March 06, 2015

Unions call for investigation into teacher certification process

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT Communications
fred kowal
Caption: "This is failure by design," said UUP President Fred Kowal. "New York state teacher preparation students have been set up to fail by the State Education Department and Governor Cuomo."

Regent Kathleen Cashin and NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino joined United University Professions' call Thursday for a legislative investigation into the state's deeply flawed teacher certification process.

Cashin and Fortino flanked UUP President Fred Kowal at a news conference at the Legislative Office Building as he announced that the union believes the State Education Department and Governor Cuomo are deliberately setting up teacher preparation programs for failure. UUP represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York campuses, which include 17 teacher preparation programs.

"Today, UUP calls for an investigation of the State Education Department requirements that have been established for teacher education students," Kowal said. "We must protect the programs that will teach, mentor and guide the next generation of learners. This is failure by design – frankly put, New York state teacher preparation students have been set up to fail by the State Education Department and Governor Cuomo."

In addition to Cashin and Fortino, a broad-based group of supporters, including public and private college faculty, college students and recent graduates, and parents, joined Kowal..

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Regent Kathleen Cashin. Photo by Michael Lisi.

Cashin said she intends to carry UUP's message to the Board of Regents at its next meeting, to reinforce the longstanding public criticisms of the new certification exams by NYSUT, UUP and the Professional Staff Congress, which represents faculty and staff at the City University of New York.

"The evaluation methods need to be valid and reliable," said Cashin, who added that it's wrong to silence the voice of teacher preparation faculty whose students are being affected by new state policies that educators had no say in creating.

Fortino, who oversees higher education policy for NYSUT, said the governor's Executive Budget "clearly does not support public higher education" and that Cuomo and SED "are shattering the dreams of future teachers."

In response to an outcry last spring by the unions, teacher preparation faculty, student teachers and parents, the Regents passed an emergency regulation to provide partial relief to graduating seniors in teacher preparation programs last year and again this year. Those students can substitute a previous exam for one of the three new certification exams — the educative Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA.

But problems with the other two new exams quickly became apparent. Chief among the complaints: The exams were introduced as mandatory certification exams even for students who had enrolled in college under the previous requirements. Faculty and students said they had no time to prepare for the new tests. NYSUT, UUP and the PSC note that the validity of the exams has never been proven. Pearson Inc., the education testing corporation that designed two of the three new examsand which oversees scoring for all three, has been unresponsive to concerns about the tests.

Cashin will ask the Regents to consider temporarily removing the mandatory requirement for the exams and allowing teacher preparation programs to lower the so-called "cut score" that determines a passing grade. She will recommend that the exams either be introduced through a pilot program that would exempt students who had enrolled in teacher preparation programs under the previous requirements, or that they be used as "formative" exams for evaluating a student teacher's skills without high-stakes consequences.

Also speaking at Thursday's press conference were Bobby Fatone, a 2014 SUNY Brockport graduate who studied to become a physical education teacher but has been unable to pass one of the exams because it is designed for teachers in a traditional classroom; and Katherine Knapp, a student teacher at SUNY New Paltz, who said edTPA has left little time to plan lessons or review the feedback from supervising teachers.

UUP member Julie Gorlewski, an education professor at SUNY New Paltz, criticized highly questionable scoring practices. Gorlewski, an English teacher by training, said Pearson offered her a position as a scorer of student math teachers, even though Gorlewski is not certified to teach math.

Private colleges have also struggled with the new exams. Alexandra Miletta, an education professor at Mercy College, with campuses in Manhattan and the Hudson Valley, said "the degree to which we are setting up our own institutions for failure is unprecedented... the testing industry is expanding exponentially. "

Westchester County parent Tom Pinto, whose son faced the edTPA at SUNY Brockport last year, said SED has repeatedly delivered what he considers misleading or inaccurate statements about the certification exams.

"Given the evidence, it's inconceivable that SED could claim that everything is fine with the new tests," Pinto said.