Tag Archives: Board of Regents

How Do You Choose a New Chancellor for the NYC School System …? Is a Jesus-Moses-Muhammad-Gandhi-like Chancellor Waiting in the Wings?

The New York Yankees decided to have an open procedure in the search for a new manager. The candidates were publicly announced and met the press immediately after the interview. The media debated the candidates and the decision was widely applauded. The New York Mets held their interviews in-house, no announcements of candidates and announced the new manager with fanfare, again, a popular choice.

 At a press conference, de Blasio said he has already begun a national search to replace Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who formally announced her retirement on Thursday. He emphasized that he is not looking for someone to shake things up but rather wants someone who will follow through on the course that he and Fariña set out. He also committed to hiring an educator, an important criteria for the mayor when he chose Fariña that set him apart from the previous administration.

 The mayor said he plans to select a new chancellor in the next few months ….  He gave little information about the search process, saying only that it will be an internal, quiet decision.

 If the plan is to hire “someone who will follow through on the course that [de Blasio] and Fariña set out,” why a nationwide search, select from among the deputy chancellors, Dorita Gibson, Phil Weinberg, or from among the members of the Board of Regents who were highly effective superintendents, Regents Chin, Cashin, Rosa or Young? In the 90’s three chancellor’s, Cortines, Green and Crew, from across the nation stumbled.

Unspecified insiders paint a different picture of the mayor/chancellor relationship, the NY Daily News reports,

… behind the door … insiders have said de Blasio has been growing impatient with Farina’s inability to communicate his education agenda to the public.

“De Blasio thinks the schools are doing great,” said one Education Department official who requested anonymous. “He can’t understand why he gets negative coverage and pushback over things like school safety.”

Farina, in a self-assessment, looking over her four years mused,

“The thing I’m proudest of is the fact that we have brought back dignity to teaching, joy to learning, and trust to the system,” Fariña said.

 The speculation was that Carmen would stay a year or two, and de Blasio would select the “big name,” the new leader; Carmen surprised the sages.

Why wasn’t “the message” getting out? If you look at the pieces of data emerging from schools: higher graduation rates, jumps in test scores, Universal Pre-K, 3 for All;  De Blasio can’t understand the negative coverage from the Post, the Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, the Manhattan Institute and a host of blog sites.

 Marshall McLuhan is famous for the phrase, “the medium is the message,” and the LcLuhan website explains,

… the message of a newscast are not the news stories themselves, but a change in the public attitude towards crime, or the creation of a climate of fear. A McLuhan message always tells us to look beyond the obvious and seek the non-obvious changes or effects that are enabled, enhanced, accelerated or extended by the new thing.

The same can be said for de Blasio himself, in spite of historically low homicide rates, improvements in quality of life, a thriving economy, the negative side, homelessness, lack of affordable housing, transit woes dominate the news.

De Blasio, in person, has an electric personality, charming, engaged, a wonderful public speaker. I was at an annual Christmas season community event a few weeks ago. The hundreds in the diverse crowd were local folks with their kids to see the Christmas lights turned on: Scott Stringer, the Comptroller, Trish James, the Public Advocate and the Mayor spoke, de Blasio charmed the crowd. In September I attended a community Town Hall, de Blasio interacting with a community, hosted by the City Counsel member. For a few hours de Blasio answered questions, knowledgeable, accessible, and seemingly caring about each and every story or complaint.

Yet the press hammers away, at press availability de Blasio is uncomfortable, snarky, why are they asking me about the “bad stuff” and not the “good stuff?”

Charming in person and not able to enunciate a message across the city.

Cuomo, on the other hand, only meets with the public and the press at carefully controlled events with questions limited to the single topic. I can’t remember an open press conference.  Cuomo reads speeches, issues press releases, stands on a stage surrounded by acolytes to announce this or that; the other end of the spectrum from de Blasio.

Aloof in person, effectively sends a message: I am in charge, I am the your leader.

Trump meets the nation through tweets, and campaign rallies, he is at the center, whether you like him or not he is the center of attention, he is the imperial and imperious president.,

We have moved from the era of the presser, from print media to the era of social media, an era of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, podcasts, websites; the New York Times has more online subscribers than hard print purchasers.

The number one “quality” of a new Chancellor should be the ability to communicate, to carry the message.

The substance might be less important than the message.

The current Farina education menu is a la carte. There are dozens, maybe scores, of “new initiatives,” the administration has tossed dollars and “programs” at criticism and perceived “problems.”  On the left hand column the “problem,” in the middle column the programmatic response, on the right side the cost, check off and move on to the next issue.  The old Board of Education was once described as a mass of silly putty, you could stick your finger in and change the shape with ease; however, slowly but surely the lump regained its amorphous shape.

I occasionally call a teacher in a Renewal School to catch up on what’s happening in her school: lots of meetings, lots people floating through, lots of data collection, and lots of confusion.

Me: “Do they ask for feedback, do they ask you for suggestions, do they follow through on teacher ideas?”

Teacher: “Not really, we’re polite, we listen, we try and implement the instructional changes, the new programs seem to be in conflict with other programs, it’s frustrating and depressing.”

I speak with a principal: “A cluster of schools, mine included, was getting significant dollars from a grant, the superintendent asked for ideas, we carefully researched, eventually the program was announced, none of our ideas made the cut, the programs were disconnected, it was chaotic, every program wanted a piece of our kids.”

On the state level the Rosa/Elia team has learned the lesson.

Former Commissioner John King “declared” change after change, call them reform after reform, with most of the Regents rubber stamping, and, defending each and every “reform.” Whether or not the reforms had merit faded as opposition to King increased. King became the message, not the value or lack thereof of the reforms.

Chancellor Rosa and Commissioner Elia have “included” the immediate world. Task forces, work groups, gatherings all over the state, at times a seemingly tedious and overly lengthy process resulting in this initiative or that initiative.  The message: we want to involve you, all of you, we will listen, and you’re “in the tent.”

The move from the Common Core to the Next Generation Standards garnered thousands of online comments, endless meetings across the state; I attended a meeting in Brooklyn with over 100 teachers interacting with city and state staffers. I attended a meeting at the union with a few Regents members and a number of math teachers who served on one of the task forces.

The Next Generation Standards were adopted with minimal opposition. Are they “better” than the Common Core standards? I have no idea, the message was clear: everyone will have their opportunity to participate in the change process.

In New York City the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), the central board meetings are poorly attended, the Community Education Councils (CEC), the local school boards, have numerous unfilled slots and, once again, the people on the stage outnumber the people in the audience.

The message is clear, you don’t really count, we’re doing what we think is the right path.

Carmen was the right person at the right time, replacing an administration that thrived on chaos and confrontation. Some of the Bloomberg/Klein initiatives had disastrous consequences (Open Market transfers allowing teachers to hop from school to school setting up a steady drain of teachers away from the lowest achieving schools) to others that made perfect sense (a longer school day, time for professional development and sharply higher wages) and to some that are debatable (school closing and new school creation). Eventually the public came to the conclusion, polling data confirms,  we trust teachers more than the mayor to create education policy.

The Farina policies lack coherence; for example, there is no New York City curriculum. Carmen likes programs devised by Lucy Calkins and Lucy West, and some superintendents force principals to use the programs, others abhor the programs. The answer to why there is no curriculum has been “we’re working on it.”  Increasingly curriculum is seen to be at the core of improved outcomes.

David Steiner, former New York State Chancellor, writes, ,

An education system without an effective instructional core is like a car without a working engine: It can’t fulfill its function. No matter how much energy and money we spend working on systemic issues – school choice, funding, assessments, accountability, and the like – not one of these policies educates children. That is done only through curriculum and teachers: the material we teach and how effectively we teach it.

Why has it taken four years to address the school diversity issue? The controversy around school segregation began with a research paper from The Civil Right Project at UCLA,

New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.

The Farina administration tarried, the pressure to create a school integration plan in New York came from two members of the City Council and a number of advocacy organizations, Carmen finally created a plan that has been criticized by the advocates and electeds.

To make matters more complex, a recent research paper from the Metro Center at NYU, “Separate But Unequal: Comparing Achievement in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools,” finds only modest differences and makes a range of other policy recommendations.

Analysis of 2015-16 achievement data suggests that there is a modest benefit for vulnerable students attending the City’s most diverse schools. Third and eighth grade students attending the most diverse schools modestly outperformed students attending the City’s least diverse schools on state standardized tests in both English and math.

In addition, students attending the most diverse high schools were slightly more likely to graduate on-time than their peers attending the least diverse schools (68.8 percent versus 66.5 percent)

The report includes recommendations for stimulating diversity, expanding opportunity, and interrupting segregation in New York City schools, including challenging “opportunity monopolies,” such as specialized high schools, that only provide privileges to certain groups of students. The researchers also recommend recruiting and retaining teachers of color and hiring from the beginning culturally competent educators.

Did you know the Department has an Office of Equity and Access?  Once again the Department has spun out initiative after initiative, press release after press release, with considerable backslapping. Will the meetings of the newly appointed School Diversity Group be live streamed? Will there be a website for public comments?

Do principals, teachers, advocates and New Yorkers in general, have an opportunity to participate in the policy creation process?  Sadly, no, the gulf between those who work in schools and those who lead the school system is wide. The gulf between advocates and school district leadership continues to be disturbing; it is often confrontational rather than cooperative and collegial.

The chancellor proudly announces she has visited 400 schools; however, her visits are preceded by schools scrambling to put on the right face, new bulletin boards, tighter discipline, etc. The team spends an hour or so and moves on and the school breathes a sigh of relief.

The union contract contains a consultation requirement,

The community or high school superintendent shall meet and consult once a month during the school year with representatives of the Union on matters of educational policy and development and on other matters of mutual concern.

 In my union representative days my district had a different spin, the superintendent met monthly with all the school union reps in addition to the principals and parent leaders, Prior to the Albany legislative session the superintendent hosted a meeting of all the electeds, the District Leadership Team and all the parents associations to discuss district budgetary needs.

The teacher union reps were part of the leadership process – the message from the district to the teacher leaders – we respect and welcome your views, your participation. We created active and participatory school and district leadership teams, the school teams created bylaws with specific conflict resolution guidelines. The district leadership team, the superintendent, principals and teachers, responded to intra-school conflicts.

The district created a diversity plan; over a thousand Afro-American students from overcrowded schools were bused to underutilized all-white schools at the other end of the district. It only occurred because the entire community was included in every step of the process.

In a prior post I suggested that the new chancellor, a Jesus-Moses-Mohammad-Gandhi-like person, might be difficult to identify;  I’m not a fan of the candidates on the Eva Moskowitz list, New York City has a unique culture; I am a fan of including key stakeholders (unions, etc.) on a search team, and I hope the process does not drag on for months.

The Department has always been a paramilitary organization, the general, aka, chancellor, makes a decision, superintendents and principals salute and the orders trickle down to classroom teachers, the soldiers, who nod politely, close their doors and do what they think is best.  Occasionally a superintendent or a principal, or, an island of schools creates truly collaborative worlds; they are the exception and struggle to survive.

We need a chancellor, a leader, who can communicate, who is respected; would principals, teachers, parents and advocates agree with the reflections of the current chancellor? “The thing I’m proudest of is the fact that we have brought back dignity to teaching, joy to learning, and trust to the system.”

When you think of the Department do the words “dignity,” “joy” and “trust” resonate?

 I hope the mayor can find this incredible personage who can change the Department of Education from a reactive organization to a creative organization, from an organization attempting to pacify critics to an organization that truly finds a path to include diverse views, to an organization whose message is “you are part of the process,” whose outcomes lead to better outcomes for students and families.

Rule # 1 of personal and organization change: participation reduces resistance.

Should New York State End Regents Exams? Can Authentic Assessments Replace the Regents? Or, Will We Diminish the Value of a Diploma?

If you meet anyone who went to high school in New York State I’m sure they’ll remember Regents tests; they’ve been around since the 1870’s.  The Regents were intended for college-bound students; most students left high school and moved onto jobs that allowed them to live a middle class life; jobs, good jobs, were plentiful, commonly union jobs with fair pay and benefits.

In the high achieving school in which I taught only a quarter of students bothered to earn a Regents diploma, three-quarters of the kids earned a local diploma, the requirement, the 9th grade level Regents Competency Test, the RCT, and the accompanying diploma referred to as the RCT diploma. Today we would call the system multiple pathways.

By the mid-nineties the world of work had changed, a college degree was essential for a job. After a few years of discussion the Board of Regents moved to a single Regents diploma system, the RCT diploma was phased out. The plan, originally scheduled to take five years took a decade.

John King was appointed state commissioner,  the state won a  $700 million Race to the Top grant, and, adopted the Common Core State Standards.

Failure rates on the Common Core Algebra 1 Regents increased and the state decided to “scale’ the scores; currently students can receive a passing grade with fewer than half correct answers The state plan was to increase the number of correct answers to achieve a passing grade over time; it hasn’t been happening.

Unless student grades on the Algebra 1 exam increase graduation rates may be impacted, See “Rough Calculations: Will the Common Algebra 1 Regents Exam Threaten NYC’s Graduation Rates? (2015).

If you haven’t seen Regents exams recently look at the Global Studies here and the English here.

Click and try the Regents  ….  How’d you do?

The June, 2016 New York State rate graduation rate was 80%, the glass half full, the graduation rates keep edging up, the glass half empty, one in five kids fails to graduate in four years; six percent have dropped out and twelve percent are still registered in school. Although more kids are graduating more kids are not prepared for college and must take remedial courses in college.

The Board of Regents have been creating additional pathways to graduation,  4 + 1, CDOS, the “safety net” for students with disabilities, the re-scoring option, all part of multiples pathways to graduation options .

The members of the board and the commissioner are beginning to ask whether the emphasis on passing examinations is the best measurement of college and career readiness.

At the October Regents Meeting the members began to explore a move away from Regents exams. The commissioner set forth “potential goals,”

  • Prepare students for 21st century post secondary options, for example, Baccalaureate :programs in STEM, Humanities and Arts, Technical degree programs, Career training certificate programs, Adult education programs leading to certifications, Military service, Employment
  • Offer more flexibility in completing credit requirements, relevant pathway choice and student interest
  • Expand external certification assessment options
  • Allow students to demonstrate proficiency in multiple ways.

And the commissioner when on to list questions: called “Key Considerations”

  • How do we ensure that all students including students with disabilities and English language learners are able to access rigorous coursework?
  • Should students have the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in a specific area of graduation through a district designed Capstone project?

 The commissioner could appoint a “blue ribbon” commission, experts, who could review the literature, ask for public input and submit recommendations, or, appoint a regents work group who would work with state education staff to draft a plan.

New York State is one of only seven states that requires exit exams, on the other hand critics defend regents exams; every school should meet the same standards, the same exams. The NY Post, the Manhattan Institute and others on the conservative side might accuse the commissioner and the chancellor of eroding the quality of a diploma.

On the other hand the opt-out parents would applaud, one in five students in the state opts-out of state tests and on Long Island more than half of families opt-out. Opting out of regents exams is not an option.

Daniel Koretz, a leading expert on testing has soured on the emphasis on test-based accountability.

High-stakes tests. Lots of them. And that has become a major problem. Daniel Koretz, one of the nation’s foremost experts on educational testing, argues in The Testing Charade that the whole idea of test-based accountability has failed—it has increasingly become an end in itself, harming students and corrupting the very ideals of teaching. 

Are alternative methods of measuring accountability, such as a portfolio of student work, a viable alternative?

The state of Vermont tried to move to a portfolio system which it abandoned; rater reliability was poor.

 A report analyzing Vermont’s pioneering assessment system has found severe problems with it and raised serious questions about alternative forms of assessment.

The Vermont system, which is being closely watched by educators around the country, is the first statewide assessment program to measure student achievement in part on the basis of portfolios.

 But the 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 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.

“If you’re not rating reliably, you’re not rating,” he said. “You can’t measure anything unless you measure it reliably.”

 Can the state move backwards, to a dual testing, dual diploma system aimed at improving graduation rates for students with disabilities and English language learners?

The state ESSA plan does not include this option.

The commissioner did endorse district-based Capstone projects.

Capstone projects are an excellent example of authentic assessment; at the college level a project might require an entire term to prepare.

The following comes from a partial description of the requirements of a college Capstone project

Capstone Expectations:

The capstone marks the culmination of the student’s studies. Accordingly, the topic selected should require application of a broad range of the skills and knowledge … The final paper must reflect thorough research, analysis, critical thinking and clear writing.

Capstone Content:

  • The topic students choose must be one they develop and work on independently.
  • The paper must showcase a deep understanding of an area….
  • The finished capstone must be a minimum of xx pages and include: an abstract; a background statement; a literature review; objectives; an analysis of existing research; an original analysis of the … challenges; opportunities, threats and possible solutions, critical and thoughtful conclusions; along with a bibliography, charts and any necessary illustrations.
  • The paper may contain primary research, ….Alternatively and more commonly, students may write their paper based on an analysis of secondary research. This approach may include a secondary data analysis or other specified metrics plan.
  • All secondary research must be attributed throughout the paper and in the bibliography.

This is a significant project: the commissioner suggests a “district-designed Capstone project,” how can we assure rater reliability in 770 school districts?

The commissioner and the regents are beginning a long journey with no clear outcome. Students pass courses and fail regents exams: should the failure prevent a student from graduating?  Should one three-hour exam determine graduation? On the other hand bar exams determine who becomes a lawyer; civil service exams determine who becomes a police officer or fire fighter.

I look forward to a deep discussion with experts and public participation and, I would recommend that the state hold hearings around the state.

Are we too wedded to Regents tests?

Are we jumping on a reform wave which may diminish a diploma?

Can/should we change the nature of instruction from the current modality to an authentic, project-based educational modality?

What do you think?

“Evening the Playing Field:” Will the ESSA Accountability Plan Acknowledge the Work of Teachers in “Truly Disadvantaged” Schools? Will the plan be “Equitable?”

A teacher: “We love our kids and love to teach in this school, we make a difference in the lives of our kids. Our kids are poor, really poor, some live in shelters, others in foster care, trauma is part of their daily lives. We’re building out our community school, we prepare our kids to learn by feeding them, by searching for contributions of clothes, and, make our classes as rich as possible. I wanted to take my class on a series of trips out of the neighborhood, my principal said wait till after the tests, the future of our school depends on six days of testing, it’s sad that no one cares about the social and emotional needs of our kids, needs that precede the ability to learn. We just want an even playing field.”

In some school districts kids come into school knowing their letter and number facts, in other schools it’s  their first exposure; kids are behind from day 1.

In “The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (1987)” sociologist William Julius Wilson details how programs across the political spectrum have failed the underclass, he is sharply critical of conservative and liberal policies.

Wilson posits social isolation–a distinction which shifts the problem from the psychological to the socio-economic realm. Instead of blaming poverty and its associated pathologies primarily on the individual, as conservatives do, or on the effects of contemporary racism, as some liberal scholars do, Wilson calls for a “refocused liberal perspective” which emphasizes “the dynamic interplay between ghetto-specific cultural characteristics and social and economic opportunities.”

Thirty years later our society, and especially our schools are even more segregated.

The result is islands of poverty, what Wilson called the “truly disadvantaged,” whose children enter school far behind other children.  The Harvard Education Letter writes,

  • According to a seminal 1995 study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, 3-year-olds whose parents are professionals have vocabularies that are 50 percent larger than those of children from working-class families, and twice as large as children whose families receive welfare.
  • “We could eliminate at least half, and probably more, of the black-white test score gap at the end of twelfth grade by eliminating the differences that exist before children enter first grade.”
  • In a 2002 study, Valerie E. Lee and David T. Burkam of the University of Michigan found that at kindergarten entry, cognitive scores of children in the highest socioeconomic group were 60 percent higher than those of the lowest group.

From the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act to the 2002 No Child Left Behind Law up to our current iteration, the Every Student Succeeds Act administrations across the political landscape have tried to legislate equity. Previous leadership of education in New York State jumped on Common Core State Standards and testing: the unintended consequence, a massive opt-out movement primarily among middle class white parents.

The current Board of Regents, led by Chancellor Betty Rosa is a newer board. Former superintendents and teachers, a judge, a doctor, an attorney. a parent activist, a range that crosses the spectrum of experience and background.  The board is attempting to create, as required by the ESSA law, a new school accountability system that goes beyond test scores. The new law requires grades 3 – 8 tests in ELA and Math but does not limit the accountability system to test scores.

The process of building a new accountability system has been transparent. Scores of open, facilitated meetings, a think tank made up of stakeholders and hours upon hours of open meetings with national experts Linda-Darling Hammond, Learning Policy Institute and Scott Marion, the Center for Assessment.

Your correspondent has sat through them all.

This past Tuesday a three hour plus session with Darling-Hammond and Marion tele-communicating with the board. It was crunch time, decisions had to be made.

You can check out nine presentations here.

Or, check on the individual power points/reports below:

Status of Development of ESSA Plan

Promoting Diversity – Integration in New York State

Considerations for the New York State Assessment System

Models for State Performance Assessment Systems

Building an Accountability and Assessment system Under ESSA

Putting It All Together – Annual Differentiation Under ESSA

I know parents and teachers ask: why do we need state tests? The answer is simple: the law requires that each state include state tests in any school accountability system and the system must identify the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools.

If you’re going to go beyond test scores what would you add?

You can add other indicators: for example, growth, the increase in scores from year to year, you could add counting subgroups differently, you could add chronic absenteeism, maybe other items. Additionally you can weight the indicators: for example ELA and Math scores could count 30% each, growth can count 20%, other items 5% or 10% resulting in a cumulative score.

Think in terms of a dashboard with the indicators across the top and the levels down the vertical column. Do you use satisfactory, unsatisfactory, levels 1 to 4, ineffective, developing, effective highly effective? Do schools receive an overall numerical score? a letter grade? How do you identify the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools?

One of regents members asked if there was a “scientific” method of making these determinations. Scott Marion explained these were subjective decisions, capturing stakeholder values, for weighting indicators is a subjective decision. Marion explained that subjective is not a negative; Marion discussed “credible  defensibility,” making value-based decisions that reflected the experiences of the members..

After extensive discussion the members agreed on a weighted dashboard. The first draft will be released at the May regents meeting, public comments, meetings around the state, submitted to the governor and submission to the feds in September.

Colorado has completed and submitted a dashboard plan that goes beyond test scores: read a description of the plan here.

Hopefully, maybe, the changing of the metrics will “even the playing field” for the “truly disadvantaged.”

The next steps will be to begin to explore alternative assessments, aka authentic assessments. Vermont and New Hampshire involved in pilots; however, the path is long and complex, and to quote Robert Frost,

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

The New, Feisty Board of Regents Explores Principal Preparation: Why Don’t We Have Better Principals?

[Election Update: Yuh Line Niou won the six-way primary in Shelly Silver’s former district as well as all other Ed in the Apple endorsed candidates with the exception of Robert Jackson; however, the Bloomberg/Charter candidate, Micah Lasher lost to a candidate supported by the Independent Democratic Coalition – the breakaway gang of five that caucuses with the Republicans]

The new Board of Regents is a feisty group!!

The Board is a policy board; they hire the CEO, the commissioner, and set overall policy for the state. The line between what is policy and what are operations is a blurred line: a prime example.

In December the Regents voted to accept the 21 recommendations of the Cuomo Task Force on the Common Core.

Recommendation 15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new State standardized test aligned to the standards.

A month later the Department announced a shift to untimed tests;  the “formal review” apparently did not involve the Board.

Initially the Commissioner was ecstatic over the unparalleled one year jump in test scores, until the Chancellor, Betty Rosa tuned down the exuberance.  Without knowing which students took extended time the state has set a new baseline, there can be no valid comparisons – you cannot compare apples to oranges. The Regents members were clearly unhappy – why weren’t they involved in the “formal review?”

Under the leadership of Chancellor Tisch and John King, with a few exceptions, the Board was quiescent.

The current members are activists, in order to create policy they clearly intend to take a deep dive into the issue. A prime example: the four exams required for teacher certification. The co-chairs of the Higher Education Committee have held forums all over the state, hundreds of college staff, and degree seekers, have attended and testified. The Board is leading the steps to reconfigure the teacher preparation process that was imposed by Tisch/King.

No longer does the Chancellor and the Commissioner run the show. Chancellor Rosa epitomizes collaborating with her Regent partners.

The September 12th Regents Meeting began with a detailed exploration of a new grant from the Wallace Foundation:  the Principal Preparation Project. In prior years the project would have landed with the Regents Research Fellows with a nary a word of discussion with the Regents members. The world has changed.

After a Power Point presentation the new Board peppered the Deputy Commissioner with questions;

Regent Johnson mused over the purpose of the project.  We must acknowledge the impact of poverty, issues of race and changing demographics. Why weren’t Civil Rights organizations on the team? Regent Mead was concerned over the three years of teaching as a minimum requirement – New York City has a seven year requirement. Regent Norwood was wondering why social/emotional issues appeared absent from the project as well as working in diverse environments, and, the retention of leaders in low performing schools were absent. Regent Brown was concerned with the absence of diversity concerns in the project, should issues of race, i. e., “white privilege” and “cultural competency,” be included in project curriculum?

The discussion went on and on….

In order to become a principal in New York State the applicant must complete an “approved” program; however, the selection is by the elected lay school board, or, in New York City, by the Chancellor; all the state does is create an applicant pool.

A little history:

The first wave of reform swept the nation after the Civil War and culminated in the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 – establishing a federal civil service system. The reform movement moved to the states, and, after the creation of New York City (“The Great Consolidation”), the merging of the five boroughs, the legislature moved to reform a political hiring system, by creating a Board of Examiners.

Read a history of principal selection here: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2008/08/07/the-quest-for-the-leadership-gene-how-do-we-findselect-the-best-school-leaders/

From rigorous examinations to a handful of credits and selection by elected Community School Boards to the Leadership Academy, we haven’t found any magic bullets.

Half-jokingly, I mused that maybe there was a leadership gene. Maybe I’m right!

… a quarter of the observed variation in leadership behaviour between individuals can be explained by genes passed down from their parents. – See more at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0113/15012013-leadership-genetics#sthash.Nmnip8lR.dpuf

If you ask teachers about supervisor competence you will find a wide variability, some praise school leaders, many more are critical.  An NYU Study a few years ago, using student scores on state exams as a measurement: insignificant differences between Leadership Academy and non-Leadership Academy principals.

I have a few questions:

* What percentages of applicants are accepted into leadership programs? Is the quality of the applicant’s teaching part of the applicant selection process, and, if so, how do you measure the quality? (I fear programs accept the vast percentage of applicants)

* Are online or blended learning courses acceptable? Are these courses of the same quality as face-to-face courses?

* How often does the supervising teacher visit the candidate? Four times a year? Weekly? What is the quality of the internship? How is it measured?

* What percentage of candidates find jobs within five years? How successful are the candidates as supervisors and how do we measure success?

The finest leadership I have seen is the leadership provided by coaches, whether athletic, music or dance.

The ultimate question: is this project worthwhile?  Since the state does not hire or supervise principals can changing the requirements actually change who gets hired?  Do we have to change the “hirers” before we can change the “hirees”?

Looking ahead: every state must comply with the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and design a state plan -more about the process in my next post.

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.

Why Did New York State Test Scores Jump? Better Instruction? Untimed Tests? All the Kids Got Smarter, or, Shenanigans?

If you want to bury a news story you issue the press release on a Friday afternoon, if you want as much mileage as possible you issue the release on a Tuesday morning, followed by a press conference, in person and online, followed by laudatory speeches across the state and try to maximize the time the story garners headlines and clicks.

The State Education Department released the 2016 grades 3-8 ELA and Math scores on Friday afternoon with an odd presser. The test scores up, way up; why is the SED ashamed?

You can take a deep dive into the New York City Scores here: http://schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/data/TestResults/ELAandMathTestResults

The SED analysis of the state scores with many disaggregated charts here and here.

The Commissioner was careful not to publicly laud the increase in the scores,

But rather than celebrate the largest bump since New York adopted new tests tied to the Common Core Learning Standards, education officials reported the increases with caution. They suggested that changes in how the tests were given – not actual improvement by schools and students – may have accounted for the gains.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia also warned against making comparisons with previous years, which is typically done to evaluate schools and teachers.

“It’s not an apples to apples comparison and should be viewed in that context,” Elia said during a news conference when the results were released Friday.

For the data wonks who want to parse the results check out the files here and here.

The SED states, “…  changes in how the tests were given – not actual improvement by schools and students – may have accounted for the gains;” however, a deeper analysis is necessary.

If the increases are due to fewer questions and untimed tests, we should know, if both teachers and kids have been exposed to the more effective Common Core instruction and better professional development, we should know, or, if the SED, as some suspect, manipulated the process, we should know. All of the kids in New York State getting smarter just doesn’t seem creditable.

Under Commissioner Mills test scores increased year after year, when Chancellor Tisch and new Commissioner Steiner took over they asked a Harvard professor, Daniel Koretz to take a look – sure enough – the SED had been using many of the same questions year after year. Whether incompetence, or, more likely a method of increasing scores, we’ll never know. Scandals in Atlanta and accusations elsewhere have cast doubt on the entire testing regimen. Jumps in test scores are treated with skepticism.

For years Howard T. Everson chaired the Regents Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and was sharply critical of test score inflation.

But given all the flaws of the test, said Prof. Howard T. Everson of the City University of New York’s Center for Advanced Study in Education, it is hard to tell what those rising scores really meant.

“Teachers began to know what was going to be on the tests,” said Professor Everson, who was a member of a state testing advisory panel and who warned the state in 2008 that it might have a problem with score inflation. “Then you have to wonder, and folks like me wonder, is that real learning or not?”

Each year after the release of the state tests scores the TAC issued a lengthy analysis of the quality of the test. Recently the TAC process has changed, as I understand the current process the TAC report goes to the test creator, Pearson, (now replaced by Questar) who vets the report, over the last few years the report was released a year after the test and was so heavily “massaged” it was meaningless.

The SED/Regents should, in the footsteps of Tisch and Steiner, immediately ask Everson or Koretz or a colleague with equally impeccable credentials to examine the current state test results.

If, in fact, the Commissioner doesn’t know why scores jumped we have to ask: why not?  If untimed tests resulted in higher test scores shouldn’t Regents Exams be untimed?  If the increased exposure to better Common Core instruction resulted in higher scores why are the Algebra 1 and Geometry scores not increasing?

Shrugging and simply saying we’re happy with increased scores but we’re clueless as to why is simply not acceptable. Data should influence policy at all levels, and, we have to be confident that the testing regimen is creditable.

The New York State Legislature Adjourns with a “Whimper,”as Educational Policy-Making Moves to the Board of Regents

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925)

The last stanza of Eliot’s poem is an apt description of the end of the 2016 legislative session. The final days, called “the Big Ugly,” is a scramble, an endgame, the Republicans and the Democrats vying for an advantage as the state moves toward the November election. All the seats in the legislature, the 150 in the Assembly and the 63 in the Senate will be on the ballot. While the Assembly is firmly in the Democratic column the Senate is far more complex, and byzantine. The Democrats hold a single seat edge in the Senate (32-31); however five Democrats (Jeff Klein, Diane Savino, Tony Avella, David Valesky, and David Carlucci), the Independent Democrat Conference (IDF), under the leadership of Klein (Bronx) caucuses with the Republicans, giving the Republicans control of the Senate.

Hanging in the balance were mayoral control, campaign finance reform, removal of pensions for convicted legislators, online fantasy sports betting and scores of other bills.

You may ask: why is all this conflict and wheeling and dealing necessary? Why can’t legislators have civil conversations and decide the issues?

James Madison, in Federalist # 51 wrote,

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary

The Constitutional Convention (1787) was not covered in CSPAN; the Constitutional Convention was a secret meeting. The only notes we have are Madison’s personal notes, not made public until after the death of all the delegates, The fifty-three delegates argued, came and went, delivered lengthy speeches, met in private, and made deals.

Slavery was one of the most significant stumbling blocks, the anti-slavery Northerners versus the slave-holding South, The compromise: slavery is not mentioned in the constitution, the question of slavery was left to the states, and, as part of a compromise; slaves were counted as 3/5th of a ”free person,” and referred to in the clause as “all other Persons.”

Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Deal-making, as reprehensible as it may seem, is at the essence of making government work.

Whether to extend mayoral control in New York City had nothing to do with education. Weakening the mayor might give the Republicans a chance in the 2017 mayoral election. In spite of pleas from Merryl Tisch and others in the upper echelons of power Senate leader John Flanagan offered “unacceptable” plan after plan until in the closing hours an agreement was reached, the NY Times describes the plan as a one year extension plus,,

It would effectively create a parallel system of charter schools within the city, allowing “high-performing charter schools in good standing” to switch to join the State University of New York umbrella or the Board of Regents of the State Education Department.

Probably a meaningless change, currently charters schools authorized by both New York City and Buffalo make reauthorization proposals after five years, the authorizer, SUNY or the Board of Regents can reject the recommendation. The proposal allows the charter school, if it’s  “high performing and in good standing” to move directly to SUNY or the Regents for reauthorization.

The session is most interesting for what it did not do – the houses steered clear of legislation directing the State Education Department to take any actions. A host of education bills simply died. Neither the governor nor the party leaders had any desire to once again get involved in the morass of teacher accountability or testing, any of the issues that birthed the opt outs and/or angered teachers and their unions.

The budget was generous and the political leaders appear to be leaving the educational decisions to the educational leaders.

In December the Cuomo-appointed Task Force released their report with 21-recommendations: a blueprint for the Commissioner and the Board of Regents. The core of the report was a 4-year moratorium on the use of student test scores as part of a metric to assess teacher performance.

In the six months since the release of the report the Commissioner has made tests untimed, a recommendation in the report, established a number of large field-based committees to review elements of the Common Core, and, the Regents created a number of alternative pathways to graduation.

Quietly, very quietly, the Commissioner announced a change in the observation section of the teacher evaluation regulation. The outside observer would be scrapped – what might be a good idea in theory was both overly complex and a financial burden on school districts. There was no high drama – no headlines, simply an announcement undoubtedly based on quiet discussions.

The decisions before the Board of Regents are complex, politically explosive and without explicit answers.

Can you create a teacher evaluation plan that is acceptable to principals and teachers and not trashed by external critics?

Can better tests win back opt out parents?  And, what do you mean by “better tests?”

Will alternatives to testing, perhaps, portfolios or other performance assessments, be acceptable to the feds, and acceptable to the principals and teachers?  Are performance assessments practicable in actual classroom settings?

Will additional alternative pathways to high school graduation make students more or less prepared for college?

The Regents appear to have a window – three or four years – to make decisions based on their expertise as well as respond to external pressures and scrutiny, and, hovering aloft: “disruptive” solutions such as unlimited charter schools or vouchers.

Windows open, and windows close.