April 2015 Issue
March 20, 2015

Unions: SED fumbled teacher certification process

Author: By Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
UUP President Fred Kowal, flanked by SUNY students, calls for an investigation into SED's newly implemented, and problematic, teacher certification exams. Photo by Mike Lisi.
Caption: UUP President Fred Kowal, flanked by SUNY students, calls for an investigation into SED's newly implemented, and problematic, teacher certification exams. Photo by Mike Lisi.

NYSUT and its two higher education affiliates are pleased the New York State Board of Regents is responding to the field's complaints about the state's new teacher certification process.

The Regents at their March 17 meeting directed the State Education Department to develop a "safety net" for all four certification exams that will address the high failure rate by students who were already enrolled when the exams were introduced.

The Regents decision follows a public call for action by NYSUT, United University Professions at the State University of New York, and the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York. The three unions blame SED for limiting the scope of the edTPA Task Force.

The unions took exception to the official recommendations of the task force, which focused on moderating and retaining the controversial new certification exam known as the educative Teacher Performance Assessment, and which ignored the unions' contention that the state needs to completely rethink the role of edTPA and the other new certification exams in the overall process.

The unions also expanded their original objections to edTPA to all four certification exams. Three of those exams were introduced in the last year: the edTPA, the Academic Literacy Skills Test and the Educating All Students exam.

The fourth, the Content Specialty Test, has been used before but has been heavily revised.

Pearson, an international education testing corporation, administers the exams in New York.

"Teacher preparation programs are under attack by the governor," NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino said at a news conference last month in Albany at which UUP called for a state investigation into the certification exams.

"We stand together for one collective goal, which is to continue to support high-quality teacher preparation programs," she said. "The governor and the State Education Department are shattering the dreams of future teachers. NYSUT stands together with UUP to call attention to this higher education version of the botched Common Core exams."

The unions recommend the state:

  • Remove the high-stakes consequences of edTPA to allow teacher preparation programs time for exploratory use of this new assessment, as other states have done;
  • Consider the full range of other performance assessment options;
  • Assess the validity and reliability of edTPA, the Academic Literacy Skills Test and the Educating All Students exam, so policymakers can make informed decisions about their use;
  • Develop a grandfathering policy and transition plan for students who started their teacher preparation programs before the new exams were introduced; and
  • Investigate Pearson's role in the delivery of certification exams, given the high base cost of $1,000 for students to take the exams, and the fact that Pearson has prohibited teacher education professionals from seeing the exam content.

Gov. Cuomo and SED have threatened probation or closure of teacher preparation programs that fail to meet arbitrary and unfair pass rates on certification exams.

NYSUT's Fortino and UUP President Fred Kowal were joined by Regent Kathleen Cashin and a group of teacher preparation faculty and students at the news conference.

"This is failure by design," Kowal said. "Frankly put, New York state teacher preparation students have been set up to fail by SED and Gov. Cuomo."

Regent Cashin and Regent Betty Rosa at the March Regents meeting voiced many of the same concerns expressed by the union.

"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 who are being affected by new state policies they had no say in creating.

Ken Wagner, SED's senior deputy commissioner for education policy, defended edTPA in a recent interview with Susan Arbetter on WCNY-FM radio's Capitol Pressroom show.

He said it doesn't matter that preparation materials for some of the new certification exams arrived after students started to take the exams, because the curricula in teacher preparation programs provide sufficient review for the exams.

His comments belie the fact that new courses that include material from the exams aren't fully in place.

SED has also not yet determined what constitutes a passing grade for more than a dozen of the Content Specialty tests. More than 40 of these tests address different teaching specializations.

"So students have taken exams with no information about what constitutes a passing score," said Jamie Dangler, UUP's vice president for academics. "They are being held up from getting certification because cut scores have not been set yet."

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