Archives for category: New York

Long Island, New York, is home to the state’s biggest concentration of parents and educators who are in search of a better alternative to the state’s obsession with high-stakes testing. It is also home to a vigorous opt-out movement. This event promises to be a first-rate evening of discussion about where we go from here to improve our schools and find a better philosophy than test-and-punish.



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New York City’s Public Advocate Letitia James wrote the following letter to John King but has received no answer. King believes that children must be tested as a matter of civil rights. James, who is also African American, does not agree. What do you think?


Letitia James

June 25, 2014

Commissioner John King
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234

Dear Commissioner King:

I am writing you to express my concern regarding the New York State Education Department (SED) stand-alone field testing policy. I am strongly recommending that the New York State Education Department ban field testing for all New York City students. SED’s $32 million, five-year contract with test publisher Pearson did not include stand-alone field testing of multiple-choice items in math and English language arts (ELA). Pearson’s approach to test development is costly and unworkable and uses our students as guinea pigs.
My office met with educators, parents and advocates who are concerned about stand-alone field tests. They are frustrated with the SED lack of transparency and the pressure for teachers to teach to the test. High stakes testing has put unnecessary pressure on many families and educators and averts schools from developing curricula that promotes critical thinking. Stand-alone field testing is yet another test that takes teachers away from the classroom. In a 2011 report to Congress, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed America’s test-based accountability systems and concluded, “there are little to no positive effects of these systems overall on student learning and educational progress.”

The data generated by students taking a stand alone field test is unreliable and does not provide Pearson with meaningful information needed to design a valid test. This flawed approach is evident in the poorly developed 2012 and 2013 ELA and math exams. As field tests continue this June, these problems will still be prevalent and irrelevant exams will continue to be produced. Teachers and parents have publicly criticized testing materials stating that the items were not aligned with children’s developmental levels.

Rather than administering field tests, schools should focus on spending more time in the classroom to improve performance and encourage students to reach their potential. I trust that you understand the pressures that these students must be experiencing and urge you to stop field-testing in our state.

Please feel free to contact my office with any further questions and I look forward to your reply.

Letitia James
Public Advocate of the City of New York


At the heart of the Vergara decision lies a logical fallacy: eliminate due process and seniority from teachers, and schools with low-performing students will magically have a great teacher in every classroom. To say this makes no sense is an understatement.

In this post, Bruce Baker demonstrates that it makes no sense empirically either.

As he concludes: “In the land of VergarNYa… a world where logical fallacy rules the day and where empirical evidence simply doesn’t matter…”

There is something about corporate education reform that encourages chutzpah. Chutzpah is a Yiddish word for arrogance. Reformers think they are on the front lines of the civil rights movement. They think that making tests harder helps kids who are already struggling. They think that if the failure rate for black and Hispanic kids goes higher, these kids are getting the help they need. Please don’t ask me to explain the logic behind their train of thought. I suppose their inflated opinion of themselves leads the corporate reformers to reach absurd conclusions.

Take New York State Commissioner John King. His teaching experience is limited to three years in a no-excuses charter school where poor kids were expelled for minor infractions. Having been chosen to lead the Empire State, where only 3% of children are in charters, he has decided that the Common Core standards are his heroic mission. He has compared himself to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And just a few days ago, he said that the advocates for the Common Core were like the all-black World War II unit called the Tuskegee Airmen.

Please don’t ask me to explain the logic. There is none. In the first administration of Common Core testing, 95% of children with disabilities failed. More than 80% of African-American and Hispanic children failed. These tests have passing marks designed to fail most kids, and the burden falls most heavily on minority children. Instead of help and reduced class sizes, they get more tests. What part of this scenario would be supported by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr? What part is similar to the bravery of the Tuskegee Airmen?

It makes no sense. But then, Common Core makes no sense. It was underwritten by one man, Bill Gates. It was imposed by making it a condition of Race to the Top. The tests were federally funded (an act of dubious legality). It eviscerates state and local control of education. It sets poor kids, black kids, Hispanic kids, and those with disabilities on a road to failure. What part of this terrible scenario resonates with the civil rights movement?

The only thing Dr. John King has in common with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is his last name. The current Dr. King should have the decency to refrain from comparing himself to a man who distinguished himself by his humility, his compassion, his decency, his astonishing intellect, and his genuine concern for those who had the least. He sought equity. He fought for unions, good jobs, good housing, fair wages. In my reading of Dr. King’s work, I never once encountered a passage in which he said that what black children need most is testing.

John Ogozokak, a high school teacher in upstate New York, ponders here which is the more meaningful task: to clean a septic tank or to grade a standardized test:

About a half dozen years ago the septic tank lurking beside our old farmhouse went kerflooey. I dug out the top of the rusty thing and it was clear something VERY wrong had happened. I’ll spare you the graphic details but suffice to say I had to rig up a temporary pipe until the experts could arrive days later. It was a smelly, nasty job. But as I was standing there, ankle deep in crap under a beautiful spring sky, I found myself wondering……would I rather be doing THIS or dealing with some of the nonsense I encounter every day in school -like inflicting mindless standardized tests on students.

I vote for the septic tank. And, not just mine. No, I’d pull over and help a random stranger who was dealing with a similar plumbing disaster if it would save me from grading yet another useless test. At least I’d be accomplishing something real.

I face a similar situation this morning. I woke up about a half hour ago thinking about the ridiculous test I was forced to give my 12th grade Economics students on THEIR LAST DAY EVER in school: an economics “post-assessment” created solely with the purpose of trying to calibrate if I am a good teacher. I have to go look at the results this morning. (I refuse to count it for anything against these kids.)

The test is crap incarnate. (Cue Paul Simon’s first line in “Kodachrome”….. that song just keeps ringing in my head)

To make a long, boring story short: my high school again outsourced the production of this “assessment” to our county’s Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES.) I could have gone and helped in the construction of this nonsense. I refused since I do not want to be co-opted by this whole process…… “yes, look, teachers participated……blah, blah, blah.”

Once again, the test is crap. Outdated trivia, textbook jargon, the same old supply and demand graph about socks. I was so pissed off that after I saw the thing I stopped to visit a friend of mine who owns a business. His family works out of an old storefront and you might have seen some of their handmade products in high-end catalogues. He’s not only a super smart guy but a person I respect for his integrity and common sense. He also knows a lot more economics than me so I ran a couple of the test questions past him.

Like, for example, how many federal reserve districts are there in the United States?

Huh? We both stood there and tried to guess. Eight? Twelve? Fourteen now? WHO CARES!

I mean, is this really one of the 50 essential facts that a young adult who is entering a our deeply dysfunctional economy needs to know? The test had not one question about the scandalous burden of student loans today; nothing about the near depression these kids lived through as they innocently went through school; not a mention of the growing chasm between the wealthy and the workers that support them in this nation. (Sorry, kids, soon to be YOU doing that backbreaking work!)

I’m disgusted.

And, so Governor Cuomo decides to give some public school teachers a temporary reprieve from having their career tied to these ridiculous tests. WHO CARES?

It’s time we stop giving kids tests when we all know that some of these assessments are crap.

This personal report about setting the cut scores for New York’s Common Core 11th grade ELA test was written by Dr. Maria Baldassarre Hopkins, Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Nazareth College. The cut score is the passing mark.

Professor Hopkins writes:

My name is Maria, and I am not a psychometrician.

There. I said it.

Apparently it took me a while to get it through my thick skull. I was reminded no fewer than three times at the cut score setting for the new Common Core aligned ELA Regents Exam that I am, indeed, not a psychometrician.

“Mary, are you a psychometrician?” I was asked when I made one of my frequent requests for more information.
My name ain’t Mary. And, no, I am not a psychometrician.

Last year I wrote critically of the cut score setting process for the 3-8 Common Core assessments. I was astonished when I was invited back for the 11th grade iteration after expressing blatant disapproval of NYSED/Pearson’s gamemaker role in the Hunger Games of academic achievement. You might wonder why I chose to go back. In addition to the camaraderie of some of New York’s finest educators and the Desmond’s delicious bread pudding, I prefer being at the table in the event that I might bring some modicum of sanity to an otherwise batty process.
Once again, I was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement which limits me from disclosing any secure test materials, including “all oral and written information … relating to the development, review, and/or scoring of a New York State assessment.” On the other hand, Commissioner King emphasized the importance of participants going out and talking about the cut score setting process, as well as encouraging our colleagues to participate in the future. While it may be my close reading skills at fault, I’m not entirely clear on where “secure test materials” end and “talking about the process” starts. I haven’t been dragged into court yet, so I think we’re good. Still, I will err on the side of caution here by not divulging any actual conversations or actual data to which I was privy. Read closely, friends.
Oh, I almost forgot–you should totally get on one these panels if have the chance.

Concern #1: Students are not PLDs
An important early step in the cut score setting process happened in February when educators from across the state were brought together to craft Performance Level Descriptors (PLDs) that would be instrumental in determining cut scores. PLDs are statements that say what a student at each level of proficiency should be capable of doing under each standard.
For example, imagine anchor standard 11 said the following: “Analyze the body language of a person trying to persuade you to resign from a task after you have asked too many questions.” PLDs would be statements that say what a student at each level (2-5) is capable of. A level 3 PLD might say: “Analyzes body language adequately and correctly;” a level 4 might say: “Thoroughly analyzes body language in a way that is both correct and lightly nuanced;” a level 2 might say: “Inconsistently analyzes body language and with some inaccuracy.” Do you get the picture? Essentially, each standard is broken up into 5 proficiency levels.
PLDs, along with Ordered Item Booklets (OIB) are the tools of the trade for cut score setters. An OIB is basically the test booklet from the June 3rd administration, but instead of questions ordered as they appeared on the actual exam, they are ordered from least to most difficult. The only factor accounted for in the ordering is the number of students who answered each question correctly. A lot of students got it right? Easy question. Not many students got it right? Hard question. Text complexity of passage, plausibility of multiple choice options, level of questioning—you know, the stuff that makes questions hard—are of little consequence.

For the purpose of cut score setting, PLDs become groups of “students.” As we move through the OIB attempting to place a bookmark on the last question a “Level 3” student should be able to answer correctly, we ask ourselves: “Based on the PLD description, should a student at this level be able to answer this question?” Yes? Move on in the book. No? Place your bookmark on the last “yes.”

The problem is that PLDs are not actually students. PLDs are arbitrary, almost meaningless statements that are made up very quickly by people who, for all intents and purposes, have little inclination what will be done with them after students take the exam. So we end up having hypothetical conversations like this one that inform where we place our bookmarks and, therefore, what the cut score becomes:
Jane at Table 1: Man, this question is super hard because–Broca’s Brain?!

Come on, how many 11th graders would actually understand the message here? I am going to say a Level 3 probably won’t get this right.

Dick at Table 2: No, this text is grade level appropriate. I just asked that state ed person in the corner and she said so. Our PLD says right here that a Level 3 student understands grade level texts. So, no, it should not be too hard. A Level 3 student should definitely get this question right.

Let me say this one more time, this time in response to imaginary Dick at Table 2: PLDs are not students. They are broad categories that can be interpreted differently by every single person that reads them. Even if, as a student, I fall squarely into the Level 3 category for my ability to understand a grade level text, that does not necessarily mean that I am able to distinguish between the very subtle nuances presented to me in the multiple choice options. It does not mean that there is a multiple choice option that approximates the (correct) answer I came up with on my own when I read the question. It does not mean that I have had the lived/linguistic experiences necessary in order to comprehend the nuances of the figurative language, even if I have a good sense of what the text, taken as a whole, is saying. For Dick, none of that matters. Because PLD. (View the test in its entirety here and assess the difficulty level for yourself).

PLDs do a good job making general statements about what a kid can kinda do in a vague sort of way. What they do not do is assuage the subjectivity of individual bookmarkers. They are also terrible at representing the complexity of actual students and attending to the myriad and layered complexities involved in answering each and every question on the assessment.

But take this with a grain of salt. I’m no psychometrician.

Concern #2: Setting Cut Scores on a Test that is Not Fully Operationalized
As it turns out, psychometricians aren’t big on anecdotal evidence. But here’s what I know, anecdotally speaking. Not all 11th graders in NYS took the new regents exam. Districts were given the choice of whether they would administer the test or not. Some districts chose to opt out all together while others administered both the new and the old tests. My concern was one about the representative nature of the sample upon which we were basing our cut score decisions. Based on the demographics of students who actually took this new test, would it be possible to draw a sample that was representative of all 11th graders in NYS? Were various demographic groups, including (but not limited to) Latino and Black students, students with disabilities and English learners accurately represented in the test data that would be informing the cut score setting process?

I had a difficult time imagining how that was possible. Perhaps it is because I am not a psychometrician, or maybe it was just pragmatics. Would school districts be willing to tender the expense of test proctors, graders, and substitute teachers, along with the loss of precious instructional time, on a test that they knew full well their students were not prepared for? My sense was that it would be mostly higher achieving students and wealthier districts choosing to give this test. If that is true—and I have been assured by NYSED staff that it is not—then the sample is skewed toward students who are expected, statistically speaking, to perform pretty well. All I could think during the cut score setting was that If our cut score was based on data skewed toward higher achieving students, everyone else will be at a grave disadvantage for years to come. They will be expected to perform to a bar set by predominately successful students. Unfortunately, though I asked, I was not permitted to see any data that reflected the demographics of students tested. I was assured, however, that the details of the sample would be provided in the cut score report.

On June 23rd, SED released their cut score report. In it, they break the sample down into several demographic categories and illustrate that the percentage of students in each category in the sample is similar to that in the population. Despite anything one can learn in Statistics 101, never do they give the number of test takers in the sample. The sample can be 10,000 students or it can be 100. These percentages actually tell us nothing about whether or not test results of the sample can be generalized to New York’s population of 11th graders.
While there is no way to tell from the data SED eventually provided, it is possible that the sample is not skewed. After an hour or more of asking for data about the sample, speaking with several SED folks who each gave me different answers about the sample and reasons that I would not be permitted to see any data (ranging from “it’s secure” to “we don’t have it” to questioning the legitimacy of my request due to my non-you-know-what status), everyone eventually got on the same page. By the end of our last day, the group was on message: the sample is representative.

But, even if this is true, it doesn’t actually improve the situation. Students across the board were underprepared for the exam having had only one year of Common Core-aligned instruction. Because this is a test they were not actually prepared to take, difficulty levels were inflated (remember: they are based only on the number of students who answered each item correctly) causing the cut score to be set relatively low. As years progress and as students have more experience with the Common Core, they will inevitably perform better. All of this cut score nonsense will be long since forgotten, and we will all sing the praises of Commissioner King for increasing graduation rates through his tireless pursuit of high standards. Of course, this type of score manipulation is not new. In 2013, chances o f 11th graders’ success on the Regents were diminished by 20% thanks alone to score conversion charts. Now that I think about it, that event set the stage really nicely for the necessity of speedy reform.

Regardless of the sample, this was a test students were not actually prepared to take. Cut scores should have never been set for the next who-knows-how-many-years based on a pilot run. Period.

Even a psychometrician should know that.

Bruce Baker reviews the Vergara claim that teacher laws in Néw York deny students a quality education and shows that it is fallacious.

He writes:

“VergarGuments are an absurd smokescreen, failing to pass muster at even the most basic level of logical evaluation of causation – that A (state laws in question) can somehow logically (no less statistically) be associated with selective deprivation of children’s constitutional rights.

“Are children in New York State being deprived of their right to a sound basic education.



“Most certainly.

“Are VergarGuments the most logical path toward righting those wrongs? Uh… no.”

Green Party Defends Teacher Tenure Against Legal Challenge

The Green Party candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor today spoke out strongly against a lawsuit to be filed by a former CNN anchor seeking to overturn tenure in New York State.

“The attack on teacher tenure is about scapegoating teachers for the conditions of our schools,” remarked Brian Jones, a former NYC school teacher running for Lieutenant Governor. “Why aren’t they filing suit against Cuomo for shortchanging local schools for funding by $9 billion? Or over the fact that New YorkState has the most segregated schools in the country, worse than it was 50 years ago?”

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, points out that teacher tenure was enacted nationwide more than a century ago to protect academic freedom and to stop the firing of teachers based on political and partisan changes in local school boards and principals.

“Tenure establishes and preserves a highly qualified teacher workforce in our schools. Teacher turnover is a huge problem — especially in high-needs schools. Removing tenure does nothing to stop the revolving door. Tenure and seniority help to create a stable (i.e., not revolving) community of adults in schools, which is what children and families want,” noted Howie Hawkins.

“Tenure prevents high teacher turnover and protects New Yorkers against the politics of personal bias, favoritism, and cronyism in our schools. Tenure means due process for disciplinary action. Teachers don’t hire themselves and they don’t control the disciplinary process,” added Hawkins.

New York has a 3- to 4-year probationary periods for new teachers and a new evaluation system, which established an expedited process allowing schools to hold teachers accountable based on teacher evaluation results.

The Green Party pointed out that the Democratic Party and Governor Cuomo have been leading the fight in New York against teachers. Nationally, in 2010 President Barack Obama praised the firing of 93 teachers in Central Falls, Rhode Island. When 7,000 teachers were fired in the wake of a devastating flood in Louisiana, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”

“Like we recently saw with the tenure lawsuit in California, the New York plaintiffs are elite private schoolers bankrolled by millionaires, who want to argue that workers are the problem,” Jones added.

“The education policies coming from the leadership of both major parties in the recent state budget – from underfunding public schools and promoting charter schools to modifying but not ending the high-stakes testing regime – are pro-privatization and anti-public schools. They are promoting a dual school system, separate and unequal. We need to address the root causes of low-performing students and schools in poverty, segregation, and underfunding schools in low-income communities,” said Hawkins.

The lawsuit is being filed by the Partnership for Educational Justice led by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown. Her husband, Dan Senor, sits on the board of the New York affiliate of StudentsFirst, an education lobbying group founded by Michelle Rhee, the controversial former Washington, DC, chancellor who is a leader of the charter school movement.

Cuomo has been a strong proponent of privatization of education, including charter schools. Cuomo has received significant funding from hedge funds that find charter schools incentives to be highly profitable investments.

Howie and the Green Party support progressive taxation, fully-funded schools, renewable energy, single-payer health care, $15 minimum wage and a New York that works for the 99%.

Zephyr Teachout is running for governor in the Democratic primary against Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo has collected more than $30 million for his campaign, much of it from Wall Street titans. At the convention of the Working Families Party last month, Cuomo won over the union leaders, who delivered the WFP endorsement to him over Teachout. She must gather 15,000 signatures on petitions by July 7 from across the state to place her on the ballot for the Democratic primary ballot on September 9.

Among other things, she wants to change the way political campaigns are funded. She says:

“Right now, the campaign funding system leads to politicians basically being beggars at the feet of oligarchs. It’s what the progressives of another era called the invisible government: the private power that sits behind public power. Politicians are not making decisions based on what they think their constituents want or even what they think is best for their constituents. They’re making decisions based on who is giving them $60,000; that’s more money than any middle-class person can afford.”

In this interview, Teachout explains why she is running and why she thinks she has a possibility of upsetting Cuomo. Her basic issues are public corruption, about which she is an expert; the environment (she opposes fracking and favors alternative sources of energy); economic development; jobs; a higher minimum wage; and education. Everyone who runs for office in New York promises to “clean up” the ethical swamp in Albany. Teachout means it.

Stephanie Simon reports at that former high-level Obama advisors will help the fight against teacher unions and due process rights. Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who is highly antagonistic to teachers’ unions, is creating an organization to pursue a Vergara-style lawsuit in New York against teachers’ job protections. Her campaign will have the public relations support of an agency led by Robert Gibbs, former Obama Press Secretary, and Ben LaBolt, former Obama campaign spokesman.

Simon writes:

“Teachers unions are girding for a tough fight to defend tenure laws against a coming blitz of lawsuits — and an all-out public relations campaign led by former aides to President Barack Obama.

“The Incite Agency, founded by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, will lead a national public relations drive to support a series of lawsuits aimed at challenging tenure, seniority and other job protections that teachers unions have defended ferociously. LaBolt and another former Obama aide, Jon Jones — the first digital strategist of the 2008 campaign — will take the lead role in the public relations initiative.”

Campbell Brown achieved a certain notoriety or renown for articles she wrote in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere insisting that the unions were protecting “sexual predators” in the classroom.


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