May 2015 Issue
April 29, 2015

Unions to Regents: Exams for future teachers must be fixed

Author: By Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
UUP New Paltz Chapter member Carol Reitsma is part of a long procession during a "Call Out Cuomo" rally at the Capitol. Photo by Karen Mattison.
Caption: UUP New Paltz Chapter member Carol Reitsma is part of a long procession during a "Call Out Cuomo" rally at the Capitol. Photo by Karen Mattison.

The state's latest move to develop a stopgap measure in the administration of its deeply flawed teacher certification process fails to answer the most pressing question: How — if at all — does New York state plan to fix major problems with the content and format of the new exams?

NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino and UUP Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler left the Board of Regents April meeting appreciative of the time the Regents gave to teacher certification, but noted that SED still has not delved into the many concerns raised by teacher preparation faculty and students about the content of the exams.

John D'Agati, the State Education Department's deputy commissioner for higher education, presented the Regents with several ways SED could accommodate students in teacher prep programs who have failed the certification exams. The Regents are expected to vote on the proposals in May.

"Several of the Regents have really made an effort to bring concerns from the field about the teacher certification process to the full board," Fortino said. "But the problems with this process cannot all be solved simply by extending the deadline before the exams become mandatory. What we need is a cooperative discussion with SED and the Regents that presents very legitimate questions about the content and the computerized format of the exams."

Both faculty and students have described the exam content as confusing and not always in line with their curricula or their specializations. For example, one certification exam for future physical education teachers is built on the erroneous assumption that they work in a traditional classroom.

"SED continues to speak about these exams as though they are valid, reliable and fully vetted, which they are not," Dangler said.

SED's proposals for what the department calls a "safety net," or transition period, before the four certification exams become mandatory follows a directive by the Regents. The transition period would likely cover 2014 and 2015 graduates who have either not yet taken or have not passed all four of the new exams.

The details of the transition will be finalized at the Regents May meeting. Actions could include allowing programs to attest that students have demonstrated proficiency in the course content the exams cover, to taking the former exams the new ones replaced. Changes to teacher certification come as teacher prep programs are being targeted in other ways. Under the enacted budget, graduate programs will face suspension and deregistration if fewer than 50 percent of students pass the certification exams for three consecutive years.

Steve London, first vice president of the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, said this threat of closure is particularly troubling.

"Tests have been made harder in pursuit of this goal without any research that demonstrates that those passing these licensure tests will be good teachers," he said. "What we know, and preliminary results support this conclusion, is that the state's teacher licensure high-stakes testing regime disproportionately screens out teacher candidates of color."

The budget also contains new mandated admissions requirements for graduate education programs that NYSUT considers an interference with the skilled professionals in these programs who know how to judge which applicants will best serve future students.

All of this comes as enrollment in teacher preparation programs in New York's colleges and universities is facing a startling decline: from 74,348 students in 2008-09, to 47,872 in 2012-13, the most recent year for which figures are available.

The decline is evident to former instructors such as Jack Casement, an educator for 44 years. He was for the past eight years a supervisor in the SUNY Brockport School of Education and Human Development. There, he oversaw aspiring teachers as they went into classrooms for practical experience. Last year, he was not called back to supervise because of declining enrollment.

"The numbers have plummeted," Casement said. "We used to have 130–135 candidates into the schools every spring; this spring semester, it's 40. We dropped from 14 adjuncts to four; there's nobody to supervise and train."

In April, the unions submitted recommendations to the Regents. NYSUT, UUP and the PSC will continue to make their concerns clear to the Regents before the May vote. A major theme: Remove the high-stakes aspect of the edTPA for the next several years, and evaluate the validity and reliability of all the new exams.

TAKE ACTION

NYSUT members are urged to contact the Board of Regents (www.regents.nysed.gov/contacts/) and demand they consider not only the timeline for the introduction of the new certification exams, but the content of the exams.

"They need to bring in stakeholders and they need to examine the content. SED is not keying in on the input from the field," said UUP Vice President Jamie Dangler.

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