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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

N.Y. Governor Slams Board of Regents

By Peter DeWitt — February 24, 2014 4 min read
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The N.Y. State Board of Regents recently voted on 18 recommendations regarding the implementation of the Common Core. Most of the recommendations were filled with smoke and mirrors, and Carol Burris chronicled it extremely well here. Burris does an outstanding job displaying the doubletalk we often hear from our state education leaders. Two Regents, Betty Rosa and Kathleen Cashin voted against the recommendations because they understood it was not good enough.

After the vote, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said,

We have listened to the concerns of parents and teachers. We've heard the concerns expressed at the hearings and forums, and we regret that the urgency of our work, and the unevenness of implementation, have caused frustration and anxiety for some of our educators, students, and their families."

Tisch and King did more than cause frustration. Their implementation devastated the morale in schools, killed creativity in the classroom, and completely ruined the relationship between the state education department and public school system. But it seems as though they ruinded their relationship with Governor Cuomo as well....

Just to be clear, they also did not listen to parents, students and teachers. In this article written by Paul Riede in the Syracuse news, he said the major concerns in October were, “the state’s rush to the Common Core standards, high-stakes Common Core tests and teacher and principal evaluations tied to those tests.

Elementary students will still be held accountable for learning the Common Core, and will have to take high stakes standardized exams. According to the Regents, the State Education Department (SED) will issue guidelines that prevent “schools from making promotion or placement decisions (solely) using student performance on state assessment (tests) in grades 3-8.” If school leaders were solely using state assessments to make promotion decisions for students in grades 3-8, I think those leaders are just as much part of this whole problem. One moment in time for such a big decision? Really?

Those exams over the past few years have not provided schools any useful information. They do not provide effective feedback to teachers, students or parents. The exams are tied to teacher and administrator evaluation though, which is really why the students are taking 90 minute exams three days one week, and 90 minute exams three days the following week.

Governor Cuomo is Consistent

Speaking of evaluation, like a dog with a bone, Governor Cuomo once again pounced on a moment to subtly throw out his “teachers are failing” rhetoric. He is none too pleased with the Board of Regents, and put out the following statement.

Today's recommendations are another in a series of missteps by the Board of Regents that suggests the time has come to seriously reexamine its capacity and performance. These recommendations are simply too little, too late for our parents and students. Common Core is the right goal and direction as it is vital that we have a real set of standards for our students and a meaningful teacher evaluation system. However, Common Core's implementation in New York has been flawed and mismanaged from the start. As far as today's recommendations are concerned, there is a difference between remedying the system for students and parents and using this situation as yet another excuse to stop the teacher evaluation process. The Regents' response is to recommend delaying the teacher evaluation system and is yet another in a long series of roadblocks to a much needed evaluation system which the Regents had stalled putting in place for years. I have created a commission to thoroughly examine how we can address these issues. The commission has started its work and we should await their recommendations so that we can find a legislative solution this session to solve these problems."

Interesting use of words. He created a commission. Will that be an objective group? It’s sad that the governor keeps mentioning teacher evaluation, and not “learning.” As the “Lobbyist for Children” learning should be the primary goal for his reform. The Board of Regents decided to table any decisions about teacher evaluation until April, after they have had an opportunity to hear public comment.

I wish Governor Cuomo understood that many schools had an outstanding teacher evaluation system in place that not only looked at student data, but also provided teachers with the autonomy to include student creativity into the process. However, it didn’t include test scores that provided no feedback, like the present system of evaluation does.

Many school leaders welcomed evidence-based observations, which really helped create dialogue between students, teachers and school leaders. However, there were school leaders doing that already. In addition, there were principals who were holding teachers, and themselves, accountable for student learning, but the governor doesn’t want to see that. Governor Cuomo’s rhetoric seems less about improving learning for students, and more about bashing unions.

He should stop mixing issues.

What Did Change?

According to the Regents,

Under the changes, the requirement to pass Common Core-based Regents exams at the college and career ready level will be extended. The class of 2022 will be the first to face the new higher graduation requirements, 12 years after the adoption of the standards in 2010. To ensure that students are not unfairly penalized by the transition to higher standards, the requirements for Academic Intervention Services (mandatory tutoring for struggling students) will be adjusted and guidance will be issued to districts making clear that the State Education Department (SED) neither requires nor encourages districts to make promotion or placement decisions using student performance on state assessments in grades 3-8, but if districts choose to do so, they should make adjustments to ensure students are not negatively impacted by the Common Core transition and should use multiple measures - not grades 3-8 state assessment results alone."

Just to be clear, AIS has been adjusted every year by SED, so this is nothing new. A few years ago, any student who received a 1 or a 2 on the state exam automatically received AIS. A year later, when the cut scores changed (read here), SED adjusted AIS services by telling schools they could offer the service to students who receive “Low 2’s” and “1’s.

This year, public schools had so many students receive 1’s and 2’s that SED sent out mixed messages on how to address the issue. They told school leaders not to worry about those test scores. What hasn’t changed is labelling students 1, 2, 3 or 4.

Finally, “low scoring” teachers can fight being fired by proving that their schools did not provide them with adequate resources to prepare for the Common Core. This, of course, puts the onus on schools and admonishes Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch of their responsibility in this mess. It’s interesting that they want to be let “off the hook” because they suggest that schools are not taking the responsibility of preparing for the Common Core.

This, of course, is something I take personally. I know I’m not supposed to do that but I cannot help it. All of the school leaders and teachers that I work with take the Core very seriously because they are using it every day, and trying to make it work, despite the outside influences. They spent, and still spend, hours trying to figure it all out, as King and Tisch point fingers. King and Tisch have destroyed the relationship between the state education department and the public school system.

King and Tisch spend a great deal of time making excuses for why things are not working out, and blame everyone else. King and Tisch should be held responsible for the mess that Governor Cuomo says his Commission will clean up. They are accountable for poor implementation, over-testing, and not getting any job done. That is the climate they have set.

Chancellor Tisch may have listened to parents but she didn’t hear a word.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.