January 2016 Issue
- APPR/Teacher Evaluation
December 20, 2015

Nonstop advocacy yields a breakthough in teaching and learning

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
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Sleepy Hollow High School Principal Carol Conklin-Spillane, left, and NYSUT VP Catalina Fortino, both members of the governor’s Common Core Task Force, preside over a town hall meeting in Lake Placid. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.
Caption: Sleepy Hollow High School Principal Carol Conklin-Spillane, left, and NYSUT VP Catalina Fortino, both members of the governor’s Common Core Task Force, preside over a town hall meeting in Lake Placid. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Thanks to educators and parents standing up together, much-needed changes are underway in public education.

No more No Child Left Behind. The governor's Common Core Task Force is calling for a complete rewrite of standards, curriculum and testing — and time for phasing it all in. The Regents have eliminated the use of the grades 3–8 state tests in teacher evaluations until at least 2019–20.

"It's the beginning of the end of the era of test-and-punish policies at both the state and federal level," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "But make no mistake: We are not done. Now we must redouble our efforts to ensure these necessary and transformative changes are realized in every classroom across New York state."

The historic breakthrough came after President Obama signed the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, a long overdue reset of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The bipartisan bill ends many years of federal gridlock and returns much of the power to the states on testing and teacher evaluation. Hours later, the governor's Common Core Task Force unveiled a set of comprehensive recommendations on how to "right the ship," including more learning and less testing.

The Regents in December acted quickly on one of the task force's key recommendations, approving emergency regulations to exclude state tests from teacher evaluations until at least 2019.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the four-year moratorium was necessary during the transition period as new standards, curriculum and tests are phased in.

The changes mean student test results can be only "advisory" for teachers and won't factor into an official evaluation until the beginning of the 2019–20 school year. In the meantime, teachers will be rated on classroom observations and local measures of student performance.

NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino said halting the inappropriate highstakes use of student test scores will help end the debilitating pressure on students and educators and pave the way for fairer, more meangingful teacher evaluations. She called the Regents' action an important first step.

"We expect to work collaboratively and constructively with the Regents and SED to fully implement all of the task force recommendations," Fortino said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed the task force in September to "overhaul the Common Core system — to do a total reboot."

"The recommendations of the state task force are essential to end the high-stakes pressure that has eroded the joy of teaching and learning and narrowed the curriculum," said Fortino, who served on the governor's task force. "In contrast to the state's failed implementation of the Common Core, the task force calls for the new standards and curriculum resources to be developed and implemented gradually — with educator involvement every step of the way, and full transparency to parents."

Others serving on the task force were science teacher Heather Buskirk, a member of the Johnstown Teachers Association; New York City third-grade teacher Kishayna Hazlewood, a United Federation of Teachers member; and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

The Common Core Task Force recommendations address many of the key concerns voiced by educators and parents:

  • Empowering New York state teachers to create developmentally appropriate New York state standards for New York state students;
  • Immediately reducing the time allotted to state tests, and making future reductions in both test duration and number of testing days; and
  • Modifying the new state standards and tests for students with disabilities and English language learners, and eliminating double testing for ELLs.

During statewide forums this fall, numerous educators and parents spoke out against the state's insane state testing system and called for a more student-centered environment. The task force review included two public sessions with testimony from 10 presenters, nine listening sessions with open public testimony, a virtual student engagement session and a slew of written comments.

Fortino noted many of the final recommendations were developed through three separate workgroups for standards, curriculum and assessments, which included sessions with advisory panels featuring expert practitioners.

Activists at the forums predicted that if serious changes did not occur, the number of opt-outs would at least double for next spring's grades 3–8 state assessments.

New York state led the nation in the number of opt-outs in 2015 with more than 220,000 students refusing to take the tests.

NYSUT officers expressed thanks to the many members and parents for their activism that brought about the encouraging developments. In a special email message to members, the officers said: "Thank You for everything you have done: the rallies, forums, testimony, letters, e-blasts, protests and more. Your union called and you answered."

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