Repairing Broken Teacher Preparation Programs: Hiring Unprepared Teachers or Fixing a Broken System: A Vital Task for the Board of Regents

The agenda for the September Regents meeting contains a shocking resolution: the state will allow school districts to hire substitute teachers without a valid teaching certificate. How is this possible? Schools can bypass teachers who have spent years studying and hire anyone to become a teacher? Should we be outraged? What’s going on?

The state is still suffering from ill-advised decisions by former commissioner John King.

There are two ways of creating institutional change: either force the change through and defend or work with stakeholders (“Participation Reduces Resistance”) to develop a level of consensus. Building consensus is time-consuming with many bumps along the road, using the power of an office to change policy can anger and alienate stakeholders as  well as result in unintended consequences.

The Obama administration “took on” the education establishment, from state departments of education to teacher unions, an attempt to remake the education landscape. The Race to the Top dangled $4.4 billion in competitive grants if states agreed to create teacher evaluation plans based on growth in student test scores and increase the number of charter schools.  Additionally, the administration supported increasing the quality of new teacher candidates. In New York State Commissioner King pushed through the Board of Regents a dramatic change in teacher preparation requirements. Teacher candidates would have to pass four examinations in order to receive a teaching certificate in New York State.

EdTPA, “The edTPA requires a lengthy electronic portfolio that includes written work and videos of candidates interacting with K-12 students. Obtaining parental consent is required for video recording…. All edTPA materials must be submitted to Pearson, Inc. through web-based platforms. Pearson, Inc. scores the edTPA,” Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) is a three and a half hour general knowledge test containing both multiple choice and essay questions (see sample questions here) Educating All Students (EAS), a multiple choice and essay test specifically asking questions regarding students with special needs and English language learners, and, a Content Specialty Test (CST), also a three hour test, containing both multiple choice and essay questions specific to the candidates certification area.

The four tests cost about $1,000 plus additional costs for study guides and prep sessions.

The union representing college teachers at the State Universities oppose the tests, as an intrusion on academic freedom.

In reality the tests have turned college teacher preparation programs into test prep mills. Not only are the tests required for teacher certification; college will be “judged” by the state based on candidate pass rates.

The results on the exams have been so catastrophic that the state has created a safety net for candidates.

Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped drastically, across New York State enrollment has dropped between 20 of 40 percent. Failure rates on the exams are highest among students of color and students whose native language is other than English; candidates that the state especially wants to attract into teaching.

The unintended result has been that instead of increasing the quality of teacher preparation candidates the state has created a growing teacher shortage across the state necessitating allowing persons without valid teaching certificates to work as substitute teachers. Instead of increasing the quality of teachers the state is allowing completely unprepared teachers into classrooms,

With the departure of King the Regents are moving to remedy the ill-advised policy.

Regent Cashin, the chair of the Higher Education Committee has held hearings across the state, with hundreds of participants from both public and private colleges. Slowly the educational establishment has moved toward a consensus.

Hopefully over the next few months the Regents will reduce the number of examinations and perhaps revise the content of the tests.

Whether the imposition of the tests was even necessary is open to question.

The Council on the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) has spent a number of years, with widespread involvement of the national education community developing standards that would apply to all teacher preparation programs including raising the bar for entrants to programs. In fact, with the requirement that teacher preparation programs undergo periodic CAEP reviews why is it necessary for states to impose additional requirements on teacher preparation candidates?

Programs generally agree that the edTPA, embedded within teacher educations programs is a useful tool, the other exams are highly questionable. There is no evidence that grades on the exams have any correlation with success in the classroom.

Teachers, and their unions, have been under unrelenting pressure from the so-called reformers, rather than leading to changes that will improve teaching and learning the “teacher bashing” has chased potential candidates away from the profession, and, maybe, the candidates that you most want to attract.

When Arnie Duncan and John King raced to change the face of teaching; they jumped at untested, ill-advised ideas and, as it turns out, producing counterproductive policies.

Hopefully, in New York State, the Regents will repair the damage done by the previous educational leadership.

Is There a Brexit Election Parallel? Are Millions of Trump Voters Hiding in the Weeds?

The June vote on whether or not the United Kingdom would leave the Common Market was a straightforward yes or no vote. For weeks the talking heads, the sages, the experts, the pollsters offered opinions, read the polling tea leaves; and, although the vote would be close predicted the vote: 52-48 to stay in the Common Market – whoops!! The Brits voted 52-48 to leave the Common Market. Prime Minister Cameron resigned and the economic future of the UK hangs in the balance.

The US presidential election is 63 days away and our election is far more complex.

Does the candidate with the most votes win?

If you were in my Social Studies class you know the answer is: not necessarily. Other nations either have a “most votes win” presidential system or a parliamentary system in which the party (or coalition of parties) with the most members in the parliament elect the prime minister. Although we vote for candidates we are actually choosing electors that “formally” elect the president in early December.

In the Electoral College system each state has electors equal to the number of representatives plus the two senators; the House of Representatives have 435 members, plus 100 for the Senate and three for the District of Columbia. The winner needs 270 electoral votes. Except for Maine and Nebraska states have winner take all elections – the winner receives all of state’s electoral votes no matter the closeness of the election within the state; Maine and Nebraska divide the votes proportionally.

California has 55 electoral votes, Texas 38, New York and Florida 29 and Alaska, Delaware and others have the minimum of 3.

In which elections did the winner not win the majority of the popular vote?

In 1824 in a four-way race no candidate received a majority of the electoral votes, pursuant to the Constitution the election was decided by the House of Representatives and Andrew Jackson, although he received the most votes lost to John Quincy Adams. (Jackson won in 1828 and 1832)

The 1876 election was extremely close, in the most corrupt election in our history a commission declared the winner in three states electing Hayes although Tilden won the popular votes.

Harrison, in 1888 easily won the electoral votes however Cleveland narrowly won the popular votes.

Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 by half a million votes, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that disputed votes should be recounted however the US Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote overturned the Florida court effectively declaring Bush President by the narrowest of margins.

On November 8th there will be 51 elections – the fifty states plus the District of Columbia.

Each camp has a map – the road to 270 electoral votes, the Democratic states, the Republican states and the states that will decide the election. Campaigns allocate resources, dollars for TV ads, dollars for Get Out the Vote (GOTV) on-the-ground foot soldiers, and each state campaign is tailored to the local issues in each state. The Clinton camp tailoring their messages to women, younger voters, Afro-Americans and Latinos and union members while the Trump camp to white males, older voters, evangelicals and disaffected voters.

While the pollsters give Clinton the lead the question haunting pollsters is whether there are Trump voters hiding in the weeds. Less than 10% of polling phone calls receive a reply and are the respondors answering honestly?  Then there is the land line versus cell phone issue:  older voters still have land lines, younger voters do not.

As I wrote a few days ago the pollsters were wrong in the Brexit vote and the reasons can be just as applicable in the presidential. The intense scrutiny of the media during the spring campaigns have waned, the media is no longer carrying the election 24/7, they are allocating far fewer resources, and, the general populace is tiring of the seemingly endless campaign.

The first debate on September 26th will place the race in the foreground – three debates, three opportunities to face the American public. The contrasting styles will be fascinating. The first and third debates will be the traditional moderator debates and the second a town hall format.

The pollsters, the talking heads, give Clinton a lead, whether expressed as a percent changes of winning (currently 86-14 Clinton) or the more common percent comparing candidate to candidate (Clinton leads in the high single digits).

Are there voters who are still undecided?

Will the Bernie voters come to the polls for Clinton?

Will the younger voters flock to the polls as they did in 08 and 12?

Will women and minority voters vote for Clinton in unparalleled numbers?

Will white males and older voters come to the polls in large numbers for Trump?

In the Brexit election “leave” voters were under the radar, the pollsters simply missed the leave voters or perhaps the leave voters avoided participating in the polling process.

Is the same phenomenon possible in our presidential election?

What is both fascinating and deeply disturbing is the lack of issues – the Clinton campaign has tried to make the campaign issue oriented, the Trump campaign has avoided engaging in the traditional issue debates.

Voters may very well decide on who they dislike least.

Probably since the day of the Obama victory the Republican strategy has been to denigrate Obama, some attacks on policy (Affordable Care Act), others just plain racist (he’s a Muslim born outside of the USA). Whether we abhor it or not, negatively campaigning resonates with the public.

The motto of the New York Post, if it bleeds it leads!!

I was listening to someone disgusted at the headlines in the Post, as they were buying the paper. A Post employee told me the most outrageous stories receive the highest number of “clicks,” online reads.

Are we getting the type of election and news coverage we desire?

Tomorrow: I promise, back to discussing education.

Presidential Polling and Measuring Teachers: The Misuse of Data and the Gullibility of the Public

We are addicted to predicting winners: at race tracks the betting public creates the odds for each horse in a race, every Sunday the odds makers in Las Vegas predict winners and the numbers of points by which teams will win based on previous records and a plethora of player related achievement numbers.

This is called gambling.

Data can be used for more respectable purposes, namely predicting winners in elections, another type of race, a political race, as well as predicting “success” in teaching by measuring increases in student achievement attributed to individual teachers.

Each day the New York Times online publishes odds, in the form of a percent, for the presidential election – on Sunday Hillary was “leading” Trump 90% to 10%, on Wednesday 88% to 12% percent. The section is called Upshot and the site explains the methodology. One of the sources is the Princeton Election Consortium and, if you want to get into the weeds, you can read about “symmetric random drift” and “setting a Bayesian prior,” probably well beyond the interest and knowledge of the vast percentage of “ordinary” folk.

The essential problems are the source data, the actual polling. Lo those many years ago we learned we had to create a stratified random sample, a microcosm of the population we wished to poll. An example is the upcoming September 13th Democratic primary election in the 65th Assembly District in Manhattan, the seat formerly held by Sheldon Silver, awaiting sentencing by the feds. There are six contenders for the seat, and a close look at the population in the district is revealing

Population figures, though, do not always translate into actual voters. According to 2014 census data, there were 32,952 Asian and South Asian citizens of voting age in the district. But only 15,284 were registered Democrats, said Jerry Skurnik, a partner at Prime New York, which compiles voter information. Of those, only 5,500 voted in the last three primaries.

Far fewer registered Hispanic and Portuguese Democrats voted in those three previous primaries, said Mr. Skurnik, who analyzed election data relating to social groups based on surnames. Of 11,675 registered voters, only 4,101 participated in a previous primary election, he said. Those of “European background,” including English, Irish, Italian and likely-to-be-Jewish voters, were the largest group, at 20,496 registered Democrats, with 8,205 showing up in previous primaries.

Randomly selecting names from census data is not a stratified random sample, selecting names from prime voter lists is a major step; however, how many potential prime voters don’t answer the phone and participate in the poll?  Do the participants constitute a “stratified random sample?”  I understand that fewer than 10% of those called actually respond to a polling call.

In June the United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales) voted in the Brexit election, an election to decide whether the UK would remain in the Common Market. Extensive polling revealed that the Brits would remain in the Common Market by a 52-48 vote, when the dust cleared the Brits voted to leave 52-48 – what went wrong?

An experienced pollster commented on “what went wrong.”

The difference between survey and election outcome can be broken down into five terms:

  1. Survey respondents not being a representative sample of potential voters (for whatever reason, Remain voters being more reachable or more likely to respond to the poll, compared to Leave voters);
  2. Survey responses being a poor measure of voting intentions (people saying Remain or Undecided even though it was likely they’d vote to leave);
  3. Shift in attitudes during the last days;
  4. Unpredicted patterns of voter turnout, with more voting than expected in areas and groups that were supporting Leave, and lower-than-expected turnout among Remain supporters.
  5. And, of course, sampling variability.

In spite of extensive polling by “the best and the brightest” the pollsters were off by four percent!!

Howard Wainer, a statistician with vast experience explains

… the response rate for virtually all of the polls ranges from 8 to 9 percent. Yes, more than 90% of those asked for their opinion hang-up. Do you know anyone who chooses to answer the phone? Who? Do you? Professional pollsters never talk about this because it means their paychecks.

The only way to use such polls is to make heroic assumptions — most commonly what is assumed is ‘ignorable nonresponse’ — that is that those who don’t respond are just the same as those who do — clearly nonsense.

Even such a sensible person as [pollster] Nate Silver has to make do with terrible information. Yes, drawing inferences from flawed data are usually better than doing it with no information at all, but it is hardly enough to keep from being terrified.

The one aspect of this in which I find some solace is that the polls may be self-fulfilling. This is seen in the shrinkage of donations to Republicans.

Although it is an unintended consequence polling results influence voters – polls discourage voters who are on the trailing side and impact voters who want to be on the winning side – the band wagon effect.

The only absolute winners are the pollsters who receive fees for parsing out the results.

Attempts to use dense mathematical algorithms to assess teacher performance face the same core issue. Value Added Measurement (VAM) purports to compare teachers who are teaching similar students, i.e., Title 1, English language learners, special education, etc. The formula creates a score for each teacher on a 1 – 100 scale so that teachers can be compared. The problem is not the dense formula – the issue is that teachers teach different students each year and the VAM scores have high errors of measurement that swing widely from year to year. A score with an error of measurement of plus or minus fifteen percent means the teacher score falls with a thirty point range. The following year the score may be substantially higher or lower and the entire system is predicated on student tests that may be fatally flawed.

If the stratified random sample is flawed or the test is flawed all conclusions emanating are flawed.

The other method of assessing teacher performance is supervisory observations, which may be helpful in improving teacher performance; however, have no inter rater reliability.

An irony is that there are numerous examples of low scores from supervisors and considerably higher VAM scores. VAM scores, although deeply flawed, in many cases protect teachers from low observational scores that may be biased.

Polls are a photograph, a moment in time based on available data that might very well be flawed or change dramatically in the days or hours before the “final” poll, the election.

Value Added Measurements have enriched testing companies, confused and angered teachers and parents and created a Quixote quest (“…revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world”) that is impossible to fulfill.

We are gullible and accept complex formula as truth. If an explanation is filled with obtuse Greek letters and symbols it must be accurate.

Australia has compulsory voting, polling is probably far more accurate, in the United States local voting participation is commonly below 50%, and the voters vary from election to election. The only accurate poll is the election.

If teachers taught the same students every year and the tests met statistical standards of validity, reliability and stability the VAM scores might be reasonably accurate.

Bottom line: polling is an informed guess and VAM scores are of little value.

How Might a Clinton or Trump Presidency Impact Federal Education Policy?

Every day the online New York Times prints the “odds,” expressed in a percent of the Clinton-Trump race – yesterday Clinton was leading 90% to 10%.

The election is no longer 24/7 all over TV screens; as we move towards September the baseball pennant races and the opening of the college and NFL football season are beginning to eat up the media air.

A few shots of a Clinton or Trump rally, a paid Clinton advertisement warning about Trump provoking a catastrophe and lengthy talking head reflections on San Francisco quarterback not standing for the national anthem as a protest against the treatment of Afro-Americans in America.

For large percentages of Americans election fatigue has set in.  There are probably very few undecided voters – yes, Republicans voters who can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump and unenthusiastic Hillary voters … the electorate has chosen sides.

For the last few weeks my morning coffee crowd has moved from political chatter to renewed interest in the resurgent Yankees and Jets/Giants chances; quite sensible.

The last chance to address tens of millions of Americans will be the debates

First presidential debate (September 26, 2016, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY)

The debate will be divided into six time segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator and announced at least one week before the debate.

The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. Candidates will then have an opportunity to respond to each other. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a deeper discussion of the topic.

Second presidential debate (October 9, 2016, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO)

The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which half of the questions will be posed directly by citizen participants and the other half will be posed by the moderator based on topics of broad public interest as reflected in social media and other sources.

Third presidential debate (October 19, 2016, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV)

Same format as first debate.

The last time a presidential debate changed minds was the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate.

Of course, to quote, Yogi, “It’s never over until it’s over.”

Both camps are already having internal discussions about cabinet choices.

On the education front the Department of Education is in the final stages of crafting the regulations for the new Every Student Succeeds Act, a Department of Education that will undoubtedly have a new leader no matter who wins the election. The proposed rules are highly controversial (See Ed Week cheat sheet here  and read the extensive criticism and suggestions from the NYS Commissioner Elia here.

One item hanging over New York State and Colorado, the only two states with significant percentages of opt outs; in both states many schools fell below the 95% participation rate and may face unspecified sanctions.

Should the current lame duck Secretary of Education make the decision or the next Secretary of Education? In fact, should the current Secretary of Education release the new regulations or leave it to the new administration?

I imagine in some quarters names for a successor to Secretary King are already being tossed around – not here. I’ll wait until the networks declare a winner on November 8th.

The entire election season, from the cavalry charge of Republicans and the Bernie/Hillary battles:  virtually nothing about education. The reason is not complicated – the American public is sharply divided. See Education Next polling result here.  Appealing to one faction alienates another.

We know a Republican would push for choice, i.e., charter, parochial, private and home schooling all eligible for public dollars. For example, Title 1 Portability, Title 1 dollars would follow the student to wherever the student is receiving education services. Of course, Trump could call for abolishing the entire Department of Education and sharp cuts in federal dollars.

The Democratic side is more complicated, while opt outs and others might want reduction or the end of testing civil rights organizations, allies of the Democrats are strong advocates of testing and the disaggregation of results by ethnicity, race and handicapping condition. One the other hand Clinton made very pro-teacher, pro public education speeches at both the NEA and AFT conventions, and, appears to have an excellent relationship with AFT President Randi Weingarten.

Check out Diane Ravitch’s web site – she will report a talk with Hillary.

Let’s win the presidency, the Senate and the House on November 8th – and then we argue over the future of the federal role.

Tick, Tock: Nausea, Cold Sweats and Nightmares: School Begins in a Week

“Tommy, get up, you’re going to be late to school.”

“I hate school, I’m not going.”

“It’s the first day, you have to go.”

“The kids don’t like me; the teachers hate me and make fun of me.”

“Tommy, you have to get up and go to school, you’re the principal.”

Monday morning principals will be gathering for a meeting with their superintendents.  Some will be bubbly and evanescent, others, aloof.  The supe will praise the principals for raising state test scores and single out a few for special kudos. I spoke with a long time principal.

I can’t wait for these meetings to end. Everything is scripted; I learned not to ask questions, questions are construed as criticism. We have a top down system with no input from the field, I’m expected to salute and carry out orders. My kids struggle to pass regents exams and I’m expected to schedule Advanced Placement classes. I understand we all must accept kids with social and emotional problems; however, without accompanying services, how can I help the kids. Education by press release is not education.

Principals are not happy.

For teachers, another year.

Elementary school teachers will be arriving in a few days, a week before they are required to attend. It takes to few days to set up a classroom, cloths lines with geometric shapes, word walls, bulletin boards, checking out books and supplies: getting the classroom perfect for that first day of school.

Some schools will hold retreats, a full day of schoolwide planning. Setting up google.doc sites or drop boxes so teachers can share lesson plans and student work; a principal distributes the school schedule, “Any questions? Anything we should change?”  Building a team means distributive leadership, changing one schedule impacts another teacher; teachers must learn to resolve potential conflicts and problems. English teachers always discuss/debate the books for the school year, the assignments, and all grades and subject areas create a calendar of lessons, arranging for common planning time, and, curriculum maps.

A new teacher gets a call from an experienced teacher, “Hi. I understand you’re joining us; we’re on the same grade, let’s get together and plan together.”

For the school leader creating a collaborative and nurturing environment is crucial – schools are defined by the culture of the school.

First year teachers, mid-career and senior teachers must feel valued.

Whether the school is a Renewal School struggling to survive, a high functioning school or one of the hundreds in the middle culture defines schools.

A few principals in Brooklyn will hand out a list of bars that have special Happy Hour prices for teachers.

Some principals will warn teachers that just because scores jumped this year scores will have to jump again next year, an implied threat, others will begin by congratulating a teacher who became engaged, welcoming back a teacher from maternity leave – creating that nurturing culture.

A cluster of male teachers in a serious conversation around a computer: checking an education website? No – setting up the football pool.

For school leaders school opening is a series of typical crises:

  • An email from a teacher, “I’m not returning.” A last minute vacancy.
  • Budget questions that you thought were resolved last year – you have to make last minute budget cuts.
  • Kids show up with paperwork; they want to register, they’re all overage and years behind in test scores.

School climate and school culture are different qualities. Unfortunately as I visit schools, sadly, I don’t find enough  productive climates and cultures; in fact, too often I see toxic cultures; too many schools with adequate test scores and schools in which “bitching” and complaining is commonplace.

The principal who I referenced above:

I do what’s best for my kids and teachers, I learn how to navigate the system, I keep my head down, I ignore stupid rules, I don’t want any articles about my school, we have a great school and we know it. I measure my success by the comments from students as they succeed in high school and beyond.

Welcome to the 2016-2017 school year.

Should Teachers Assign Homework? or, Does “Bad” Homework Drive out “Good” Homework?

A second grade teacher in Texas sent a letter home to parents announcing she would not be assigning homework telling parents there was no research supporting homework and “…encouraged parents to spend their evening doing what she says has proven to correlate with education success – eat dinner as a family, read together, have children play outside and get students to bed early.”

A parent posted the letter on the Internet and the letter went viral – including an article in the NY Daily News  and supportive comments from CUNY professor David Bloomfield in Business Insider.

Is homework an essential element in the teaching- learning process?

One side of the equation is the teaching side; the teacher – the writer, director, producer and actor in a play with run of one day – creates the “play,” the lesson, a forty minute period or other fixed set of time to “transfer knowledge and or skills.” The creativity of the teacher, the motivation, the activities, the questions, hopefully results in student acquisition of knowledge or skills.

However, how do we “measure” the learning side of the equation?  Teach five spelling words each day Monday through Thursday and a spelling test on Friday, a “do now” at the beginning of each lesson, exit slips, all tools to measure the success of a lesson.

Let me be clear: mindless homework is a waste of time, and can be counterproductive.

Homework should be a link: one day’s lesson to the next day’s lesson as well as reinforcing the day one lesson; preparation for the following day’s lesson.

Homework can serve as an assessment of the previous day’s lesson.

Is it useful to give homework if the teacher does not assess the work and give feedback?  BTW,  this issue is at the front and center of the homework issue.  After all, what difference does it make?

In our increasingly cyber world homework can take place online – easier for a teacher to review the submissions.

Homework should be creative, it should not be rote, and to use a student’s favorite word boring.

We think we know a great deal about the teaching side of the equation – Danielson rubrics, student engagement, the quality of questions, the complexity of questions, “arrow of recitation,” (questions moving from teacher to student to student to student); what we’re unsure about is the “learning” side of the equation.  Of course we can ask students, and, some teacher assessment methods include student comments.

I am extremely fortunate to interact with my second grade granddaughter:  she loves to read, she likes to write stories and especially to draw. How much has she “learned” in school?” How much has she “learned” from her parents?  That never-ending nature-nurture debate.

Creative homework assignments can motivate the following day’s lesson, they can be exciting for the student, and just as we assess the quality of the lesson we should also assess the quality of the homework assignment. During common planning time teachers can share homework assignments as well as share the actual homework submitted by the students.

Ill-conceived homework should not drive out creative homework assignments.

The Politicization of State Tests: Creating Tests in Which “All Students in New York State Are Above Average”

When the dust cleared the greatest ally to the anti-testing clique was (roll of drums!!!)  MaryEllen Elia, the New York State Commissioner of Education.

The deeply flawed state tests (“All children are above average”) reignited the argument – why do we have state test at all (aside from the federal requirements)?

Statewide ELA test scores jumped by around 7% – although the racial achievement gap remained the same.

A magic potion, incompetence or simply political legerdemain?

A little review: in September, 2015 Governor Cuomo reconvened a blue ribbon panel, actually a process to repair the Governor’s foolhardy attacks on teachers and parents. In 2014 it appeared that Cuomo had a clear path the Democratic nomination for his second term and deep pockets for the November general election. Seemingly out of nowhere Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham challenged Cuomo for the Working Families Party spot on the ballot and challenged Cuomo in the Democratic primary. While the teacher union made no endorsement some members and locals were on the Teachout side. After defeating Teachout and Rob Astorino, his Republican challenger Cuomo decided to punish teachers. He cozied up to the charter school folks, used the budgeting process to tack on legislation to extend teacher probation, and, was nastier than usual.  NYSUT, the statewide teacher union responded with a series of aggressive TV ads and the opt-out movement was created, 20% of kids opted-out of the 2015 state tests.

Cuomo’s popularity rating tumbled.

I suspect clearer heads prevailed.

The purpose of the Task Force was to guide education policy from afar and place the Board of Regents and the commissioner in the foreground. The recommendations were more than recommendations; they were a pathway for state education policy. (Cuomo: This is the endgame – you figure us out how to get us there)

The Task Force Report (Read here), which was released in December, contained twenty-one recommendations, the last recommendation was a moratorium on the use of state tests to evaluate principals and teachers for four years, applauded by the teacher union.  The recommendations called for a thorough review of the Common Core Standards and teachers would be included in every step of the process.

Recommendation 15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new Standardized tests aligned to the standards; not controversial, garnered little,  if any discussion; perhaps a pilot in a few schools and school districts across the state.

Surprisingly, very surprisingly, without any discussion with the Board of Regents, the Commissioner announced that the 2016 state tests would be untimed.

The January announcement, entitled “Changes for the 2016 Grades 3-8 ELA and Mathematics Tests” begins,

This memo outlines changes made as a result of feedback from the field:

* Greater involvement of educators in the test development process

* Decrease in the number of test questions, and

* A shift to untimed testing

The announcement came from Angela Infante, Deputy Commissioner, Office of Instructional Support and Peter Swerdewski, Assistant Commissioner, Office of State Assessment.

The state document states, “…students will be provided with as much time as they need.” No pilot, no transition, jumping off the diving board into the pool, and, the state made no attempt to identify students who took additional time.

The scores soared, the state commissioner, in the Daily News admits the scores are “not exactly a perfect comparison,”

After widespread opposition to the difficulty of the tests erupted in 2015, state education department officials shortened the exams for 2016 and eliminated time limits.

“Because of the changes in testing, it’s not exactly a perfect comparison,” Elia said. “And even with the increases this year, there remains much work to be done.”

The state spent many millions of dollars purchasing tests, teachers and students months of test prep, to collect data from what turns out to be a non-standardized test. A test that might not even meet federal requirements, although I’m sure the feds will simply ignore the faux jump in scores.

Was the test itself “harder” or “easier;” many months down the road a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) will release a report, hundreds of pages of dense analysis that few will read and fewer will understand.

The basic questions: are the results of the test useful?  Can they be compared with the previous year? Can schools and school districts be compared? And, at the top of the list: are the schools in New York State making academic progress?

Howard Wainer, a Distinguished Research Scientist, the author of innumerable books and articles, an internationally recognized expert writes,

Because of the changes this year’s scores can’t be compared to last year’s and because of the untimed nature of the test (and there being no record of how long anyone took) you can’t compare scores of students who took it this year with one another. It is, in no uncertain terms, an unstandardized test.

This test is akin to measuring children’s heights but allowing some students, we don’t know who, to stand on a stool, we don’t know how high, and then declaring some taller than others.

Fred Smith, another testing expert, writing in City Limits, had doubts about the validity of the test before the test administration.

Either the state education psychometrician is lacking in competence, or knew by adopting untimed tests scores would likely jump – either is unacceptable.

If the state continues down the same path, retaining the untimed tests, even if it keeps track of students who take extra time, and the amount of extra time, we will be once again be comparing apples to oranges. Kids who take extra time or choose not to take extra time may not be the same kids as this year – we simply can’t know.

Will states across the nation also jump on the untimed tests bandwagon?

In the politicized world of education the charter school folk and their acolytes beamed at higher scores, of course, we have no way of knowing why charter school scores were generally higher than public schools, and, the pro-charter print media crowed. Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina also took a victory lap, and the Mayor immediately claimed the scores were proof that mayoral control be made permanent.

Board of Regents Chancellor Rosa reminded us it’s not time for a victory lap, unfortunately everyone else is milking the results – de Blasio and Farina, the charters and principals and teachers are breathing a sigh of relief.

A perverse kind of victimless crime: except for the kids who were tortured preparing for a non-standardized test.

Although the law has changed, No Child Left Behind has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act; the requirement for annual testing in grades 3-8 remains. The Leadership Conference is an umbrella group representing the major civil rights organizations across the spectrum has strongly supported the accountability requirements, aka, testing and reporting scores by subgroup, and, the law is not changing.

Testing is here to stay.

The US Department of Education has announced they will be selecting six or so states or consortiums of states to play with alternate assessments.

The anti-testing crowd points to the new law and the testing kerfuffle in New York State, why not move to portfolios and performance tasks to current replace testing? This is not a new idea.

Vermont spent a decade working to create an assessment system based on portfolios, and after an external report pointed to fatal flaws, abandoned the effort.

…report by the RAND Corporation … found that the “rater reliability” in scoring the portfolios–the extent to which scorers agreed about the quality of a student’s work–was very low. The researchers urged the state to release the assessment results only at the state level.

Daniel M. Koretz, a senior social scientist at RAND and the report’s author, said the low levels of reliability indicate that the scores are essentially meaningless, since a different set of raters could come up with a completely different set of scores.

Can thousands of teachers be expected to rate portfolios the same?

The portfolio process was expensive, extremely time consuming  and there is no guarantee the portfolio work was not “assisted” by parents or others .

Yes, portfolios and performance tasks are effective classroom tools and in the perfect world might be a way of assessing student progress, in the real world, the world in which we live, it is not reasonable to expect inter-rater reliability.

The anti-testing movement will not disappear and the opt-out movement is alive.

What is absent is leadership – Arne Duncan drove us down a path for seven years that divided education: reformers versus deformers, marketeers versus public schools, unions versus the hedge funders: education is bitterly divided. Will the next president nominate an education leader who can bring together the disparate constituencies?

Education is adrift and the unstandardized testing regimen in New York State is a prime example.