Panel recommends student testing shifts in NY

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  • Young girls working in the classroom

By Carolyn Thompson

— New York's teachers should, for now, be able to argue against being fired on the basis of their students' poor performance on state assessments aligned with new learning standards, a panel of education policy makers recommended Feb. 10.

The Board of Regents panel also recommended extending the phase-in of Regents exams that are based on the more difficult standards, known as the Common Core, so that the class of 2022, not the class of 2017, would be the first group required to pass more rigorous English and math exams to graduate.

The six-member work group appointed by Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch set out last month to find ways to improve the way that New York is implementing the Common Core standards.

The K-12 educational benchmarks have been adopted by 46 states as a way to raise student readiness for college and careers. But a series of statewide public forums last year underscored high anxiety levels among parents, students and teachers because of the uneven way they have been introduced across districts, as well as their negative impact on student assessments and teacher performance ratings.

“Any endeavor of this magnitude is certain to require adjustments along the way," said the work group's report, titled “The Path Forward."

“We regret that the urgency of our work, and the unevenness of implementation, have caused frustration and anxiety for some of our educators, students and their families," it said.

Teachers in many districts have said they were not given sufficient materials and guidance to teach to the new standards, and that last spring's Common Core-aligned state assessments forced them to test students on material they had not yet learned, resulting in a dismal passing rate.

The state's teacher evaluation law requires that districts use student performance on the assessments as a factor in teacher and principal hiring and firing decisions.

The report said that educators whose jobs are at risk because of this year's and last year's test results should be able to raise as a defense a district's failure to provide adequate professional development and curriculum support.

The New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teachers union, has been demanding a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences related to the tests.

Teacher evaluations questioned

The report also recommended that school districts scale back the use of their own tests in teacher evaluations and stop standardized testing altogether for students in kindergarten through second grade. While the state does not mandate testing of the youngest students, some districts adopted local testing as part of their teacher-evaluation formulas.

By law, 20 percent of a teacher's score must be based on state assessments, 60 percent on classroom observation or surveys and 20 percent based on a locally chosen measure of student achievement — which for some districts is local testing.

The report said that, beginning with the next school year, the state should throw out any teacher evaluation plans that rely on K-2 testing.

Also in the report, the state Education Department announced plans to postpone creation of a statewide student database until concerns about privacy and security have been addressed.

The state had planned to transfer students' grades, test scores and attendance records to Atlanta-based service provider InBloom this year. But opponents ranging from parents to state legislative leaders raised concerns about storing personal student data on servers in the so-called cloud, accessed through the Internet.

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