Fall 2015 Issue
- APPR/Teacher Evaluation, Testing/Assessments & Learning Standards
September 29, 2015

NYSUT keeps up pressure to fix broken system

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
The Board of Regents, surrounded by media and other interested parties, including NYSUT leaders and staff, directs State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to work on much-needed changes to APPR. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.
Caption: The Board of Regents, surrounded by media and other interested parties, including NYSUT leaders and staff, directs State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to work on much-needed changes to APPR. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

NYSUT is pressing forward on multiple fronts for a complete overhaul of the state's broken system of tests and evaluations — amid signs of growing momentum for meaningful change.

The fierce advocacy of educators and parents has clearly moved the needle in public opinion, with the Board of Regents, the state education commissioner and the governor now calling for a thorough review and "a total reboot" of the Common Core program.

In a video acknowledging that the Common Core implementation was a "failure" and that educators are right to raise problems with the system, Cuomo announced a new task force charged with a complete overhaul of Common Core.

"The task force's mission to address parents' and teachers' valid concerns is fundamental to moving forward," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "Without question, Common Core implementation was botched. Without question, tests and evaluations must not be a punitive system of ‘gotcha.' Clearly an overhaul is needed."

Whether this signals a breakthrough, Magee stressed, will be determined only when meaningful reforms are made to the state's broken system.

"We will be relentless in our efforts to achieve those reforms," she said.

Task force members include NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Johnstown High School science teacher Heather Buskirk and Brooklyn third-grade teacher Kishayna Hazlewood.

Parents, State Education Department and higher education officials, and bipartisan legislators from the Assembly and Senate are also represented.

"We will not rest. NYSUT's advocacy will continue until we have a fair system of tests and evaluations. We will work to end high-stakes testing policies," said Fortino. "It is time to reclaim the joy of learning for our students and to work to make meaningful changes to address parents' and teachers' concerns."

The governor charged the task force with conducting a "top-to-bottom review," including Common Core standards, curriculum and testing. The group will consider how the state and local districts can reduce the number of tests in the state and reduce the amount of time students spend taking those tests, Cuomo said.

In a noticeable shift from his previous harsh rhetoric on teacher evaluation, Cuomo said: "It is critical that teacher evaluations should support teachers in improving their practices, not punish them. ... No one — no one — wants an evaluation system that is inaccurate or unfair."

Last spring, NYSUT delegates approved a strongly worded anti-testing resolution and supported parents who chose to opt their children out of grade 3-8 state assessments. Last year, more than 220,000 students were opted out of the state's grade 3-8 assessments — a number some in the movement have predicted will double in size next year.

Polls also show the public supports the union's calls for reform.

Fortino, as the union's voice to the Board of Regents, has been tireless in pressing the Regents and SED for all possible mitigation within their purview, even as the union works for a complete overhaul.

After receiving more than 30,000 emails from NYSUT members, the Regents adopted emergency proposed regulatory amendments that add an appeals process for teachers to challenge their state growth scores; limit the role of independent observers in rural and one-building districts; and tighten teacher privacy protections. The amendments also reset the clock by triggering another 30-day period of required public input before final action.

Currently those eligible for appeal are teachers who received a highly effective rating on their observations, an ineffective on their growth score in 2014-15 and an effective or highly effective on their growth score in 2013—14. During the new comment period on the regulations, NYSUT is seeking an expansion of the definition of "eligible teacher" to make more adversely affected teachers eligible to appeal their scores.

In related developments, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia committed to a thorough re-examination of the state growth model, along with other aspects of APPR.

The Regents directed the commissioner to work with stakeholders to develop legislative changes to the teacher evaluation law. That will be accompanied by a comprehensive review of the state's standards and assessments, another cause NYSUT has championed.

Elia also announced that next spring's state English language arts and math assessments will be shorter. However, NYSUT will continue to press for a review of how the tests are used and whether they are developmentally appropriate.

NYSUT's outspoken advocacy in concert with parents statewide builds on the work of a NYSUT Board of Directors task force that documented problems with the growth score, evaluations and overtesting.

The Regents' vote on the amended regulations came after a lengthy debate, where numerous Regents spoke passionately about the need for the board to assert its rightful role as the state's education policy-making authority.

"We as Regents need to do what's right for our students, to create a learning environment that parents want to opt into," said Regent Beverly Ouderkirk, who represents the North Country.

"This system has too many flaws in it," said Regent Judith Johnson, who represents Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties. "All I hear is the joy of teaching is being squeezed out of them as a result of this process."

Share your comments

NYSUT members, parents and  students are encouraged to share their experiences and comments about Common Core and high-stakes testing at www.ny.gov/programs/common-core-task-force, the Common Core Task Force website.

Common Core Task Force members

Richard D. Parsons, Providence Equity Partners senior adviser
Heather Buskirk, Johnstown High School science teacher  
Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children's Zone president
Carol L. Conklin-Spillane, Sleepy Hollow High School principal
MaryEllen Elia, state education commissioner
Constance Evelyn, Valley Stream School District superintendent
Catalina R. Fortino, NYSUT vice president  
Kishayna Hazlewood, P.S. 156, Brooklyn, third-grade teacher
Tim Kremer, New York State School Boards Association executive director
Sen. Carl Marcellino, state  Senate Education Committee chair
Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, state Assembly Education Committee chair
Samuel Radford III, District Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo president
Carrie Remis, Rochester-area parent and founder of the Parent Power Project
Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president
Nancy L. Zimpher, State University of New York chancellor