
Several other parents including Nihla Judd went on to question the SAGE test, which is a test Utah Board of Education designed to assess if students are meeting the cord standards.
“I am very very concerned as to why it is so secretive,” Nihla Judd said. “We cant see it, we don’t know the results. We don’t know what the questions are. Students have told me that they are asking questions that are of no business to the school’s district – like: how does your mom feel? what is your dad like? How many guns do you own?”
Bergeson said: “I can’t verify those specific questions. In the past, you wouldn’t have been able to look at the tests either because it compromises the validity of those tests.”
If we don’t get to see the test, Nihla Judd said, how do we know where a child needs help?
Diana Suddreth, STEM Coordinator for the Utah Office of Education, was present to address the SAGE test. She said:
The Sage test is simply the newest end-of-year test. It would have happened with or without Common Core. It’s part of our accountability system. The state of Utah decided we wanted a Utah test. We contracted with the American Institute of Research – it is true AIR does have contracts that are of a behavioral nature, but the testing creation is a completely different division so there is no crossover there. The test were developed by Utah teachers. Those Utah teachers are going through the tests now that it has been administrated they are going threw the data and looking at the responses and seeing if they are assessing the standards.
“How do you know the people who work for that company didn’t throw any behavioral questions in?” one parent said.
“I know them,” Suddreth said. “I admit I don’t have the resumé of every person.”
Bergeson jumped in and said that he felt one of the main underlying issues is trust. Trust of the government and process in the creation of the Common Core initiative.
“I read that the school district receives 9 percent of its funding from the federal government,” St. George resident Joseph Judd said. “Why are we selling ourselves out to this Common Core for 9 percent?”
Bergeson said in response that he was not sure the exact amount of funding received but knew it was a low amount. However, for each student the budget allows for only about $6,000, as opposed to Wyoming which gets $16,000. So 9 percent, when you are receiving such a low amount, adds up, he said.
“I attended a run-down Dixie High School, now we have a brand new building. Hurricane has a brand new high school,” Joseph Judd said. “I would rather have my kids attend a run-down school than take 9 percent from the federal government.”
Lori Woodard of St George was concerned because when she opted her daughter out of the SAGE test, she, along with a few other students and parents who also opted out, were brought into the principal’s office and pressured into taking the test.
“We don’t agree with that,” Bergeson said. “After we learned that was going on we spoke to our principals and addressed that situation. Many principals were afraid if so many students opted out of the test, their schools would be listed as failing. No principals want that.”
Parents also were upset about their kids coming home with homework that already gave them the answer, and they were supposed to find out how another came up with the answer; or, that their kids were being taught to solve simple math problems using a more complex method. Woodard said:
Its telling them how to do the problem solving. Not teaching them to think about it and come up with your own solution. My child came home with a math problem of 22 + 16. What he was supposed to do is break the 22 down into 10s because it’s easier to deal with 10s. So now he has 10, 10, and 2. He now has to do the same to the 16. So now he has 10 and 6. So he adds the three 10s to make 30 and the 6 and 2 to make 8. Why can’t they simply do it the way we learned it back in the day. How do we expect these kids on the job if they need to add numbers quickly to do it with these methods?
“We disagree,” Bergeson said. “When we look at Common Core, we see it builds in problem solving, it’s building in application. We are doing more of that now than we ever did. I think at this point we understand what the concerns are and where we need to look into.”
The meeting then ended at about two hours duration.
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