Stemming the Anti-Testing Tsunami: Fire Pearson – A Political Solution to a Educational Crisis in the New York State Educational Morass

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning

Off the record an Assembly member, “If these Opt-Out parents understood politics we’d all be in trouble.”

The wave of test refusal parents is frightening to elected officials across the state, especially in the districts with staggering numbers of refusers.

The next election cycle begins with primary elections in September 2016 and the general election in November and the Opt Out movment look like it will continue to gather steam.

I was contacted by a political consultant, could I give him a briefing on the issues surrounding the Common Core and the test refusal issues? He was preparing for customers, incumbents defending their position and insurgents trying to unseat the incumbents; the current fracas over Common Core and testing could be at the center of races.

It may hard to believe, the same issues will be resonating in the run up to the presidential election. Ironically the bi-partisan bill in the Senate is attempting to remove the issue, or, at least, decrease the temperature as we creep towards the beginning of the 2016 presidential primaries and caucuses.

For the candidates there is no right or wrong side, the business community, the funders of elections, support the Common Core while many of the voters, especially parent and teacher voters have doubts, or are vigorously opposed. Jump on the anti-Common Core and anti-testing band wagon and attract teacher/parent voters, and perhaps face a richly funded pro-Common Core/testing candidate: a conundrum.

The Senate reauthorization bill moves most of the most controversial issues down to the states and lessens the impact at the federal level.

For the Tea Party folks, the far right in the House, the only acceptable bill would abolish the US Department of Education, and with it, Title 1, the section that drives billions to the poorest schools.

In New York State the Democrats on the Assembly side and the Republicans on the Senate side are scrambling to amend sections of the 15-16 budget and soften the sweeping changes to the teacher evaluation law.

Chancellor Tisch called for moving the date for completing the construction of district plans from November 15th to June 30th with some positive support from electeds. A Governor spokesperson seemed open to the extension with reservations and the print media slammed the Chancellor.

The new teacher evaluation law, to use a sports term, “punts” the details to the Board of Regents. The members of the Regents have two months to craft regulations, the actual guts of the new law, the current law took a year to convert to regulations.

NYSUT, the state teacher union opposes the current law, and asks for sweeping changes in the law as well as changes in the Growth Model calculations, the crux of the student performance section of the matrix.

* Read a NYSUT Letter to Chancellor Tisch opposing the current growth model.

* NYSUT List of Recommendations for Changes in the Former Law which were not included in the current law.

*A NYSUT White Paper opposing the current Growth Model.

* NYSUT calls for a Differentiated Evaluation Process that is a total departure from the current law.

The State Department of Education has set up a website for comments: evaluation2015@nysed.gov

Teachers all over the state see the current and the new teacher evaluation law as an attempt to fire teachers, especially senior, higher paid teachers.

The reality: in the last year of the old “S” or “U” system 2.8% of teachers in New York City received an unsatisfactory rating, in the first year of the HEDI system only 1.6% of New York City teachers received an ineffective rating.

At the April Regents Meeting a State Ed Assistant Commissioner presented a deep dive into HEDI data, entitled, Examining Educator Excellence , and decided highly effective teachers should be assigned to lowest achieving students, the assumption is that the state tests are “valid and reliable” and fails to address the “chicken-egg” dilemma: do teachers of higher achieving students receive higher ratings and the reverse, do teachers of lower achieving kids receive lower ratings?

Principals and teachers have no confidence in the evaluation system and parents have no confidence in the Common Core tests.

The standards-setting contingent will meet in late June and set the cut scores which will be released in late July – early August. This is the third year of Common Core testing and I suspect the scores will increase by maybe three, four or five points; however, a majority of kids will still fall in the “below proficient” category.

The teacher scores, released in September/October will reflect the old law; school districts will be in the midst of negotiating new APPR plans.

Anger will not be assuaged: no matter the test scores, for teachers or for students, the criticism, the passion, the anger will continue to build.

In December the Governor attempted to stem the building tsunami and pushed Commissioner King to Washington, to no avail, the test refusal parents had “the taste of blood,” last week well over 100,000 parents opted their children out of the state tests. The parents are middle class parents who vote.

The only “answer” is to dump the Pearson Common Core tests: a political solution to an educational problem. Artfully blame Pearson, blame David Coleman, blame Arne Duncan, it doesn’t matter, without the Pearson-Common Core branded tests the tsunami will wane and the issue will drift away.

Yes, the NY Post, The Daily News, the Wall Street Journal and the conservative think tanks will scream, lowering standards, giving in to the “all-powerful” teacher unions, shame, shame…

David Tyack and Larry Cuban,
Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1997) should be required reading for school reformers,

Tyack and Cuban argue that the ahistorical nature of most … reform proposals magnifies defects and understates the difficulty of changing the system. Policy talk has alternated between lamentation and overconfidence. The authors suggest that reformers … need to focus on ways to help teachers improve instruction from the inside out instead of decreeing change by remote control, and that reformers must also keep in mind the democratic purposes that guide public education.

David Coleman and John King failed understand what a century of school reforms has taught us, unless parents and teachers are onboard the reforms will fall by the wayside; reform comes from the inside out, not imposed from the outside.

As a student was leaving my class at the end of a lesson he said, “Mr. G. that was really hard.” I smiled; we should always challenge kids, as teachers we should challenge ourselves, we should challenge colleagues. The move to a single Regents diploma took a dozen years, slowly, incrementally, parents and teachers bought in to the higher standards. The Common Core is not evil, the CCSS should be aspirational goals, and just as we slowly built support for the Regents diploma we should have built support for the Common Core. An education issue has become a political crisis; unless the electeds find a solution parents will express their wraith at the polls.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, wrote an essay entitled “One Step Backwards, Two Steps Forward,” and the educational leadership in New York State has follow the advice, the state has to take a step backwards, take a deep breath and reload.

Firing Pearson and adopting new more meaningful tests is a necessity, both politically and educationally.

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2 responses to “Stemming the Anti-Testing Tsunami: Fire Pearson – A Political Solution to a Educational Crisis in the New York State Educational Morass

  1. rachel dearagon

    The reason why Regents exams have stood the test of time and can be used as a real bench mark– is that they in fact reflect the curriculum! Testing should test what is taught! The question as to whether a student understands at least 65% of what was taught is real, tangible and attainable for most . [issues do remain as per students with learning disabilities]. The concept of a test as a “gotcha” experience makes it a meaningless educational tool. What teachers, students and parents want to know is wherther the coursework has been retained in the mind of the student. Progress to the next level is based on wherther the student understands what was taught– not whether they got ‘caught’ . Like wise teachers and principals plan their programmming based on whether the approaches used in teaching the class have proved adequate — and the information has been retained by students. Their plans are based on real learning– not political posturing. Give teaching and planning back to educators– fire money-malking testing scammers.

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  2. Moreover, the Regents is a three hour test, not a three day test and as the previous commenter stated, the Regents exam reflects the curriculum and the cut scores are not manipulated to obtain a desired result.

    Finally, since old Regents exam are available, test prep is limited to a week or two not an entire semester.

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