Archives for category: New York

Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul went to the New York State Fair and encountered a large group of educators wearing T-shirts saying “Call Out Cuomo Tour.” She sat down and had a public talk with Beth Chetney, a teacher of ninth grade English for 24 years in the Baldwinsville Central School District. Chetney tried to explain why teachers were frustrated and angry. She said the teacher evaluations based on the tests were unfair, the tests themselves are “asinine,” and her own son opted out of the tests. Cuomo himself, said Chetney, was part of the problem because he has targeted teachers and disrespects them.

Hochul assured Chetney that Governor Cuomo really cares about teachers and quality education

“It’s easy to pull out these sound bites that sound the most contentious,” Hochul said. “But I’ve sat in rooms with him, and heard his real concern for teachers and the students. And I don’t think that gets covered….

“I’m here to tell that you he has a true commitment to supporting the profession and making sure that New York state regains its position as No. 1 in the nation in education,” Hochul said.

New York State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia plans an informational campaign for parents with a toolkit to explain why assessment is valuable and necessary.

““As you get more people involved in the process, you have more people understanding what’s going on and why you have assessments,” she said. “There are a lot of people that don’t know what the Common Core is.”

“Educators are hoping that the toolkit includes further guidelines, including what is and what is not ethical for teachers or school administrators to say publicly about the exams, an issue that has become controversial across the state.”

Elia recently told a meeting of the Gates-funded group “Educators for Excellence” that opting out was “unreasonable” and that educators who encourage it are “unethical.”

Leaders of the opt out movement reject the claim that they are uninformed.

“Some parents, like Jessica McNair [who is also a teacher], say they already are informed about Common Core and the opt-out movement should not be dismissed as a lack of information.

“I think she has a lot to learn about the parents in New York State,” McNair said. “We’re not going to back down until we see tests that are developmentally appropriate, and tests that are decoupled from the teacher evaluations.”

Is it “ethical” to require children who can’t read to take standardized tests? Is it “ethical” to require children who are English language learners to take tests they are sure to fail?

It is time to think about the meaning of ethics. Does it mean following orders, regardless of the consequences? Or do educators have a higher duty when directed to act in ways that harm the children in their care?

The newspaper in the Lower Hudson Valley of New York (north of New York City) is called Lohud.com. Its reporters have been outstanding in covering education issues in Albany and across the state. Unlike the New York Times, Lohud’s editorialists understand why parents are opting out. Instead of scolding them, as the Times did recently, Lohud calls on state leaders to listen to them and take action to address their grievances. Last year, 5% of the state’s students opted out; this year it was 20%. The New York opt out was so huge that it has received national attention. In some schools and districts (outside of New York City), opting out is the norm, not the exception. If state officials continue to threaten parents who opt out, you can bet there will be more opt outs next spring.

This is what Lohud.com wrote:


It seems that everyone has been trying to analyze the opt-out numbers from April’s state tests in math and ELA. But there’s not much to figure out. There’s no secret code in the numbers, no conspiracy to unravel. If you’ve been following the education wars during New York and the nation’s “reform” era, the meaning of the opt-out numbers should be plain: Growing numbers of parents are not happy with our educational direction.

The big question is not what the numbers show, but what our educational leaders will say or do to satisfy parents who had their children boycott April’s tests — or may do so next April. School starts in a few weeks, and what happens over the next few months may determine the future of the opt-out movement….

Real concerns

At a time when few people come out to vote on school budgets, and many parents are simply too busy to worry about non-essential matters, such a widespread movement cannot be easily dismissed — even if one disagrees with the decision to opt out.

Why did so many parents choose to defy state and federal insistence that the annual math and ELA tests provide essential information? There is no single reason. But several prominent concerns led the way:

Too much focus on new Common Core tests is leading to a narrowing of the curriculum and “teaching to the test.”

The use of student test scores to evaluate teachers may be inaccurate and unfair — and is hurting the morale of popular, proven local teachers.

The tests themselves are poorly conceived and have not been reviewed.

Test results are released too late, during August, to be of help teachers, parents or students.

Testing requirements are unfair to students with disabilities and recent English learners.

There are other concerns, of course. But the overall issue is that growing numbers of parents seem to believe that the trifecta of tougher standards, tougher tests and tougher teacher evaluations is not the answer to improving public education.

Many advocates and commentators continue to insist that the opt-out movement was surreptitiously created and nurtured by teachers unions, sort of like Frankenstein. This is simply not the case. At least in New York, the movement was built over several years — slowly, in stops and starts — by parent groups using social media. Local teachers unions started to publicly back the opt-out idea only in the final months before April’s tests. And NYSUT, the statewide union, did not jump in until the final weeks, after it was clear that Gov. Andrew Cuomo would not allow lawmakers to topple his much-despised teacher-evaluation system.

The eval link

Speaking of teacher evaluations, school officials in the Lower Hudson Valley continue to say out loud what many lawmakers and state bureaucrats quietly know: that community-based discontent over the clumsy, ineffective evaluation system will only grow and will feed — guess what? — the opt-out movement. Bedford Schools Superintendent Jere Hochman, the new president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents (and a guy who tries to see things the state’s way) told our Editorial Board last week: “The whole system needs to be thrown out. Start over.”

The Westchester Putnam School Boards Association, in a new statement to the Education Department, condemns recent changes to the evaluation system as “disruptive to our schools, staff and students” and said the current plan “cannot and should not be salvaged.” The group also noted that the opt-out movement has exposed parental concerns about the “nexus” of high-stakes testing and evaluations.

School districts need an evaluation system that continually helps good teachers improve — leading to better classroom instruction — and identifies teachers who need help or can’t do the job. New York does not have such a system.

Class divide?

There’s been a great deal of focus on where large number of parents boycotted the tests and where the movement did not gain much traction. Analysts have emphasized low opt-out rates in both urban “poor” school systems and the state’s most affluent school districts. The state Education Department noted that most test-refusers were white and “more likely to be from a low or average need districts,” in other words, middle-class suburbanites.

But if you talk to educators and parents, there’s no mystery about why opt-out rates were higher in some places than others. In cities with high poverty rates, parents often don’t have the luxury of worrying about education policies because they are too focused on daily concerns and less connected to parent groups. Plus, in New York City, where the opt-out rate was less than 2 percent, test scores have long been tied to school admissions and student promotions. In affluent districts, meanwhile, officials and real estate agents worry that any form of public “discontent” will affect property values.

Yes, the opt-out movement has been driven by middle-class parents, conservatives and liberals, who don’t like the loss of local control over school matters.

It’s disturbing to hear some advocates suggest that parents who opt out are selfish because they are weakening a testing system that reveals the achievement gap facing poor, minority students. Everyone knows that the gap is perhaps the greatest challenge facing American schools. Figuring out how to close the gap is a more pressing question than how to better define it. We hope that the state’s new efforts to assist struggling schools will work out and provide new information on how to close the achievement gap.

Reigning in the opt-out movement will not be easy. Neither Elia nor Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch should expect instant results. It took several years of questionable state leadership before the opt-out movement took hold and gained momentum. It will likely take several years and some major policy changes to win back the trust of parents — and the teachers whom parents trust.

Carol Burris recently retired as principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center on Long Island, Néw York. She is now executive director of the Network for Public Education. She read recently that MaryEllen Elia, the new Commissioner of Education in New York, said that she would be “shocked” if any educators encouraged parents to opt out of state testing, and she said such educators (if they existed) were “unethical.”

Burris wrote:

“Well, Ms. Elia, be shocked. I am turning myself in to your ethics squad. I absolutely encouraged the opt-out movement last year. In fact, I did so right here on the Answer Sheet. I don’t think I could have been clearer when I wrote this:

‘But there comes a time when rules must be broken — when adults, after exhausting all remedies, must be willing to break ranks and not comply. That time is now. The promise of a public school system, however imperfectly realized, is at risk of being destroyed. The future of our children is hanging from testing’s high stakes. The time to opt out is now.'”

Yes, indeed, Burris encouraged opting out, as did many other administrators, both superintendents and principals.

Burris believed it would have been unethical to stand by in silence.

She wrote:

“It would have been unethical to not speak out after watching New York’s achievement gaps grow, indicating that the tests and the standards on which they are based are not advancing the learning of the state’s most vulnerable kids.

“It would have been unethical to ignore watching the frustration of my teachers whose young children were coming home from school discouraged and sick from the stress of test prep designed to prepare them for impossible tests.

“It would have been unethical to not respond to the heartbreaking stories that I heard from friends who are elementary principals—stories of children crying, becoming sick to their stomach, and pulling out hair during the Pearson-created Common Core tests.

“And it would have been unethical to not push back against a system of teacher evaluation based on Grade 3-8 test scores that is not only demeaning and indefensible, but also incentivizes all the wrong values.

“So if there is a place called Regents Jail, I guess that is where I will have to go.”

Burris noted that Elia would have to lock up her boss, Regents’ Chancellor Merryl Tisch as well, since Tisch recently said that if she had a child with disabilities, she would “think twice” about allowing the child to take the state tests.

Who is “unethical”? The educator who complies with orders regardless of her personal and professionsl values or the educator who refuses to do what she knows is wrong?

The state of New York has a problem: according to its own data, 225,000 students did not take the mandated state tests. What should the state do? There’s been talk of financial penalties, but thats’s not likely. Now we know that federal officials told state officials there would be no financial punishment.

State officials say they will patiently explain to parents why the tests are necessary, as if the parents really don’t understand.

What the state and the Feds don’t understand is that the parents know exactly what they are doing and why. They know the state tests do NOT provide useful information to parents or teachers. They know the tests are too long (8 hours!) for children, with a passing mark intended to fail most children. They object to the time and high-stakes attacked to testing; they don’t want their teachers fired because of children’s test scores. Parents of children with disabilities are outraged that their children are subjected to tests that frustrate and fail them.

Here is the latest from politico.com:

“WHAT’S NEXT FOR NEW YORK OPT OUTS: New York state education officials said Thursday that they aren’t planning to withhold money from school districts with record high opt-out rates on standardized tests this spring. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia will present a plan to the state board of regents next month that will detail how she will work with superintendents and principals to reverse the tide of test refusals, The New York Times reports [http://nyti.ms/1Jnk0UY ]. State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch didn’t rule out withholding money from districts if the state finds that administrators were encouraging opt outs, however. Chalkbeat New York reports [http://bit.ly/1NIQzMH] that Elia said, “I am absolutely shocked if, and I don’t know that this happened, but if any educators supported and encouraged opt-outs. I think it’s unethical.”

“- New York has to adequately address the high opt-out rates. If, down the road, federal officials feel that the state hasn’t done that, then they could step in. Federal law requires a 95 percent participation rate on state tests, and New York saw the highest opt out rates this spring in the state’s history. “The [Education] Department has not had to withhold money – yet – over this requirement because states have either complied or have appropriately addressed the issue with schools or districts that assessed less than 95 percent of students,” the agency has said repeatedly.”

Emmanuel Felton and Sarah Butrymowicz write in the Hechinger Report that students in New York have shown little progress in three years of Common Core teaching and testing. Experts warn that three years may be too short a time line to reach a judgment. Nonetheless, the widening achievement gaps are cause for concern. According to the conventional wisdom, the writers say, scores were supposed to rise as teachers and students became accustomed to the new standards. The reality is different.

Three years into the transition to harder tests, scores across the board have remained low and largely stagnant.
Thirty percent of all fifth-graders passed the English exam, for instance – while just 7 percent of special education students did. In math, 43 percent of all fifth-graders were proficient, but only a quarter of black students were….

The past three years of testing have been rough for New York. Complaints began right away in 2013 when the state switched to the new exam and continued when the scores showed proficiency rates had dropped roughly 24 percentage points in English and 34 percentage points in math. In the subsequent two years, criticism grew – over the stakes attached to the exams, the tests themselves and the standards. A robust “opt-out” movement led by disaffected parents and supported in part by teachers resulted in 20 percent of New York students not taking the exams, up from 5 percent the previous year….

And scores have not improved much in the three years. A Hechinger Report analysis found that English scores were essentially stagnant across the state and math scores went up slightly. White and Asian students, however, drove this increase, while the gulf between black and Latino students and their peers has widened.
In 2013, for example, 30 percent of fifth-graders passed the state math exam. This year, when the vast majority of those students were in seventh grade, 35 percent of seventh-graders passed the test. But while white students went from 36 to 46 percent proficiency, black students only increased from 15 to 17 percent and Hispanic students from 18 to 20 percent…

In addition to looking a lot like last year’s results, these scores also match New York’s results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the Nation’s Report Card, which is considered the gold standard for student exams.

But the alignment with NAEP is precisely the problem. The state exams now consider “NAEP Proficient” to be a “passing mark.” This is utterly absurd. NAEP Proficient was never intended to be a passing mark, nor is it “grade level.” NAEP Proficient represents a high level of achievement. No state has seen as many as 50% of its students reach NAEP Proficient except for Massachusetts. As long as the states continue to use tests whose “cut scores” are aligned with NAEP, a majority of students will be considered “failures.” This is not sustainable. Think of the consequences of failing most students year after year.

Fred LeBrun of the Albany Times-Union is one of the most thoughtful commentators on education in Néw York state. He knows that Néw York’s test-and-punish regime is a disaster. Unlike the Néw York Times editorial board, he hails the opt out leaders as heroes.

Civil disobedience is justified when your elected representatives turn their backs on you and refuse to listen. Opt out is a beautiful and intelligent response to a ridiculous testing regime that undermines education and demoralizes educators.

Fred gets it. He writes:

“So much rests on such tiny shoulders.

“And make no mistake while you pack those lunches, it’s all about a political agenda being crudely and arrogantly imposed on education across the country. We know who the banner carrier has been here in New York.

“Of all that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have to answer for after he finally vacates his current post for whatever cave will have him, near the top has to be the damage he’s done to public schooling in New York.

“With his trademark heavy hand, Cuomo has politicized public education down to every student, and for our times and state, singlehandedly taken the pleasure and satisfaction out of learning, and teaching. Not to mention he put new and needless pressures and anxieties on tens of thousands of young parents caught in the middle of these wars.

“All in the name of the most misused word in the dictionary: reform.

“Although we can indeed thank Cuomo for helping make New York No. 1 somewhere on the public education scoreboard.

“We lead the nation in opting out of high-stakes standardized tests, primarily because those privatized tests of questionable merit were rammed down our throats earlier here than in other states…

“So, look for another tempestuous spring on the Opt Out front, with numbers refusing the tests increasing.

“That’s despite empty threats the feds may withhold some Title 1 funding. Empty because the emerging bipartisan will of Congress for the coming reauthorization of Race to the Top is to detach fiscal consequences from opting out of standardized tests. A response to an emerging public will.

“Long term, things are looking up. The Cuomo fiasco will collapse. Commissioner Elia promises a committee including parents and teachers will look hard at New York’s Common Core plan with an eye toward changes. That’s a necessary step in the right direction.

“The Board of Regents is growing a brain on the subject as its membership changes, and the Legislature is likely to become emboldened to make right what they voted poorly on when Cuomo had them over a barrel.

“Much of this is driven by what Opt Out has accomplished. We owe them a great deal.”

Everyone understands that the key fact about Néw York’s test scores is that they will be used to measure the “effectiveness” of teachers. The progress of children has been small over three years, and the scores align closely with demography, language, disability, and family income. Ho-hum.

Mercedes Schneider reminds us of basic facts:

“Under no conditions is it a valid use of student test scores to evaluate teachers or schools.

“The students are the test takers; these tests purportedly measure their achievement. There is no way to account for all of the possible variables that would enable the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to accurately evaluate teachers and schools using student test scores.”

A number of teachers from the Bad Ass Teachers Association drove to Albany to witness the trial of Néw York’s teacher evaluation system. Here are excerpts from some of their reports.

BAT 1:

“In responding to the Lederman’s suit, the state representatives Ira Schwartz, Assistant Commissioner of Accountability and (?) Sherman, a “Quality Control” official did not provide affidavits from independent experts, rather they asserted that the Lederman’s misunderstood the meaning of “growth”, providing language from promotional brochures.

“But the response also conceded that the policy was derived in pursuit of federal Race to the Top funding (another case of “Thanks Obama?”)
The judge teased this out of the state’s lawyer by asking so the students can perform well and the teacher be deemed ineffective? The Lawyer eventually answered “yes!” but tried to remind the court that the formula is only used as part of the overall evaluation. This caused the judge to ask aloud why “discordant” and “inappropriate” results would be used in any percentage.”

BAT 2:

“In comparison to Lederman’s pointed and constructed argument, the assistant attorney general did a minimal response to argument, defending the definition and use of the growth model. The judge asked over and over how a teacher could go from a 14 one year to a 1 the following year. No answer was really given except for a poor attempt to explain the model’s comparison to other students.

“Quote of the day – from Lederman – went something like this: Are we living in a science fiction world where Hal the Computer gets to make decisions and there is no opportunity for human input or appeal?…

“I am in awe of the Lederman’s, true heroes for all of the downtrodden teachers being judged by a flawed and unfair system of measurement. If they win, all teachers and all students win.”

BAT 3:

“Another thing that stood out was just how deeply flawed the system is. When a teacher like Sheri goes from 14 points to 1, yet her students are doing very well and meeting proficiency, it’s easy to see that something is deeply wrong. I believe everyone in the courtroom saw that today. The argument that it’s just a portion of an overall score doesn’t matter to me. If any part of it is flawed, the whole thing should not be used. Let’s hope the judge agrees.

“Lastly what stood out was how much Bruce shined, and the state faltered. Prepared and eloquent, Bruce laid out the arguments point by point and handled challenging questions with thorough and thoughtful explanations. The same could not be said about the state’s representation and it was wonderfully obvious.”

BAT 4:

“It was exciting for me to witness this hearing, and I feel that the outcome of this case could be very historic in our fight to save public education.”

BAT 5:

“The state continued to argue the rating computer system was valid. NYSED admitted that you can have a teacher whose kids are successful yet the teacher will still get a low rating. Overall, they seemed okay with that reality. The state explained the evaluation system will let them get rid of ‘outliers’.

“After the proceedings I was moved to tears when The Lederman’s shared their motivation. Mrs. Lederman’s evaluation had her distraught, she was ready to quit and leave the profession that she loves. After many late night discussions, she and her husband decided, to challenge this unjust system. They certainly know they have a world of educators and parents on their side.”

BAT 6:

“* It was encouraging to have the public see for themselves that even the state could not explain the impact of test scores on teachers.

* The common sense scenarios as presented by the judge made it clear to everyone in the courtroom just how ridiculous VAM is.”

BAT 7:

“I am biased, for sure, but I have to say Bruce and Sheri Lederman have done an amazing job laying out the faults of this system. They have lined up the best in the field to validate their claims. My overall feeling was, that as gruff as this judge seemed to be, he got it. He understood that this system is not transparent, is not valid, and should not be used to judge teachers. We hope that his findings, which will be rendered in about 6 weeks, will state just that.”

Bruce Lederman is suing the state of New York on behalf of his wife Sheri Lederman, a fourth grade teacher in the public schools of Great Neck, Néw York. The Ledermans contend that the state teacher evaluation system is irrational, and Bruce collected affidavits from leading scholars to support his claim, as well as laudatory statements from students, parents, and Sheri’s principal and superintendent.

Alexandra Milletta, a teacher educator and high school classmate of Sheri’s, attended the trial and reported her impressions on her blog.

She wrote:

“What I witnessed was a masterful take down of the we-need-objectivity rhetoric that is plaguing education. So I should begin by saying that I am hopeful, because it seems someone with the power to make a difference gets it. Judge McDonough gets that it’s all about the bell curve, and the bell curve is biased and subjective….

“As you may notice, we’ve come a long way from getting a 91 out of 100 on a test and knowing that was an A-. Testing today is obtuse and confusing by design. In New York State, we boil it down to a ranking from one to four. That’s right, there’s even jargon for “ones and twos” that is particularly heinous when you learn that politicians have interests in making more than 50% of students fall in those “failing” categories. Today the state released the test score results for students in grades 3-8 and their so-called “proficiency” is reported as below 40% achieving the passing levels. By design the public is meant to read this as miserable failure.

“The political narrative of public education failure extends next to the teachers, who must demonstrate student learning based on these faulty tests, even if they don’t teach the subjects tested, and even if they teach students who face hurdles and hardships that have a tremendous impact on their ability to do well on the tests. In Sheri’s case, her rating plunged from 13 out of 20 points to 1 out of 20 points on student growth measures. Yet her students perform exceedingly well on the exams; once you are a “four” you can’t go up to a “four plus” because you’ve hit the ceiling. In fact, one wrong answer could unreasonably mark you as a “three” and you would never know. Similarly, the teacher receives a student growth score that is also based on a comparison to other teachers. When it emerged in the hearing today that the model, also known as VAM, or value-added, pre-determined that 7% of the teachers would be rated “ineffective” Judge McDonough caught on to the injustice that lies at the heart of the bell curve logic: where you rank in the ratings is SUBJECTIVE…..

The State’s representative, Colleen Galligan, tried to defend the indefensible:

“The lame explanation from Colleen Galligan was that the model may not be perfect but the state tries to compare each student to similar students. The goal, she offered, is to find outliers in the teaching pool who consistently have a pattern of ineffectiveness, to either give them additional training or fire them. At this point Judge McDonough offered her a chance to explain the dramatic drop in Sheri’s score. “On its face it must mean students bombed the test (speaking as one who has bombed tests)” and this produced laughter in the courtroom. For who hasn’t bombed at least one test in their life? Who has not experienced that dread and fear of being labeled a failure? Then Judge McDonough asked rhetorically, “Did they learn nothing?” The only answer she could come up with, was that in this case Dr. Lederman’s students, although admittedly performing well compared to other students, did worse than 98% of students across the state in growth. At this point it was pretty clear to everyone present that this made absolutely no sense whatsoever.”

Alexandra believes and hopes that this trial may be the beginning of the end for VAM and other misuses of test scores to rank and rate teachers.

Peter Greene did not attend the trial, but he cut to the chase: “God Bless Sheri Lederman!” I would add to that “God Bless Bruce Lederman” for fighting for his wife and her professional reputation. Together, the Ledermans are fighting for all teachers.

Peter read Alexandra Miletta’s post, cited above. He writes:

“The New York teacher is in court this week, standing up for herself and for every teacher who suffers under New York’s cockamamie evaluation system. If she wins, there will be shockwaves felt all across America where teachers are evaluated based on VAM-soaked idiocy….

“Talking about the curve is the best way to help civilians understand why these teacher eval systems are giant heaps of baloney. If you’re old enough, you remember curves because they suck– get yourself in a class with the smart kids who all score 100% on a test and suddenly missed-one-question 95% is a C. Of course, younger civilians may not have such memories of the curve because over the past few decades most teachers have come to understand that curving is not a Best Practice.

“Evaluating teachers on the curve means that even if the VAM-sauce score actually meant something, the teacher evaluation itself will not mean jack. In a system in which every single teacher is above the bar in excellence, those teachers who are the least above the bar will be labeled failures.”

Maybe one thoughtful judge will put the VAMMERS in their place: out of the classroom.

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