Merryl Tisch is the Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents. She has been a Regent for 20 years. She is a strong supporter of high-stakes testing. In this article, she criticizes those who opt out and who encourage others to opt out. She says they are hurting the kids who need help the most. She thinks the schools would neglect the neediest children if they were not tested every year. Since no high-performing nation tests every child every year, they must be overlooking their neediest children.


She writes:


“It used to be easy to ignore the most vulnerable students. Without assessments, it was easy to ignore the achievement gap for African-American and Latino students. Without an objective measure of their progress, it was easy to deny special education students and English Language Learners the extra resources they need. Obviously we still need to do more for those students, but now is not the time to put blinders back on.


“Without a comparable measure of student achievement, we risk losing track of the progress of all of our students in all of our schools. This risk applies not only to students of color, urban and rural students, and students with special learning needs. Many students from affluent districts do not make the year-to-year progress necessary in today’s world and need early support to get back on track. It’s far better to find that out while they’re still in the classroom than wait until they’re out of school and faced with real world challenges in college or the work place without the skills they need to overcome those challenges.”


One would think after a dozen years of high-stakes testing that there might be evidence that the children she names have benefitted, that poverty has decreased, but she fails to mention any evidence of the benefits of high-stakes testing.


Celia Oyler, a faculty member at Teachers College, Columbia University, read Chancellor Tisch’s letter and drew different conclusions. She wrote the following comment to The Hechinger Report, where Tisch’s article appeared:


Professor Celia Oyler wrote:


“Very few parents would be refusing the New York State Pearson tests if they were decent measures of learning. And if they were decent measures of learning from year to year there would be no Teachers of Conscience movement of teachers who are refusing to administer the high stakes tests. There are so many flaws with what Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner King have done:


“(1) These tests are not measures of what an individual student has learned from year to year: they are not vertically aligned. State Ed has created what they call growth scores, but calling something by a name does not make it real. In fact, these scores do not measure growth from year to year, but measure the score on the test one year and the score on a different test the next year.


“(2) The NYS tests are too blunt to measure learning of the students Chancellor Tisch proclaims to care most about: the children who do not do well on standardized measures (whether due to horrible stresses that often accompany poverty and affect learning, or from a print or language or intellectual disability, or because they are learning English as an additional language). And we also know from numerous adequately designed studies that a teacher accounts for only about 10-15% of test score variance on any child: to hold one teacher 50% responsible for a single test score is scientifically unjustifiable. And doing so damages the chances for such children to receive the education they need. Children who struggle with school tasks do not need more test prep curriculum (which is what they are mostly getting — get out to schools more, Chancellor Tisch!), they need more rich, integrated, experiential, three-dimensional learning that is organized around meaning and not memorization. Punishing children, their schools, and their teachers for poor scores on poor tests is not the way to promote the rich learning environments they desperately need.


“(3) The misuse of so called Value Added Models or Measures takes lousy tests and then puts them through a formula not even designed to measure one teacher’s influence on the score from year to year: VAMs have greatest reliability when used on groups of teachers across multiple years. To make matters worse, most all researchers continually agree that a teacher accounts for about 10-15% of any standardized score variance. So teachers in NYS are punished by giving them a score that was not even designed to measure what Chancellor Tisch has made it measure. Study after study after study demonstrates that VAM has confidence intervals of as much as 60%! This is utterly insane and has enraged educators who understand what is being done to them.


“(4) Chancellor Tisch has just announced that some districts and schools should be exempt from this high stakes bad math folly that she and her cronies have wrought upon the children and teachers of New York State. This is an abomination. We have decades of research demonstrating the link between wealth and standardized test scores. Yes, there are exceptions: we have schools where children from low-income schools have learned to do well on a high stakes test. We need to learn more from these anomalies. But even within the anomalies researchers continually find that doing well on one high stakes test does not transfer to other high stakes tests. This means that students can be taught how to do well on a high stakes test. It does not mean they are learning content, concepts, and skills of value, that transfer. This raises the question: Do we want learning, or do we want achievement test scores?


“It is apparent to many parents who are refusing the tests, and to many teachers who are taking up activism against these brutal educational “reforms,” that Chancellor Tisch and her ilk care way more about a reductive number on a spreadsheet than they care about real learning and about actually improving the possibilities for the most marginalized children in our society. New York State teachers and children deserve support and assistance, particularly in economically distressed communities. Tisch and her millionaire friends can do much better than punish us all with their willful ignorance.”


Celia Oyler, PhD
Box 31 Teachers College
525 W. 120th Street, NY, NY, 10027
office phone: 212.678.3696
office location: 312 Zankel Hall