November 2013 Issue
- APPR/Teacher Evaluation, Testing/Assessments & Learning Standards
October 24, 2013

Unions call for three year moratorium on high-stakes consequences for students and teachers

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United
Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern testifies on behalf of NYSUT at a state Senate Education Committee hearing on Regents' reforms.
Caption: Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern testifies on behalf of NYSUT at a state Senate Education Committee hearing on Regents' reforms. Photo by Ned Hoskin.

NYSUT officers and leaders are making a strong case for a three-year moratorium on the use of state assessments for high-stakes consequences for students and teachers, saying that a mid-course correction is essential for restoring confidence in the Common Core State Standards.

"We're supportive of the potential of the Common Core, but New York's implementation plan was ill-conceived from day one," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.

The call for a moratorium headlines the many salvos from NYSUT members, leaders, parents and administrators demanding the new standards be fully and properly implemented, evaluated and corrected before they are used to place and label students or used for high-stakes consequences.

"Assessing students and evaluating teachers should not be punitive or a game of 'gotcha,'" said Nadia Resnikoff, president of Middle Country Teachers Association and a NYSUT Board member, in presenting NYSUT's testimony at the first of five state Senate Education Committee hearings on the Regents Reform Agenda slated by committee chairman Sen. John Flanagan, R-East Northport.

"We're not opposed to Common Core, if it's done in the right way," said Resnikoff. But, "you can't have the assessment there without the curriculum, which is what we have now."

Many students were required to take tests last spring based on Common Core lessons they had not learned because teachers did not have the curriculum and the lessons had not been taught.

"Problems with the rushed implementation of the Common Core, the over-reliance on testing, the lack of adequate resources and the demoralization and deprofessionalization of teachers are all happening right here, right now," Syracuse TA President Kevin Ahern told senators at the hearing in Syracuse.

The impact has been devastating, he said, "forcing an already struggling school district into crisis."

Todd Hathaway, a high school teacher and member of the East Aurora Faculty Association, told senators at the western New York hearing that testing needs to be transparent, diagnostic, timely and, most importantly, useful.

"Unfortunately, the current high- stakes grade 3-8 tests are neither diagnostic nor transparent," he said.

"Teachers are sworn to secrecy upon the penalty of revoking their license if they discuss the tests with anyone. Teachers can neither diagnose their students nor their teaching practice if the tool used to evaluate them is secret," Hathaway said. "People are ready to embrace the Common Core, but not like this."

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, who leads NYSUT's legislative efforts, said the union's testimonies set the stage for the upcoming legislative session. "Our demands for 'getting it right' are now on the table," he said.

NYSUT's officers and Board of Directors, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew made a formal request to the Board of Regents and the governor's New NY Education Reform Commission Oct. 18 to support legislation calling for the three-year moratorium.

They also urged SED and the Board of Regents to take the time to:

  • Continuously engage parents by informing them about the goals of the Common Core, listen to their concerns, and give them resources to support student success;
  • Allow educators to review the state's Common Core curriculum modules to ensure they are grade-level appropriate and aligned with classroom practice;
  • Provide teachers with the tools, professional development and resources to address the needs of diverse learners;
  • Provide teachers with the time for collaboration and respect their professional judgment to ensure instructional materials are aligned to the standards and students' needs;
  • Provide transparency in the state assessment program by releasing all of the test questions;
  • Postpone the implementation of the Common Core Regents exams as a graduation requirement; and
  • Urge the Legislature to provide the funding needed to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to achieve the new standards.

"Educators are open to new standards," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "The issue is not about embracing change. It's about speed, understanding engagement of stakeholders and having a realistic transition plan. Our members will not put their professional judgment on hold. Standards should not suppress creativity and passion in teaching."

You can read the union's letters to the Regents and the education reform commission online.