July/August Issue
- New York State Certification
July 01, 2015

Teacher certification exams under microscope

Author: By Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino presses SED to fix teacher certification requirements.
Caption: NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino presses SED to fix teacher certification requirements. Photo by Mike Lisi.

NYSUT and its two largest higher education affiliates are gaining allies and critical audiences in their continued call for an investigation into the state's badly botched teacher certification process.

Members of the state Board of Regents and lawmakers met several times at the end of the legislative session with representatives of United University Professions, which represents the academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York, and with the Professional Staff Congress, which represents the faculty and staff at the City University of New York.

In June, NYSUT, UUP and PSC leaders discussed with SED officials the unions' proposal for an investigation of content and computer format problems with the four new certification exams.

The unions' concerns were bolstered by a federal judge's ruling June 5, which found that an earlier exam for New York teaching candidates was racially discriminatory and did not measure skills necessary for teaching.

The exam, the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, or LAST-2, was found to fail minority teaching candidates at a higher rate than white candidates. That test has since been replaced by the Academic Literacy Skills Test, or the ALST, along with a slate of other assessments. The fate of the ALST has also been called into question. This spring, the same judge, Kimba Wood of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, began questioning whether that test, too, was racially discriminatory. A hearing was scheduled for later in June.

Union leaders and members have been pressing for a comprehensive investigation into the flawed development and rollout of the new certification exams for months, both publicly and in private discussions with Regents. Now, teacher preparation program administrators are adding their voices.

"We continue to make a tremendous effort to educate policymakers on this complex certification process," NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino said. "Had it not been for practitioners and students around the state who have provided valuable input, the only point of view the Regents and lawmakers would have heard would have been from the State Education Department, and we do not think that tells a complete story."

Jamie Dangler, UUP vice president for academics, said the fact SED officials were willing to meet with union members was a sign of progress.

"We have always wanted to work with SED to make needed changes to the exams," she said. "We hope we can continue to strive for that goal."

PSC First Vice President Michael Fabricant said several Regents appear to finally realize that the educative Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA — one of the four mandatory certification exams in the new system — was never intended to be a high-stakes test.

"It's all fundamentally meeting the needs of Pearson, not the needs of students in the classroom or future teachers," Fabricant said, referring to the testing company that administers the edTPA.

UUP member Steve Macho, a teacher preparation faculty member at the University at Buffalo and an associate professor of engineering technology, is frustrated with the new Content Specialty Test for Technology Education.

"The test does not necessarily match what we are supposed to teach," he said. "This is a test still under development, and even in the development process, there's this disconnect."

Students have also had many problems with the new CSTs.

Recent SUNY Brockport graduate Eric Mann has a teaching job waiting for him in Fredericksburg, Va. Changes in New York education law that make it more difficult to achieve tenure or a favorable evaluation made him decide to leave.

As NYSUT United went to press, Mann was waiting to find out if he passed the CST he took in late May. He knew he would have to wait 30 days to get his results, and also knew the test could cost him his job.

That's because under the new CST for special education teachers who plan to work with grades 7-12, teacher candidates must demonstrate a mastery of advanced mathematics, including calculus, no matter what subject they intend to teach.

The math requirements for the new special education exam are far more advanced than the previous version, and the redesigned test is so different from its predecessor the previous version cannot be used under the one-year grace period known as the "safety net," in which students who fail the new CST can take the older version.

If he fails the exam, Mann will have to either retake it, or apply for the Virginia exams — either option could run up against the start of the school year. He was distraught at the prospect of losing his job offer, and frustrated that his four years of hard work rested on an exam no one he dealt with — including his professors — realized would require advanced math.

"This test isn't going to show how good a teacher I am," Mann said. "The teaching atmosphere in New York has pushed me to leave." When he interviewed in Fredericksburg, he said, the interviewers understood that decision.

"They said, 'We're lucky. Because of what New York state is doing, we're getting great teachers.'"