May 04, 2019

RA 2019: Delegates call on Regents to direct State Education commissioner to overhaul testing system

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT Communications
dibrango
Caption: “We have lost confidence in the Commissioner and the State Education Department to make the necessary changes on their own,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango. “New York State educators and New York State education isn’t failing; the Commissioner and SED are.” Photo by Andrew Watson.

In a sharp rebuke, delegates at the Representative Assembly unanimously called on the state Board of Regents to direct State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to make the necessary changes to fix the state’s broken standardized testing system.

The special order of business, approved unanimously by more than 1,700 delegates, says NYSUT has no confidence the commissioner or the State Education Department will do the right thing on their own — so the union is counting on the Regents Board to stop the madness and finally return trust in the system.

The resolution notes Commissioner Elia and SED have failed to make the many changes recommended by NYSUT, including reducing testing, making the tests more developmentally appropriate and resetting the scoring benchmarks. The state continues to press forward on computer-based testing, despite widespread technological problems and evidence that students do better with pen-and-paper testing.

“We have lost confidence in the Commissioner and the State Education Department to make the necessary changes on their own,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango. “New York State educators and New York State education isn’t failing; the Commissioner and SED are.”

The vote comes after NYSUT launched its Correct the Tests campaign to raise awareness and demand the state fix the flawed, invalid ELA and math tests. The union has spread the word on parents’ opt-out rights and fact-checked the commissioner’s misleading letter to school districts supporting the tests. Across the state, educators and parents have held meetings with the Regents, organized media events and written articles detailing their horrible experiences with these tests — whether on paper or the computer.

“They’ve failed to set appropriate benchmarks to ensure the tests accurately measure student knowledge and learning,” DiBrango said. “They’ve failed to appropriately reduce the amount of testing. They’ve failed to make the tests developmentally appropriate. And they’ve failed miserably, year after year, in their roll out of the computer-based testing.”

The move comes a day after Elia faced a roomful of angry union leaders at the pre-RA Local and Retiree Council Presidents Conference. A long line of frustrated local presidents peppered Elia with a litany of questions on numerous testing problems, with some calling it nothing short of child abuse.

“I feel there’s a disconnect between SED and rank-and-file teachers,” Vestal TA’s Joe Herringshaw said. “Partnership is nonexistent.”

“For three and a half years we have seen indifference from the commissioner,” said Lakeland FT’s Michael Lillis, speaking in favor of the resolution. “She has not listened to us on the abusive nature of testing ... when professionals report abuse, we cannot accept indifference.”

Kenmore TA’s Peter Stuhlmiller noted that members have been meeting with their individual Regents members and the Regents “are getting it.”

“This resolution puts the heat where it belongs, on the commissioner’s boss, the Board of Regents,” Stuhlmiller said.

“Now is the time for the Board of Regents— those who have the authority to evaluate the commissioner — to direct her to make changes on behalf of our schools and our students,” DiBrango said. “And we will be watching, as we have been, to ensure that meaningful steps are taken in the next six months.”

UFT’s Leroy Barr, also a NYSUT Board member, noted that if the Regents fail to force Elia to fix what’s broken, the union will act accordingly and “do everything we can to get her to step down.”

Delegates approved an amendment including the NYSESLAT, a standardized exam administered to English language learners, in the call to action.

The resolution approved by delegates calls for:

  • meaningful involvement of teachers selected by NYSUT in every phase of the grades 3–8 and NYSESLAT test development process;
  • setting the appropriate scoring benchmarks by a large group of teachers representing the diversity of the state to ensure the tests accurately measure student performance;
  • a reduction in the number of questions on the tests;
  • an independent study of the performance of students on computer-based testing vs. paper-and-pencil tests to determine the impact on school accountability; and
  • the formation of a committee of educators to review the study and develop a plan for the appropriate implementation of computer-based testing, including a determination about the appropriate grade to begin computer-based testing.

The complete resolution follows.

Whereas, the State Education Department (SED) and Commissioner Elia have failed to make the changes to the State grade 3-8 testing system and NYSESLAT recommended by NYSUT including re-setting the benchmarks, reducing testing and making the tests more developmentally appropriate; and

Whereas, the state grade 3-8 testing system and NYSESLAT need a major overhaul to ensure the system is equitable and treats all students and schools fairly; and

Whereas, the benchmarks for the state grade 3-8 tests and NYSESLAT were set at unrealistic levels; and

Whereas, these benchmarks have led to students and schools being mislabeled as failures; and

Whereas, the benchmarks on the state tests must be re-set first to ensure a fair testing system; and

Whereas, the state grade 3-8 tests and NYSESLAT continue to be too long because the SED and the Commissioner failed to properly reduce the number of questions when eliminating a day of testing; and

Whereas, the untimed state grade 3-8 tests and NYSESLAT have led to students spending more time on these tests than high school students spend on Regents exams; and

Whereas, the state grade 3-8 tests and NYSESLAT contain developmentally inappropriate reading passages and test questions; and

Whereas, the state continues to press forward on computer based testing despite evidence that tests scores drop when switching to computer based testing; and

Whereas, the computer based testing system continues to have major technical failures in implementation; and

Whereas, many districts do not have the capacity to implement computer based testing; and

Whereas, computer based testing measures a student’s ability to use a computer rather than the student’s knowledge of the subject being tested; and

Whereas, teacher involvement in the test development process is limited to small committees that cannot properly represent the diversity of the state; and

Whereas, NYSUT has no confidence in the Commissioner and the State Education Department to make the necessary changes to fix the state’s grade 3-8 testing system and NYSESLAT on their own; therefore be it

RESOLVED that NYSUT will advocate with the Board of Regents to direct the Commissioner to make the changes needed to the testing system to return trust in the system by:

  • providing for the meaningful involvement of teachers selected by the union in every phase of the test development process; and
  • set the appropriate benchmarks by a large group of teachers representing the diversity of the state to ensure the tests accurately measure student knowledge and learning; and
  • reducing the number of questions on the grade 3-8 tests and NYSESLAT; and
    conducting an independent study of the performance of students on computer based testing versus paper and pencil tests to determine the impact on school accountability; and
  • forming a committee of practitioners to review the study on computer based testing and develop a plan for the appropriate implementation of computer based testing including determining the appropriate grade level to begin computer based testing.
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