Barrington crowds turn out for Common Core forums


Two meetings focused on the same subject — Common Core State Standards — yielded far different results on Tuesday night.

At 7 p.m., the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) hosted a forum on the background and benefits of the Common Core in the Barrington High School auditorium, while a parents group met in the school cafeteria at about 9 p.m. and focused its energy on concerns and criticisms of the Common Core and its accompanying PARCC assessments.

More than 100 people turned out for the RIDE event, which was sponsored by the Barrington Education Foundation. For the first half of the presentation, RIDE official Mary Ann Snider, three "education ambassadors" Pam O'Day, Kristen Sparfven and Jamie Crowley, and Barrington's director of curriculum Paula Dillon, shared background about the Common Core and how it is impacting local teachers, students and their families.

For the second half of the event, residents asked questions, shared troubling experiences about the local implementation of the Common Core State Standards, and voiced their concerns.

One woman asked what parts of the curriculum had been eliminated as part of the new standards. Another asked how the Common Core and PARCC testing would impact Barrington students with IEPs — individual education plans. Resident Kathy Crain said Barrington teachers had been relying too heavily on worksheets associated with the Common Core, and that the standards may have appeared one way in theory, but were being delivered in quite a different fashion.

Ms. Dillon said the district was addressing some teachers' use of worksheets and that parents should expect to see a drastic change in that approach to teaching. Ms. Dillon said the district's youngest students would be using games as an education tool in the future.

A short while later, Heather Johnson approached the microphone and told the education officials that she had seen the change; she said her child had recently brought home a worksheet that said "This is a game" at the top. Her comment drew a loud response from the audience.

After a short question and answer period, Barrington Schools Superintendent Mike Messore informed the crowd that the forum was coming to an end, despite the fact that a handful of people were still waiting to ask questions. He invited those folks to speak directly with the panel after the meeting.

Instead, many from the crowd walked a few hundred feet to the school cafeteria and listened to speakers offer a much different take on the Common Core. About five speakers — three local parents, one member of the school committee and a state representative from East Providence — offered their opinions about the new standards and PARCC assessments.

Susan Giordano pointed to New York state, which was about a year ahead of Rhode Island in its implementation of the Common Core. She said the Empire state was struggling mightily with the new standards and that certain officials there were considering dropping the Common Core altogether.

Barrington's Amy and Tad Segal, who have been vocal in their opposition to the Common Core and PARCC, said the district's curriculum was not just geared toward the new standards, but actually a mirror image of them — they said the state standards and the district's curriculum were nearly word-for-word the same.

Scott Fuller, a member of the local school committee, offered a few quick points. He said the Tiverton School Committee had recently voted to support a new bill to delay the implementation of the PARCC testing. He also urged people to support that legislation when it heads to hearings.

Mr. Fuller, who is the lone member of the Barrington School Committee to vote against a resolution to reaffirm Barrington's support of the Common Core, told the crowd of residents to remain active.

"We're pushing a heavy rock up a steep incline, but we're doing it," he said.

Rep. Gregg Amore, from East Providence and a teacher there at the high school, spoke about the bill he recently submitted, which calls for a closer look at the PARCC assessments and a delay in their implementation until the examination is concluded. PARCC testing is scheduled to start in the spring of 2015.

He mentioned the strong academic background Barrington has established — great SAT scores, AP scores, college acceptances — and how he could not understand why the district needed to adopt the Common Core.

"You people should be up in arms," he said. "Your schools work."

Rep. Amore said his bill would "cut the head off a snake," and that he believes a delayed implementation of PARCC would eventually mean the end to that assessments and the Common Core in Rhode Island.

He said the adoption of the Common Core was one of the best sales jobs of all time, and that the standards are tied to money. He specifically mentioned the Race To The Top, which netted Rhode Island millions of federal education dollars.

Attendees of the second meeting spoke out freely during the event — one talked about how her husband was a teacher in Massachusetts and was completely stressed with the Common Core standards; a local mom said she had talked to her son's teacher who was also frustrated and needed four days to build one math lesson; a woman from East Providence said her seventh grade son who was an "A" student scored a 63 on a recent math test.

Finally, Mr. Segal asked people to go to for more information and resources. He also encouraged the crowd to attend the hearing for Rep. Amore's bill.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.