Educators' new book battles standardized testing 

Contributed PhotoDr. Walter S. Polka, right, and Dr. John E. McKenna, both Niagara Falls natives and educators, have written a book arguing against Common Core testing, with chapters and commentaries by several local Western New York parents, educators and policymakers. 

The educators and parents involved in a new book that passionately protests same-size school tests for all students will gather tonight at the Como Restaurant to celebrate its publication.

The book was co-edited by Dr. Walter S. Polka and Dr. John E. McKenna, both Niagara region educators and includes chapters and commentaries by area parents, teachers and policymakers. 

The new book, "Confronting Oppressive Assessments: How Parents, Educators, and Policymakers are Rethinking Current Educational Reform," will be celebrated at a reception from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the restaurant at 2220 Pine Ave. Attendees will have a chance to meet and talk to those who participated in the book.

"We are concerned a number of teachers across the country, especially in New York, are being encouraged by their administrators and the education department to teach to the test," Polka said. "What that is doing, as far as we are concerned, is taking away some of the joy of teaching and learning."

"We believe in standards, but it is the standardization process that we think doesn't make sense — that you test all student the same way at the same time," he added.

Polka, the former superintendent of schools at the Lewiston-Porter School District, said that one of the major catalysts in the movement against Common Core testing was when a state education official decreed that students whose parents chose for them to opt out of testing, had to sit in the test room and stare straight ahead. 

"It became known as the 'sit and stare policy,' " Polka said, adding "Parents and administrators were dumbfounded."

Polka, now a professor at Niagara University, says that while many teachers and administrators support their efforts, it can be dangerous for those still working in the state education system as some educators are being punished or targeted for joining the movement.  

"One superintendent had a high 'opt out' rate and he had five audits by the state," he said.

Polka and McKenna, an elementary school principal in the City of Tonawanda School District, have presented their ideas at a recent gathering of educators in New Orleans. They are also presenting at the annual conference of the Association of Teacher Educators in Orlando in mid-February, and plan to do more advocating against Common Core. 

"We need to return to individualized instruction," Polka said. "All children can learn but not in the same day, in the same way ... It's our job as professional to identify gifts and talents of the students as well as their special needs."

The books will be available for purchase at the event tonight at the Como. Admission is free, but the buffet will cost $20 and there will be a cash bar. The book, published by Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, is also available at www.amazon.com and at most book stores.

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