PEABODY — A pilot program designed to help teachers evaluate kindergartners has raised red flags for School Committee members concerned that their control is being usurped.
Specifically, they complain that the federal Common Core curriculum and its Race to the Top grants are forcing them into spending and projects they do not want.
Massachusetts Kindergarten Entry Assessment, or MKEA, is mandated by Common Core. It’s the first of a serious of programs expected to cover the system from kindergarten to 12th grade.
“It’s not a test; “it’s an assessment.” said Deb Murphy, the schools’ kindergarten coordinator at Tuesday’s meeting. She added that a “huge piece” of that assessment, which began early in the school year, involves the student’s “social and emotional environment.” The School Department has been required to provide kindergarten teachers with iPad Minis to help with the work and to ensure that observations and ideas aren’t forgotten in the rush of dealing with the class.
That information must be forwarded to Pearson Testing, which is responsible for evaluating it.
The committee offered no complaints about the aims of the program. But an alarmed Beverley Griffin Dunne noted that much data on Peabody children will be collected and shared with Pearson. She wondered if it would be used for purposes other than informing parents of their child’s progress.
“It does make me concerned,” she said.
She later commented on fears of who might have access to highly personal information.
“My opinion is that student data is confidential,” she said.
At the meeting, colleague Dave McGeney urged Griffin Dunne to “Follow your instincts. You know in your heart this is where it’s going. ... This is coming down the track clear as day.” He warned that the cost was sure to rise for Peabody. “It’s another example of the state giving us a grant, and it not only has strings attached, it has ropes and chains attached. ... I see the not-so-veiled threat if we don’t do this, we’re going to lose our grant money for kindergarten.”
He added, “I do reserve the right to say, ‘I told you so’ in a few years when everything Mrs. Dunne has said comes true.”
In an interview, Griffin Dunne said that the federal Race to the Top program, which the state has signed onto, requires the MKEA plan. It also mandates that a certain testing facility be used, that a certain computer be used — whether or not the department already has it — and that class instructions follow the strictures of Common Core, sometimes crowding out activities reflecting local values.
“We have no choice,” she said, “and it’s getting to be too much.” She acknowledged hearing similar complaints from other school boards. Assessments and more tests at all levels of education are expected for the future, she added.
At the meeting, McGeney lamented the financing, sometimes amounting to huge sums, expected to go to the testing company. And the local boards are left with little choice as it is “pushed down your throat. ... Twenty years on the School Committee watching the Department of Education work has made me skeptical.”
“I don’t want it to take away from actual teaching,” board member Tom Rossignoll told Murphy.
Member Ed Charest cautioned, “I don’t want it to take the judgment call away from the teacher.”
“The teacher has total control over the data that’s imparted and what’s going out,” said Murphy. She acknowledged at one point that teachers already did some of the evaluations required in the plan. Teacher Jen Burnham, while not critical of the program, told the board that educators are also wary of losing teaching time to the project.
Charest, noting the connection to Common Core, wondered how it could usefully apply to Peabody, which already exceeds some of its national standards.
“Our curriculum was well known as being very rigorous,” said Griffin Dunne. Under Common Core, she added, the state’s standards are “being watered down in some instances.”
Alan Burke can be reached at email@example.com.