Letter from Tom Pinto

November 18, 2013

Dear Commissioner King and Board of Regents Members:

I am writing as a New York State resident and as a parent of a State University of New York senior who will be graduating with an undergraduate degree in Education in May, 2014. As a matter of fairness from a study, career, and financial burden standpoint, I believe that the New York State Education Department (SED) should allow students graduating and applying for pre-certification in the spring of 2014 to use their test results from exams that currently qualify for pre-certification, rather than have to take the new tests being introduced this fall. There are two compelling reasons: many current seniors were already in the process of taking the “old” tests -- incurring time, labor, and expense -- before the state announced that the new ones would have to be passed for pre-certification obtained after April 30, 2014; and there simply is not enough time for seniors to take the new exams without impeding their future graduate school and/or teaching plans. In fact, when I called SED this past July, a representative told me that its office was receiving a wave of calls from confused and upset students and families. I was even told that there was a meeting in which it was stated that students graduating in the spring of 2014 would be “grandfathered” under the old tests. Unfortunately, no such official announcement has been made. To arbitrarily choose a cutoff date which is a few days to a few weeks before nearly all spring graduates will have completed the coursework required for pre-certification by their colleges appears egregiously mean spirited and certainly not fair or in the best interests of students. One would think or hope that this was not the state’s intent.

Students have put in a considerable amount of time and effort to prepare for and take the exams, in trying to do the wise thing by getting an early start so that they wouldn’t be overly burdened during their senior year or while in graduate school. And, depending on the graduate program and an applicant’s undergraduate degree, pre-certification could also be a requirement for acceptance. But, because of long lead times needed in many cases to find open test dates and locations, it would be very hard for students looking to begin a master’s program next fall to take and pass all four tests required under the new guidelines by the time applications are due. The difficulty of this task is compounded by the fact that results for two of the exams, which were first offered this past September, will not be ready until January at the earliest, rather than the regular 30-day time period, because passing grades have yet to be determined by the state. So, students who fail one or both of these tests this fall, will not be aware of this until such time when re-take dates and locations might very likely not be available for quite some time; thereby, hindering their graduate school plans. 

Furthermore, for students with undergraduate teaching degrees who wish to begin their job search as early as now for Fall 2014 positions, doing so would not be possible since pre-certification is a requirement for employment. So, again, since pre-certification would be very difficult to obtain in such a short period of time, the state is essentially inhibiting seniors’ future plans or careers. Plus, for the majority of families with children enrolled in SUNY schools (where most education majors in the state earn their degrees), the minimum additional testing fee total of $237, in addition to the same minimum that they paid for the old tests, is not an inconsequential amount. 

It is indeed frustrating that SED has been so obstinate about changing what any reasonable person would agree is warranted and what many credible voices across the state have been loudly advocating. This includes my Assemblywoman, Amy Paulin, and NYS United Teachers, both of whom have been urging that the grandfather change be implemented. It’s important to realize that this would be a one-time fix for students who are having their graduate schooling and/or teaching careers impeded, while also being financially penalized. The grandfather clause would not in any shape or form impact the implementation of the new tests. 

To compound the problem, there is widespread and considerable confusion about the new tests, per the link enclosed below to a recent article. Among the issues it discusses is why the company Pearson was put in charge despite long being plagued by faulty testing. The article also notes that the new tests are rife with ambiguous questions and answers, and that candidates are being asked about subject matter that does not pertain to teaching. In addition, when I called the NYS Teacher Certification Exams (NYSTCE) administrative office this past Friday to inquire about testing dates, I was greeted by a message concerning July 20, 2013, exams. Adding to the confusion, when I called the provided Pearson 800 number, I was met by an individual who had no knowledge of the NY tests and who advised me to call NYSTCE. 

To say that the transfer to the new tests has been fraught with problems is a gross understatement. The only fair thing for SED to do is to immediately put out a notice that the old ones will be permitted for teaching candidates who complete all their required coursework and apply for pre-certification before June 1, or perhaps even a later date. 

I can’t help but draw a parallel to the change announced just last week to the new national health care plan. Whether one is for or against the overall legislation, it was obvious that a grandfather allowance was in order so that individuals and families would not suffer through no fault of their own. This is no different than the current situation with certification tests, where students and families would be unjustly and unnecessarily harmed unless they are grandfathered under the old tests. SED too needs to do the right and just thing. 

At a time when children across the state are in critical need of teachers who are fully committed to their profession, the state should be doing all it can to cultivate such dedication, rather than foster conditions that lead candidates to abandon their career plans or, at the least, begin teaching in jaded fashion. I look forward to your response and would be glad to answer any questions. 


Tom Pinto