Category Archives: teacher evaluation

Why Isn’t NYS Exploring Alternatives to Standardized Testing? And, Why Has It Taken Five Months to Release the Scores?

[Revised: According to reporters State Ed says the release of the scores is slated for “later in September”]

On Monday the members of the New York State Board of Regents will convene for the September meeting in Albany and I expect we we’ll see the rollout of the state grades 3-8 standardized test scores: a weighty slide deck, a presser and a contentious conversation.

It’s been five months since the exams: why has it taken five months to grade the exams?

Susan Edelman in the NY Post speculates,

The state Education Department has delivered the 2018 student test scores to schools — but demanded the results remain top secret until late September.

Critics call the stalling manipulative and political, noting that the delayed release will come after Thursday’s Democratic primary pitting Gov. Andrew Cuomo vs. Cynthia Nixon.

The state could also be tinkering with the “cut scores” — where to set the lines between passing and failing — to shape the overall results.

Both theories might be right, the scores are usually released in early/mid August.

The April tests are both machine-scored and the extended response scored by teachers, in June the state convenes about 100 or so teachers and supervisors to participate in the standards-setting process. Teams go through the questions; there are six tests in English and six tests in Math, one team for each grade in each subject. The questions are “rated,” level one through four, the teams rotate to gain a broad-based consensus and pass along results to the commissioner. The commissioner and the psychometricians at state ed review the standards-setting process and set cut scores, scores that determine whether the standing of individual students; a score of 3.0 determines “proficient.”

What does “proficient” mean?  The term itself has varying definitions; NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) definition is not the same as the definition used in New York State. (See “What does it mean to be proficient” here).

The test used in New York State, developed by Questar, a national testing company has come under attack from two testing experts.

A new study by the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz looks at the curiously high percentages of students who received zeroes on certain types of ELA questions between 2013, when New York introduced tests aligned to the Common Core standards, and 2016.

The title of the study gives away the report’s conclusion: “Tests are Turning Our Kids Into Zeroes: A Focus on Failing.” 

The authors, Fred Smith and Robin Jacobowitz, argue that so many kids got zeros on certain questions, reflecting a complete inability to cope with the material, that the tests must have been flawed. “We conclude that testing instruments that put children in a virtual stupor cannot be defended as sound testing practice, nor as a way to raise standards or serve as a foundation for high-stakes decisions…”

Annual testing is required by federal law and “standardized” means that every student takes the same test.

We give tests to measure “progress,” measuring student, school, school district and state progress from year to year. If you change the tests, for example moving to the Common Core, shortening the number of days of testing, moving to untimed tests, you have to create a new base year; the spring 2019 tests will be using the revised New York State Standards, (aka, Common Core lite); yet another base year.

Whether we like it or not the test results garner headlines: Are New York State students/schools doing better ot not?  The consequences for leadership at every level can b dire.

Two states Colorado and New York have large and active opt out movements, in New York State about 20% of students are “opted out” by parents and the opt out parents are well-organized and have become a political force, endorsing candidates and lobbying in Albany.

There are a number of states that are exploring alternatives to annual standardized testing and the movement is growing across the nation. Read “How to Measure Student Progress Without Standardized Testing” here and “8 Alternatives to Standardized Testing” here.

For a deep dive in how Virginia is moving to alternative assessments read a scholarly article here.

The New York State Education Department has shown no enthusiasm to seek alternatives, they did not apply for the competitive federal program (there were no funds attached) and aside from the forty schools that have waivers from the Regents Examinations, a waiver that has been renewed since the 90’s, there has barely been any discussion. A few Regents members, not surprisingly the members who have served as school district leaders have raised the issue of alternative assessment pilots; ignored by state ed leadership.

I suspect the legislature will begin to pursue the issue, the political activity of opt outs may very well create an enthusiasm among legislators to force the commissioner to explore alternatives to annual testing.

Graduation Rates: Why Do Kids Drop Out of School? Fail Courses? Fail Regents? How Can We Increase Graduation Rates Without Ruses?

With fanfare and some backslapping the New York State Education Department released graduation data for the 2011 cohort – students entering the ninth grade in the 2011-2012 school year.

The overall graduation rate for the 2011 cohort increased to 78.1 percent, up 1.7 percentage points from 76.4 percent for the 2010 cohort.

Once a student registers in a school, usually that means moving from the eighth to the ninth grade, the student “belongs” to the high school. The student remains in the cohort until they graduate, move on to another school or dropout.  The SED presser reports that seven percent of the cohort has dropped out and “… of those who dropped out, 62 percent were Black or Hispanic; 64 percent came from economically disadvantaged homes; and 58 percent were male.” Fifteen percent of the students neither graduated nor dropped out, they either failed to pass the requisite courses, failed to pass five regents exams (with the safety net, if eligible) or a combination of both and are currently in their fifth year of high school (or, failed to report to school this year).

Graduation rates can be increased by better data management that has nothing to do with the school instructional program. For a number of years I worked on a team that assisted new, small high schools, and succeeded in increasing graduation rates. Who were the “long term absences” and where did they go?  Were they enrolled in another school and not removed from the previous school register?  Has the school attempted to track down the student?  Form letters and phone calls do not suffice: a counselor, social worker or attendance teacher also has to become a detective. If the student moved back to South Carolina in what school is the student enrolled – can we ask the South Carolina school for an enrollment document? Does school personnel have the language skills to communicate with family and friends? How many of the dropouts are English language learners, how many Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) are in the dropout cohort?  Does school staff have the computer skills to search databases?  Unfortunately low functioning schools are low functioning in multiple domains: high failure rates, low attendance, and high suspension rates and poor data management. The SED should provide a guide to tracking down dropouts – turning “bad” discharges to “good” discharges.

It’s crucial to disaggregate the remaining fifteen percent – the students who neither graduate in four years nor dropped out: Who are they?

* English language learners

Let’s disaggregate the ELLs, “Ever” Ls, students who been Ls for many years, are the NYSSLAT scores increasing?  Is the student making progress towards graduating in a fifth or sixth year of high school?

Is the L student overage?  Poor attendance?  Is it likely that without proper guidance and support the student will dropout?

Does the student have a path to graduation?  Making progress both in passing courses and passing regents?

* Special Education

How many students are in Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classrooms and how many students in self-contained classrooms? Is there a difference in course and regents passing rates?  And, a core question: how many special education students pass courses and fail regents exams and which regents exam is the most common failure?

Black, Hispanic and Disadvantaged

Are there common denominators?  High absence rates? High suspension rates? Overage?  Are there specific courses and regents exams that are more commonly failed?

If the data is useful, if we expect schools to utilize data schools must adopt a culture, a culture that respects the use of data to drive the construction of school polices. New Visions for Public Schools described the process in an excellent report:  Navigating the Data Ecosystem: A Case Study of the Adoption of a School Data Management System in New York City.

Culture drives practice. A school can promote a culture of inquiry only if there are systems in place to support regular analysis of student data …  teachers have cited the lack of time for data analysis as a major barrier to using data systems, and in some cases they reported feeling they must choose between data-driven work and their teaching. Effective data use within the context of inquiry requires that time be made available to teacher teams specifically for this activity …  schools should make this structured collaborative time a priority, ideally happening a few times each week, depending on individual school needs.

Why haven’t more schools adopted cultures that promote inquiry that promotes “structured collaborative time?”  Eric Nadelstern, in the January 13, 2016 Hechinger Report  suggests,

Devolve responsibility, resources and authority to schools. Centralizing decision making simply lets principals and teachers off the hook for student performance.

Our goal is to create schools with the ability take responsibility; however, Nadelstern’s answer, endlessly close and create new schools is a chaotic solution and chaos is not what students and teachers need.

The commissioner proposes a number of options that are patches,

Department proposed to the Board new options that would provide students with additional opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in order to earn a diploma. These proposals include widening the score range for any students who wish to appeal their Regents Exam result; establishing a graduation pathway in Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS); and the creation of a project-based assessment for students who pass coursework required for a diploma but who have not passed required Regents Exams. These new options are intended to give all students—especially those with disabilities, English language learners (ELL), and students at risk of dropping out—additional ways of earning a diploma while continuing to measure them against the State’s rigorous standards.

Only about 50 percent of students with disabilities in the 2011 cohort graduated within four years. Graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students continue to lag behind those of their White peers. In the 2011 cohort, about 88 percent of White students graduated in June 2015, but only 65 percent of Black and Hispanic students did.

Will these proposals raise graduation rates and will they also recreate a tracking system?

Twenty years ago the Regents, after years of discussion, began the phase-out of the Regent Competency Test (RCT) driven local diploma. The RCT was a low level test – about ninth grade level, that was a common pathway to graduation.  I taught in a New York City high school with an excellent reputation, and, only about 25% of the senior cohort earned a regents diploma. In high poverty schools regent diplomas were rare. Will the commissioner’s proposal return us to the tracking of twenty years ago?

The new reauthorized law, ESSA, allows states to seek waivers, and, New Hampshire is in year two of a waiver that is exploring performance tasks in lieu of standardized tests.  New York State should begin exploring their own waiver; there are forty high schools that have had an approved waiver  for twenty years, utilizing a student portfolio-roundtable system in lieu of regents exams.

The time is ripe for the Regents and the State Education Department to begin a process – how can we assess pupil performance without the burden of rigid standardized tests.

Windows Open, Windows Close: Will New York State Move Away from Punitive Testing to a Performance Task Model? From Rating Teachers to Facilitating Teacher Growth?

New York State has a rare window, for the next four years student scores on standardized tests  cannot be used to assess teacher performance.

Hopefully the window will be used to address the two crucial issues:

* Formative and Summative Teacher Assessment: How do improve and assess teacher performance?

* Student Assessment: How do we use performance tasks to assess student performance instead of the current standardized tests?

The core of teacher preparation programs is the student teaching experience – how effective is the student teaching experience?  How effective are the cooperating teachers in “teaching” classroom skills? We don’t know. We do know that Urban Residency  programs – teachers spend a year in a salaried internship – with a carefully selected mentor teacher while earning a Master’s Degree from a local university are highly effective.  The programs are expensive, usually federally or state-funded with high teacher retention rates.

In-service teachers are observed three, four or five times a year by their supervisor using a rubric – in New York City, the Danielson Frameworks.  One of the questions: Inter-rater reliability – the degree of agreement among raters:  how much homogeneity, or consensus, is there in the ratings given by evaluator?  The answer is, not much. Teachers in high poverty, at-risk schools receive lower rating than teachers in high achieving, high wealth schools.  In New York City superintendents run principal meetings in which the principals, in teams, observe the same classes and discuss how they would rate the lesson; however, these meeting do not cross district lines. Sadly, there is no discussion of the post observation conference – the essence of the process. Ironically Danielson’s other book,  Talk About Teaching: Leading Professional Conversations (2015), is rarely discussed. The teacher observation process, in too many schools, is a compliance problem for principal. The dialogue concerning the day-to-day practice of a teacher is not at the core of the observation process.

Instead of discussing  whether the lesson of an “H” or an “E” (New York State requires a rating of Highly Effective, Effective, Developing or Ineffective, referred to as HEDI) the discussion should center on the “professional conversations.”

At a recent union meeting a delegate asked whether a principal could order a teacher to give up a preparation, pay the teacher for the lost prep, to observe another teacher.   Mindless.

Facilitated common planning time can lead to intervisitations to a school culture of “talk about teaching.”  “Ordering” teachers to collaborate is insanity.

A note about research: Too much research falls into the advocacy research category – the organization conducting the research does not enter the field with clean hands. Last week, in an essay  in the Brookings Brief, Stuart Butler, an economist with long experience working at the conservative Heritage Foundation lauds two studies, one supporting the “small high schools of choice” (SSC) initiative in New York City and the other a study of 6,000 charter schools. Both studies ignore facts that cast doubt on the validity of the research. While SSC do have higher graduation rates how many kids earned credits by way of highly questionable credit recovery?  What was the impact of teachers marking papers of students they taught?   The charter school research ignores “push out” rates in charter schools, the lower percentages of students with disabilities enrolled as well as the absence of English language learners.

Howard Wainer in Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies (2011) warns us that theory is not evidence – click on the site  – Wainer gives an excellent discussion of the flaws in creating education policy.

We must move from counting the number of observations to creating cultures that “talk about teaching,” and, we have to be wary about advocacy research.

Can we use performance tasks as an alternative to standardized testing?

It may take a while for the dust to settle and a new vision for accountability to emerge, [Columbia professor] Jeff Henig  said; but one blueprint for the future may be the past, specifically, the years just before the passage of the NCLB law, which saw a real range of approaches to accountability.

“Looking back to pre-NCLB, we see what we could anticipate as a likely outcome in the future, which is considerable variation in terms of how [states] use greater authority and discretion. Some states were leaders and innovators, some were laggards,” he said. “They vary in terms of political dynamics, vary in terms of bureaucratic capacity … and in terms of what they value.” 

Top-down solutions to education are commonplace – purchasing some package that is expected to be used in every classroom in the district. After a couple of years the superintendent changes, the costs are too high, the “magic bullet’ becomes a dud.  I have served on many Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams, and, in extremely low functioning schools I invariably walked into a wonderful classroom. Unfortunately the school leadership ignored the excellence of the outlier. In high poverty, low performing school districts there are also outliers, schools that appear to have “figured it out.”  In a low performing school that was being phased out a new principal converted a school from chaos, numerous suspensions every week to order – no suspensions. Since it was a phase-out school the powers that be ignored the success. What was he doing differently? No one seemed interested.

With the passage of the new ESSA law policy devolves to the states, and, we can expect to see a wide variety of approaches.

New Hampshire is the only state with a pilot program approved by the US Ed Department in which performance tasks replace standardized tests to assess student performance.  A caveat: attempts to adopt programs from one state to another frequently stumble.

There’s a lot of potential in the approaches getting a test run in New Hampshire and California, Deborah S. Delisle, the executive director of ASCD, other places need to know that neither state’s approach could be replicated overnight.

“These systems took a significant amount of thinking, analysis, and work at the local level… It is easy to be tempted to adopt another state’s or district’s pilot; however, processes are not necessarily transferable, and they need to be analyzed in terms of the local schools’ needs and goals for their students.”

New Hampshire is in the second year of a pilot program, four school districts in the first year and an additional four this year.  The New Hampshire Department of Education describes the program,

The … system, a pilot currently being implemented in New Hampshire, is designed to foster deeper learning on the part of students than is capable under current systems. A competency-based system relies on a well-articulated set of learning targets that helps connect content standards and critical skills leading to proficiency. Such a system requires carefully following student progress and ensures that students have mastered key content and skills before moving to the next logical set of knowledge and skills along locally-defined learning paths This requires timely assessments linked closely with curriculum and instruction.

… a rich system of local and common (across multiple districts) assessments that support deeper learning, as well as allow students to demonstrate their competency through multiple performance assessment measures in a variety of contexts. Performance assessments are multi-step assignments with clear criteria, expectations and processes which measure how well a student transfers knowledge and applies complex skills to create or refine an original product and/or solution.

Read a detailed description of the NH DOE program here:

The New Hampshire pilot is rigorous, extremely rigorous, and in the first year the students in the control group, the students who took the Smarter Balance standardized tests did slightly better than the students involved in the pilot.

Windows open windows close, New York State has four years to explore how to move from a teacher assessment compliance model to a teacher competence growth model.

In addition, by aligning a teacher growth model to a performance task model in lieu of a standardized testing model the state has an opportunity to change a culture.

I am not advocating for the New Hampshire plan or any specific plan, under the new federal law all states have an opportunity to create a model at the local level.

For example, New York State  can move away from a “one size fits all” regents diploma model to a true multiple pathways diploma. If a student cannot pass five regents exams, in spite of multiple attempts, in spite of their handicapping condition or language disability, currently, they are a dropout.   We should consider a range of pathways with a type of diploma for each pathway, and, performance tasks in addition to regents exams, requires exploration.

Let’s not shut the window, we have a unique opportunity.

Albany Convenes: What Can We Expect From the State Legislature and the Governor?

No one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the New York State legislature is in session. Anonymous, 19th century.

The New York State legislature convened this week and the annual gubernatorial State of the State speech is slated for next week. This will be the first year in quite a while without major education battles hanging in the balance. Politics makes for strange bedfellows (and visa versa); last year’s enemies can become this year’s friends. Last year was a bruising year for education, the governor used the budget process to force through the legislature a host of highly controversial laws: yet another dense teacher evaluation law called the “matrix,” increased teacher probation from three to four years and a receivership plan that could result in the 140 lowest achieving schools handed over to a “receiver,” probably a not-for-profit with the power to change/amend collective bargaining agreements

In September the Governor appointed a Task Force to recommend changes in his own plans.

The final report of the Cuomo Commission (Read full report here), which was adopted by the Board of Regents, “froze” the teacher evaluation plans for four years and requires a deep review of the Common Core State Standards. The Governor was backing away from his harsh legislation passed in the spring.

Both sides of the aisle, the Democrats and the Republicans are committed to eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment; the State reduced funding to school districts during the first years after the 2008 near national default, it appears highly likely the “owed” dollars will be fully restored in this year’s budget.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit dollars were also frozen during the fiscal crisis and New York City will fight for the payment of the owed dollars.

The Democrats will fight for the NYS Dream Act which would make, with restrictions, non-documented high school graduates eligible for the NYS Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). (Read description of the battle last year here)

Why all pleasantness?  Why are the Republicans, the Democrats and the Governor not sparring?

The answer: this is an election year, not only an election year but a presidential election year, not only a presidential election but an election with a popular Democrat, either Clinton or Sanders, and possibly a controversial Republican at the top of their ticket.

The Republicans are very concerned that a Democratic sweep in New York State will have coattails, will sweep along other Democrats on the ticket.

Over the years the April date for the presidential primary in New York State was not exciting, the winners were already chosen. This year the April 19th New York State primary may be key to either Clinton-Sanders or the leading Republicans. A number of other state elections have been scheduled for April 19th, including the Skelos seat – a heavy Democratic turnout could challenge the leadership of the Senate, currently held by the Republicans by a single seat.

The Democrats in the Assembly will also fill the two vacant seats on the Board of Regents. Merryl Tisch announced she will not be seeking another term (an at-large seat) and Anthony Bottar (Syracuse) apparently also will not be seeking another term. Regents are “elected” by a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature, with the overwhelming majority in the Assembly the selection is in the hands of the Speaker of the Assembly. Last year two long time incumbents were not re-appointed and the local legislators had significant input into the selection. Eight of the seventeen members of the Board will have been selected in the last two years.

The 2016 session opened January 6th with a welcoming speech by the Speaker who also laid out the broad priorities of the Democratic Conference (Read speech here)

The Assembly will meet two days a week in January and February and move to three days, to four to around the clock as the March 31 budget approaches. May and June will bring three day a week sessions with June 16th set as the end of the session. Tuesday is traditionally lobby day as the hordes descend on the Legislative Office Building to meet with their local electeds (or their staff). If you are going to trek to Albany make sure you have set up an appointment, the earlier in the day the better; members are called into session in the afternoon. You actually have more meaningful meetings in the member’s district office on a Friday.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 bills will be introduced, they all can be tracked on the Assembly website. The vast, vast, vast majority die, either for the lack of a Senate partner bill, or, the leadership chooses not to bring the bill to the floor; fewer than 500 Assembly bills will become law.

You can read a bio of your Assembly member here and read the bills they have introduced by clicking on “legislation” on their web page.

Politics can be frustrating, excuse me, is frustrating. What seems to clear to you might not be so clear to a legislator, who is juggling scores of bills. As you wait in the anteroom to meet with your legislator the group behind you might be waiting to advocate for the position opposite to your position. Are you a contributor?  A modest contribution goes a long way; it’s a sign of support, no matter how modest.

All politics are local.

Both sides of the aisle need a peaceful session, no demonstrations, and no angry constituents; on the other hand the opposition party will try and ratchet up their supporters.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
― Winston S. Churchill

The Next Teacher Preparation Crisis: New York State is Creating a Teacher Shortage (and a Talent Shortage), Another John King Disaster.

JOHN MERROW: Is this a good time to become a teacher? Salaries haven’t kept up with inflation, tenure is under attack, and standardized test scores are being used to fire teachers.

It was commonplace in the days of the old Soviet Union for the bureaucrats to erase from textbooks the names of those who had been purged by the communist leadership. For many in the upper echelons of New York State they wish they could do the same for John King.

Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post quotes King,

“In the first couple of years there will be what I characterize as process wins. You’ll see an evaluation system for teachers and principals, with student achievement built in as a meaningful component.…

As it turns out King’s tenure was a disaster, over 200,000 parents opting out of state tests, the Common Core being re-evaluated and the teacher evaluation process in disarray.

What has not gotten enough ink is the total chaos surrounding the King regulations intended to increase the proficiency of new teachers and the teacher training regulations that drive the over 200 teacher training programs in the state.

Regent Cashin, the co-chair of the Higher Education Committee of the Board of Regents held public hearings in Buffalo, New Paltz and New York City, hundreds of college professors attended and many testified, all sharply criticizing the impact of the King imposed regulations.

We all agree that we should seek the best candidates for the teaching profession, assure that college programs prepare prospective teachers adequately and have some sort of exit exam to assure competency.

In December, 2012 the American Federation of Teachers, the union representing over a million public school teachers issued a report,” Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession,” the report avers,

As in medical, law and other professions, all prospective teachers—whether they come to the profession by the traditional or an alternative route—should meet a universal and rigorous bar that gauges mastery of subject matter knowledge and demonstrates competency in how to teach it. Also, the primary responsibility for setting and enforcing the teaching profession’s standards and ensuring the cohesion of teacher preparation programs must reside with practicing teachers in K-12 and higher education.

And, the report makes three recommendations.

  • All stakeholders must collaborate to ensure that teacher preparation standards, programs and assessments are aligned with a well-grounded vision of effective teaching.
  • Teaching, like other respected professions, must have a universal assessment process for entry that includes rigorous preparation centered on clinical practice as well as theory, an in-depth test of subject and pedagogical knowledge, and a comprehensive teacher performance assessment.
  • Primary responsibility for setting and enforcing the standards of the profession and ensuring the quality and coherence of teacher preparation programs must reside with members of the profession—practicing professionals in K-12 and higher education.

Unfortunately in New York State the stakeholders were excluded from the King-driven process. “Practicing professionals” were cast aside as the former commissioner imposed a tangled web of requirements and turned schools of education into test prep mills.

Enrollment in teacher education programs around the state has dropped between 20% and 40%, students choose not to even take the exams and seek employment in non-public schools, charter schools or out of state, larger percentages of Afro-American and students whose native language is not English are failing the exams, and, the best candidates may be opting out of the teaching profession.

King decided to ignore what was going on nationwide.

Over a number of years an organization, the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation, known by the acronym, CAEP, has been working to create a standard for all teacher education programs across the nation. While the accreditation of a program is not mandatory must states “strongly advise” teacher education programs to undergo the rigorous accreditation process.

Required Component.  The provider [the college] sets admissions requirements, including CAEP minimum criteria or the state’s minimum criteria, whichever are higher, and gathers data to monitor applicants and the selected pool of candidates. The provider ensures that the average grade point average of its accepted cohort of candidates meets or exceeds the CAEP minimum of 3.0, and the group average performance on nationally normed ability/achievement assessments such as ACT, SAT, or GRE:

  • is in the top 50 percent from 2016-2017;
  • is in  the top 40 percent of the distribution from 2018-2019; and
  • is in the top 33 percent of the distribution by 2020

Over time, a program may develop a reliable, valid model that uses admissions criteria other than those stated in this standard. In this case, the admitted cohort group mean on these criteria must meet or exceed the standard that has been shown to positively correlate with measures of P-12 student learning and development.

In other words, these are the admission standards; however, we recognize that states may create their own standards that are the equivalent or higher.

John King decided to ignore CAEP and set his own exit standards in addition to the CAEP standards.

New York State requires candidates to take four exit exams:

* edTPA,

A Stanford created exam that “is a student-centered multiple measure assessment of teaching. It is designed to be educative and predicting of effective teaching and student learning.” The student creates a video of a lesson they teach and completes a template assessing the lesson.

* Liberal Arts and Science Test (LAST)

80 multiple choice questions based on reading passages and one essay (all computer-based), the questions are divided into subareas: Scientific, Mathematics and Technical Process, Historical and Social Science Awareness, Artistic Expression and the Humanities, Communication and Research Skills  – Click on the link above and try the sample questions.

* Educating All Students Test (EAS)

A computer-based test, 40 multiple choice and three constructed responses (essays). } “The EAS test measures professional and pedagogical knowledge and skills necessary to teach all students effectively in New York State public schools. This test consists of selected-response items (multiple choice) and constructed-response items (essays). Each constructed response item will share scenario-based stimulus material with several selected-response items.”

* Content Specialty Test (CST)

The CST is required in each certification area – a math question on the Grades 1-6 test is below:

  1. A third-grade teacher is preparing to teach the following standard from the New York State P–12 Common Core Learning Standards for Mathematics.

 Explain equivalence of fractions in special cases, and compare fractions by reasoning about their size.

Which strategy is likely to be most effective as part of an introductory lesson designed to meet this standard?

  1. teaching that  is equivalent to  by showing how they represent the same point on a number line
  2. teaching that  is equivalent to  because  according to the rules of fractions
  3. teaching that  is equivalent to  because 6 is the least common denominator of 2 and 3
  4. teaching that  is equivalent to  by showing cross multiplication of 1 x 6 = 2 x 

The cost of the four tests is $600 – with additional cost for re-taking failed sections – plus study guides and tutoring sessions the cost can escalate to $1,000.

The core question: are the tests “valid and reliable,” will they produce more effective teachers? The answer is the test makers have no idea. Another core question: in standardizing the test – who was the sample population?  In other words, are the tests biased? Since these are all Pearson tests none of that information is available.

The colleges are forced to decide: do we create entirely new course curricula to embed the test requirements? Do we provide cram courses to prepare students?

At the three forums held by Regent Cashin the college instructors were sharply critical. Students who were excellent in class, excellent in their student teaching, were failing the exams, the entire process was challenging the judgment of the instructors who work with student each and every day. King made it abundantly clear that down the road the state intended to track the effectiveness of teachers based on the teacher evaluation system and attribute the score to the college program, with a threat of negative consequences for the program if students did poorly on the state tests, regardless of the at-risk nature of the students.

A negative incentive to prepare students to teach the neediest populations.

In the first few years of the state-required test students of color are not faring well on the exams. At the same time across the nation there are calls to increase the diversity within the teaching corps.

The New York Times, in an article titled “Where Are the Teachers of Color” writes,

… researchers who have found similar academic effects say more than test scores are at stake. “When minority students see someone at the blackboard that looks like you, it helps you reconceive what’s possible for you,” said Thomas S. Dee, a professor of education at Stanford University.

The New York City Department of Education has set a goal of recruiting 1,000 black males teachers over the next two years, at the same time that the state appears to be reducing the pool.

At the Regents Meeting next week I expect that Regent Cashin and the other members of the Higher Education Committee will be putting forth a number of proposals to bring sanity to the mess created by King.

If the Common Core had been phased in, perhaps beginning with the early childhood grades, moving up one grade each year, if the state and local school districts had initiated  professional development programs to bring teachers up to speed, if the exams had flexible cut scores the current school wars would never have occurred.

If the state had begun to revise teacher education requirements by including the professionals, as recommended by the American Federation of Teacher report,

  • Primary responsibility for setting and enforcing the standards of the profession and ensuring the quality and coherence of teacher preparation programs must reside with members of the profession—practicing professionals in K-12 and higher education,

we would not find ourselves in the current abyss.

In the literature regarding organizational change the first principle is “Participation Reduces Resistance,” a lesson clearly not learned in the King led Department of Education.

I am optimistic that the new commissioner and newly revitalized Board of Regents can return the teacher preparation landscape to sanity.

About Face: New York State Reverses Test and Punish and Hopes Parents and Teachers Will Be Assuaged

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins,  all of them imaginary.

HL Mencken

Remember when you were driving down that road, lost, you kept on driving down the road hoping you would become “unlost”?

Five years ago the education community began driving down the teacher evaluation road, losing their way, and driving further and further down the road. Finally, deep in the woods, with the wolves howling, they decided to turn around.

How did the education seers get so lost?

The New Teacher Project in 2010 published a report, The Widget Effect, which resonated across the reform-y community.

Effective teachers are the key to student success, yet our school systems treat all teachers as interchangeable parts, not professionals. Excellence goes unrecognized and poor performance goes unaddressed. This indifference to performance disrespects teachers and gambles with students’ lives

* Less than 1 percent of teachers receive unsatisfactory ratings, making it impossible to identify truly exceptional teachers

* Half of the districts studied have not dismissed a single tenured teacher for poor performance in the past five years.

Value-add measures (VAM), growth models, psychometricians, statisticians and the data-wonks believed that teaching could be reduced to a numerical score. Teachers across an entire state regardless of the ability of the students were plugged into a dense algorithm, the teacher eval guys and gals sped along not realizing how lost they had become.

At the May, 2015 Learning Summit on Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) (Watch video of the presentation here) held  by the Board of Regents a panel consisting of scholars debated the use of value-added measurement (VAM). The scholars criticized VAM; among a number of criticisms, the most serious, the errors of measurement were too large, the results were neither valid nor reliable.

The Opt Out parents continued skewering the governor and the legislature, the teacher union pounded away, an angry cohort of parents, not tied to a party, the reformers were driving deeper and deeper into the woods.

The governor had a subitism  (Love the word: see definition here)

In the world of politics deniability, is important: claiming credit for successes and blaming others for your failures. The governor appointed a task force to craft a path to get back on the road, without admitting any culpability,  for the years of barreling down the wrong road.

The task force members had a deadline, to complete their work before the December meeting of the Board of Regents, the last date to adopt a new path before the legislature convenes in January.

The governor, the assembly, the senate, state education and the task force members engaged in increasingly intense negotiations. With a ticking clock the task force released its finding  last Thursday afternoon.

Read the Report here  and read my blog about the report here .

On Monday the members of the Board of Regents convened to discuss and vote on elements of the Report…

What did the Report do?

* created a moratorium, oh, sorry, I can’t use that word, a transition to the new, yet to be crafted teacher evaluation plan to impact in the 2019 – 2020 school year. You may have noticed that the transition, or, what the hell, the moratorium, runs through the next gubernatorial election cycle.

* a re-writing, a through editing, another draft, of the Common Core State Standards.

* an admission that the SED Curriculum Modules were being used as scripts; curriculum should be a local responsibility, not imposed from Albany.

* teachers really are smart and highly capable; state ed will create a teacher portal so that teachers can post curriculum and other education tools on the Engage NY site.

* teachers will be actively engaged in test creation, a review of the standards and new test creation.

and, of course, create an interim teacher evaluation schema for the transition years; let’s call it teacher evaluation 5.0

See the power point, entitled,  Alternate Scores for Teachers and Principals: Implementing a Transition to Higher Standards:

and view the power point on the results of the teacher evaluation process over the last three years:

Under the law school districts and teacher unions have until March 15 to negotiate new teacher evaluation plans based on the task force changes adopted by the regents.

The hope from the governor and the legislature is that the de-escalation, the moratorium, provides a cooling off period. Without the stress of high stakes testing and a rating sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of teachers and principals we can get back to the job at hand: teaching.

If we’re not using the state grades 3 – 8 test scores how will student growth be measured? Remember student learning objectives (SLOs) and Measures of Student Learning (MOSLs)?

The governor and the legislature believe the anger will abate, other issues will arise, and the pols have learned a lesson: don’t intervene in education, allow the regents to make policy – claim credit for victories and blame the regents for the failures.

A  video of an explanation that is as clear as the new teacher evaluation law.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

Groucho Marx


Can We Test Prospective Teachers to Greatness? We Are Chasing Away, Not Recruiting the “Best and the Brightest” Future Teachers.

From the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) to A Nation at Risk (1983) to No Child Left Behind (2002) think tanks, universities and legislatures have been jousting over how to eliminate the racial academic achievement gap. Students of color have lower scores on tests, have lower graduation rates, higher incarceration rates and earn far fewer dollars throughout their lives.

No Children Left Behind (NCLB) saw the “stick” as the answer; annual transparent testing in grades 3 – 8, the setting of goals for each school and a range of interventions leading to school closings if schools failed to reach the goals. What was heralded as the answer to “failing” schools is yet another discredited bad idea.

The Obama administration added the carrot to the stick: dangling over four billion dollars for states who committed to implement a range of approaches: choice, meaning charter schools as an alternative to public schools, full implementation of the Common Core, Common Core testing and a teacher evaluation system based on student growth scores. When the grant ended in June New York State confronted a bitter reality, parents opting out of the testing system, angry and frustrated teachers and politicians scrambling to mollify the disillusioned public; nirvana had not been achieved,

One of ideas spinning out of academia and the US Department of Education is based on what appears to be a sensible principle: create exceptional teachers who will erase the achievement gap. The Rand Corporation  writes,

When it comes to student performance on reading and math tests, a teacher is estimated to have two to three times the impact of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership.

Non-school factors are very important; however, we cannot control these factors.

Some research suggests that, compared with teachers, individual and family characteristics may have four to eight times the impact on student achievement. But policy discussions focus on teachers because it is arguably easier for public policy to improve teaching than to change students’ personal characteristics or family circumstances. Effective teaching has the potential to help level the playing field.

And, it is difficult to predict teacher effectiveness through pre-service factors.

Despite common perceptions, effective teachers cannot reliably be identified based on where they went to school, whether they’re licensed, or (after the first few years) how long they’ve taught. The best way to assess teachers’ effectiveness is to look at their on-the-job performance, including what they do in the classroom and how much progress their students make on achievement tests.

Have no fear says Arne Duncan and John King, why don’t we raise the bar for prospective teachers, only accept candidates with 3.0 GPAs or higher, and, let’s give them a range of required tests before we actually license the candidates.

* The exams plus study guides cost $1,000

* the edTPA, a Stanford-Pearson product requires the candidate to produce a video of a lesson with an accompanying portfolio.

* the Academic Literary Skills Test, ALST,

This test consists of selected-response items, followed by focused constructed-response items and an extended writing assignment based on the critical analysis of authentic texts and graphic representations of information addressing the same topic. Each item requires the analysis of complex literary or informational texts.

* the Educating All Students test (EAS) consists of selected-response (multiple-choice) questions and three constructed-response assignments dealing with diverse populations, English language learners and Students with Disabilities.

* the Content Specialty Test  (CST) in Childhood Grades 1-6 contains 120  multiple choice questions in Literacy, English Language Arts, Mathematics and Arts and Science, over five and a half hours of testing time.

The State Education Department has set cut scores for each test, without any evidence that the cut levels produce more effective teachers: Afro-American and test takers whose native language is other than English have significantly lower grades. Schools of Education have turned into test prep mills; especially since the State Department of Education publicly released the scores with a “stick,” schools with lower student scores are threatened with “corrective action,” aka closing. Is there any evidence that the test tests actually sort prospective teachers by ability?  The answer is no.

New York City and New York State are crafting initiatives to attract teachers of color, and, the exams exclude significant numbers of teachers of color. Colleges that attract larger numbers of teacher of color and other than English native speakers are faced with sanctions. The initial result is far fewer applicants to schools of education across the state.

The Higher Education Committee of the Board of Regents is sponsoring and Open Forum to allow college staff and students to explore the impact of the tests.

The forum will be held at St Francis College, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn 11201 at 6 PM on Monday, December 7th.

Richard Rothstein, Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap (2004)  writes,

Teaching is both an art and a science. Pedagogical skills and content knowledge can be taught, but beyond these, the greatest teaching requires an instinctive affinity for the role. the greater the teachers, the more art and the less science is involved. This is true of all fields. Most people achieve excellence through perspiration, but greatness – consistent performance in the top quintile – requires inspiration and innate skill as well. Much can be done to improve the 50th percentile teacher, but the inspiration that gets them all the way up the 90th percentile probably cannot be taught. You have it, or we don’t; if you don’t; you can still improve your teaching, but incrementally.

There may be that teaching gene.

The ill-conceived  John King  testing requirements for prospective teachers has created chaos. Colleges converted into test prep mills, colleges dissuaded from seeking students of color, prospective students deciding not to pursue teaching. Rather than filling classrooms with the “best and brightest” we are chasing the “best and brightest” away from teaching.

If you’re around tonight come by St Francis and listen to the teachers of teachers describe yet another incredibly ill-conceived initiative.

Schools seeking new teachers interview candidates, set up an opportunity to teach a model lesson, the interviews usually include colleagues, and, if hired new teachers must work four years as an at-will probationary employee; cutting down the pool of prospective teachers without any evidence that the required candidate testing impact student achievement is mindless.

If VAM is Dead, What Comes Next? How Should Teacher Performance Be Assessed? The Governor/Legislature/Regents Try to Escape a Self-Constructed Abyss

If you toss a rock into a pool of feces you never know whose going get splashed.

Right now the governor and members of the legislature might not smell too good.

Parents are angry and disillusioned; teachers have no confidence in the governor, the education landscape is in disarray.

The Cuomo-appointed Task Force, which includes legislative leaders, is scrambling to find a solution at the edge of Dante’s Inferno. And, perhaps glancing at the inscription,”Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (most frequently translated as “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”).

How did our leaders create this yawning abyss? How did they anger a quarter of a million parents?

Foolishly, they allowed themselves to be lured down the (de) former path.

The (de)form side – the “disruptive innovation” agents abjure the normal methods of change, i. e., research, pilot programs, building constituency, electing like-minded candidates. “Disrupters” bring about change by disrupting the existing situation,

disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network.

Abolishing tenure, weakening or eliminating teacher unions, sharply raising standards (Common Core) and imposing a far more difficult examination, disruption theory in practice; by creating chaos the (de)formers hope to skip over the usual processes, to be precise, to blow up and sweep away the current system and build a new education system.

The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a reform-y think tank issued a report, The Widget Effect ,”…our school systems treat all teachers as interchangeable parts, not professionals. Excellence goes unrecognized and poor performance goes unaddressed. This indifference to performance disrespects teachers and gambles with students’ lives.”

The report supports a new evaluation system that will identify and fire “poor performance” as well as recognize excellence, aka, merit pay.

Former Commissioner King and the governor led the charge for the Race to the Top dollars that required a student performance-based teacher evaluation assessment.  Not enough teachers found ineffective, change the plan through legerdemain, using the budget process to change the education law.

To quote poet Robert Byrnes,

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

          Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

          For promis’d joy!

The “best laid schemes” turned into a nightmare.

As the Task Force scrambles we might ask a fair question: How should teachers be assessed/evaluated/rated?

The current law uses two indicators, a growth model score, referred to as Value-Added Modeling (VAM), a dense mathematical algorithm that compares teachers to teachers across the state who are teaching “similar students,” (Title 1 eligible, ESL, SWD, class size) and, the traditional supervisory lesson observation.

The highly regarded American Education Research Association (AERA) recently issued a policy paper. “AERA Statement on Use of Value-Added Models (VAM) for the Evaluation of Educators and Educator Preparation Programs ” warning schools and school districts about the use of VAM,

There are considerable risks of misclassification and misinterpretation in the use of VAM to inform these evaluations … the education research community emphasizes that the use of VAM in any evaluations must satisfy technical requirements of accuracy, reliability, and validity. This includes attention not only to the construct validity and reliability of student assessments, but also to the reliability of the results of educator and program evaluation models, as well as their consequential validity. In sum, states and districts should apply relevant research and professional standards that relate to testing, personnel, and program evaluation before embarking on the implementation of VAM.

So, if VAM assessments are flawed let’s go back to classroom lesson observations; however, classroom observations are also flawed ,”...teacher performance, based on classroom observation, is significantly influenced by the context in which teachers work. In particular, students’ prior year (i.e., incoming) achievement is positively related to a teacher’s measured performance captured by the [Danielson Frameworks]” 

In other words, teachers with higher achieving kids get higher observation scores. Another study of math teachers found “…math teachers with the highest-achieving students were nearly seven times more likely to get the top observation rating than teachers with the lowest-achieving students.”

A 2014 Brookings Report  explored lesson observations and growth models and reported,

* Under current teacher evaluation systems, it is hard for a teacher who doesn’t have top students to get a top rating. Teachers with students with higher incoming achievement levels receive classroom observation scores that are higher on average than those received by teachers whose incoming students are at lower achievement levels, and districts do not have processes in place to address this bias.

* The reliability of both value-added measures and demographic-adjusted teacher evaluation scores is dependent on sample size, such that these measures will be less reliable and valid when calculated in small districts than in large districts.

* Observations conducted by outside observers are more valid than observations conducted by school administrators

* The inclusion of a school value-added component in teachers’ evaluation scores negatively impacts good teachers in bad schools and positively impacts bad teachers in good schools

We also know that inter-school/inter-district observation reliability is low, in spite of the use of the same observation rubric in a school district; supervisory observers see lessons differently.

Value-Added Modeling (VAM) has been the subject of widespread criticism, although the scoring is free of bias, supervisory observations are heavily dependent on the academic level of the students and are subject to observer bias. Ironically the large errors of measurement in VAM, plus or minus ten or fifteen percent, benefits the teacher.  An example: the cut score between effective and ineffective is a VAM score of 50 and the teacher receives a score of 45, with an error of measurement of plus or minus 10%, the error of measurement impacted teacher score falls between 35 and 55 – although the teacher score fell in the ineffective range the teacher receives an effective score. The statistical unreliability benefits the teacher.

Maybe it’s time to borrow from the (de) former playbook and “disrupt,” in other ways, press the restart button.

How about a moratorium, let’s put the emphasis on teacher evaluation on hold for a few years and take a look at teacher evaluation across the country and in the OECD nations . How do the highest achieving nations assess teacher performance? The OECD website includes a lengthy section on teacher appraisal – check out a study from the Netherlands .

Think the nations with the highest student scores on international tests (PISA) know something about assessing teacher performance?

We want a system that is fair, transparent and supported by teachers and parents, we want a system that not only assesses but also builds teacher competency; and, while we’re taking a deep dive into teacher assessment let’s also take a look into student assessment.

The Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind Moves Forward in Congress: How Will It Impact New York State?

If you’ve had the stamina to watch the presidential debates which topic has not been discussed: that’s right – education. No Common Core, no testing, no teacher evaluation – nada.

Education has become a toxic topic, both ends of the education spectrum are passionate, the middle, to be perfectly honest, doesn’t understand and doesn’t care.

The Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) strongly support charter schools and test-score based teacher evaluation, the far right of the Republican Party wants to abolish the US Department of Education, including Title 1 funding.

Candidates are sticking with issues that mobilize their core supporters.

Mayor Bloomberg was the self-proclaimed education mayor; in his last term, as his fights with the teacher union accelerated his favorability rating dived,

Sol Stern, in the fall, 2013 City Journal reported,

…. New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

Across New York State 220,000 students, one in five students, opted out of the federally required grades 3-8 English and Math exams and polling clearly blames the governor for what parents see as excessive and punitive testing.

Hillary Clinton, at an AFT-sponsored forum mildly jibbed at charter schools  (They “cherry pick” students), she immediately was sharply criticized by the pro-charter crowd  – from both sides of the aisle.

Considering the acrimonious nature of the education debate it is encouraging that the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is moving forward in both houses of Congress.

This morning I watched the Senate vote overwhelmingly to move the Senate bill to conference. A year ago both houses passed reauthorization bills; however, the bills were so different that no attempt was made to reconcile the bills.

Over the next few days House and Senate conference members will hammer out a bill incorporating the bills from both houses.

The path has been long and complex – the committee chairs in both houses and both parties have to craft bills that address the needs/philosophies/criticisms of a majority of the 435 members of the House and 60 members in the Senate. (Senate rules require 60 votes to advance a vote on the underlying bill).

The House is ruled by the majority, the Republican side. The Republicans control the agenda, the flow of bills. The complexity in the House is not the opposing party, the Democrats; the problem is within the Republican Party; the original House bill only passed by five votes. The Freedom Caucus, previously known as the Tea Party, has frequently opposed their own leadership, paring away enough votes to prevent the passage of leadership bills.  A reauthorization bill must satisfy the objections of the Freedom Caucus, A Republican leader who reaches across the aisle for Democratic votes could not survive as leader.

On the Senate side there are 54 Republicans and Senate rules require 60 votes for any bill to move to the floor, bipartisan bills are required. Senators Alexander (R) and Murray (D) have worked for months to create a bill that can garner the required 60 votes in the Senate.

The leadership in both houses and on both sides of the aisle appoints members to serve on the conference committee. Over the next few days the committee will probably agree on a bill that will come to the floor of both houses in early December – of course, there are still bumps along the road.

And, of course, the President must sign the bill.

The proposal (Read detailed description here) would keep some of the NCLB law’s most-important transparency measures in place, like continued annual testing in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. And it includes some protections for perennially foundering schools and those where poor and minority kids, or students in special education, and those just learning English, are struggling.

But otherwise, states would be handed the car keys when it comes to almost everything else, including: how much tests should figure in when it comes to rating schools vs. other factors like school climate; how to fix perennially foundering schools; and how to assist schools that are doing well overall, but still struggling to help certain groups of students (like English-language learners) … [the proposal]  prohibit[s] the U.S. Secretary of Education from interfering with state prerogatives on teacher evaluation, testing, standards, school turnarounds, and more.

Bloggers and teachers have railed against any reauthorization that continues annual testing; their problem is that civil rights organizations and advocates (NAACP, Urban League, La Raza and disability organizations) all vigorously support annual testing; organizations that traditionally have worked closely with teacher organizations. They argue that annual testing presents irrefutable evidence of achievement gaps, to do away with annual tests will remove the spotlight, a spotlight that is essential to advocate for their constituencies.

The proposed law would make Race to the Top and NCLB Waivers impermissible.

Arne Duncan would be replaced by Andrew Cuomo. Or, Mary Ellen Elia.

In most states the governor appoints the state board of education. The New York State constitution vests the authority to set education policy with the Board of Regents, who are elected by the state legislature – in reality selected by the Speaker of the Assembly.  Governor Cuomo has eroded the authority of the Regents. Decision after decision emanates from the office of the governor.  An example is the appointment of the Common Core Task Force. The governor appointed a fifteen-member Task Force, scheduled “listening sessions” around the state and set a first week in December date for a preliminary report. The commissioner has released her own description of the process along with a list of possible policy changes: shorter tests, the release of more test questions, a speeder release of the scores, promises of more teacher involvement in future state tests and a move to more adaptive and online testing.

See commissioner’s report here. (The report does not comment on teacher evaluation)

The governor can ignore the recommendations of the commissioner and the commissioner can ignore the recommendations of the task force; of course, the governor can convert his recommendations to legislation.

If the reauthorization bill becomes law: how will it impact on policy in New York State?

Stay tuned …

UPDATE: The conference committee has approved a bill – see Education Week discussion here – full text will be available in a few days.

The Board of Regents Convene With a Contentious Agenda and the Ominous Shadow of the Governor

Wednesday morning the seventeen members of the Board of Regents and the newly selected commissioner will convene in the ornate Regents Room to begin the 15-16 school year. Oddly the agenda, to a large extent, has been set “across the street,” on the second floor of the Capital building, the executive offices of the governor.

Education policy for two centuries was set by the members of the regents with significant input from the commissioner. Commissioners worked their way up the ladder, from teacher to principal to superintendent to commissioner; all that changed in the last few years. David Steiner came from the university and John King had no public school experience, in fact, only limited experience in the world of charter schools. The newly selected commissioner returns us to the world of experienced educators.

In the current convoluted landscape of education the governor has effectively replaced the regents: adoption of the Common Core State Standards, a massive labyrinthine principal/teacher evaluation system, the receivership of struggling schools have been set in legislation by the governor with the regents being asked to set regulations in place.

The unpaid, un-staffed members of the regents are “elected” by a joint meeting of the NYS legislature. In reality the democrats select the members; there are far more democrats than republicans in the combined houses. In the last session the legislature dumped two of the most senior members of the regents and selected four new members (three incumbents were re-elected, there were two vacancies and two regents replaced); three former school superintendents and one nurse educator (the State Education Department is in charge of all schools, pre-k through college, all museums and libraries and the professions).

The four new members and two second-term regents members have formed a caucus to oppose the approval of the governor’s new matrix principal/teacher evaluation plan (3012-d); the debate will be lively.

The regents will approve regulations for the completely untried receivership law; if low performing schools fail to make progress, as defined in the regulations, the school may be removed from the district and placed under the supervision of a receiver who has sweeping power. (See Regents agenda here).

Not only has the governor seized control of the education agenda the feds have been the agenda-setter for all of the states. The feds require that after being in the country for one year all English Language Learners in Grades 3-8 must be tested regardless of their English language skills. The feds denied the NYS waiver request and the regents and the commissioner are asking the feds to reconsider.

The regents are forming a working group to discuss the pass/fail rates on the new Common Core Regents exams; we are currently in year three of the eight year phase-in of Common Core Regents; the grades are currently scaled to keep pass-fail rates at the same level as before the Common Core: are students making adequate progress in passing the new Regents, and, if not, how should the regents members respond?

Regent Cashin is highlighting the new testing regimen for prospective teachers who are required to pass four exams at a cost of about $1,000; the exams are timed and computer-based: are the exams accurate predictors of success? Are the high failure rates the result of selecting the wrong candidates, faulty college curriculum or simply poorly crafted exams? In an era of sharply declining enrollments in college teacher education programs the poorly designed Pearson-created exams should not be an unnecessary impediment.

While the funding of schools is the responsibility of the governor and the legislature the 2% property tax cap is resulting in drastic cuts in services in low wealth districts, of which there are several hundred located in rural districts with declining revenues. The regents can highlight and recommend changes to the “other side of the street.”

How will the regents address the large numbers of Students with Disabilities who are unable to “pass” grades 3-8 tests and unable to achieve the safety net requirements on the Regents exams? Should the regents create alternative pathways to graduation? Portfolios?

In some schools English Language learners are making progress similar to all other students while in others the majority of students are graduating at extremely low rates: Why? Higher or lower levels of instruction? Better professional development? Better designed instructional models?

Educational decisions, as the state constitution intended, should be made by the Board of Regents. Hopefully the governor will move away from his senseless policies that have antagonized parents and teachers across the state.

Far reaching education policies crafted behind closed doors by invisible staffers is not a fruitful path to better education. The two hundred thousand op-outers will grow and grow; the angry electorate will continue to grow.

Hopefully the governor will rethink his ideas and the legislature will continue to select regent members willing to challenge the governor as well as collaboratively develop approaches to address the core issues confronting children and families across the state.