As reported before the break, the Common Core Task force released their report on December 10th, which included a recommendation for a moratorium on the use of Common Core tests in teacher evaluations. Four days later, the Regents adopted an emergency regulation which accepted that recommendation and states that there will be “no consequences for teachers and principals related to 3-8 ELA and mathematics state assessments and no growth score on Regents exams until the start of the 2019-2020 school year.” Most recently, NYSED released a FAQ about the transition which gives guidance to districts on implementing and negotiating APPR in the face of the new regulations.
On one hand, the recommendations in the report are a positive sign – the persistent push-back from parents and educators has forced the Governor and State Ed Dept. to respond and to acknowledge that the system is broken. It is an opening that, with sufficient effort, we can turn into positive change. But as NYSUT’s statement says, “there is more hard work to be done,” and unless we come together to do that work, these new regulations will wind up doing more harm than good. Here’s a quick summary of what that harm is or may be:
More, not fewer, tests
Commissioner Elia insists that there will be “no additional testing,” but this is just not accurate. The regulations require that all teachers be given a growth score based on student achievement, so districts (like ours) which do not already have final exams in all grades would need to create (or use commercially produced) final exams, thus adding additional testing to the year. Because it will be necessary to create “pre-” and “post-” local tests, students in grades 3-8 may find themselves taking three times as many tests each year. For now, districts that have been granted a waiver for 2015/16 do not need to add additional tests (allowing those teachers to be evaluated solely by observation), but that would be for this year only (nearly all districts in the state, including SWR, applied for, and were granted, waivers). Also, although the statement in the first paragraph seems to make it clear that Regents exams cannot be used for evaluations, the FAQ document appears to say otherwise (see question 9).
More, not fewer, test-based ratings
Although they don’t count for students or teachers, the state tests will still be given, and teachers will still be getting a score based on them. The score just can’t be used for employment decisions (e.g. tenure, dismissal, putting a teacher on a TIP). In other words, teachers whose scores were based on state tests will now be getting two evaluation scores, a “transition score,” which does not include state tests, and an “original composite score,” which does. So if your students don’t do well on the state tests, you will still have the pleasure of being labeled as developing or ineffective – although the rating can only be used for “advisory” purposes (whatever that means). It will also be shared alongside the transition score if parents request a teachers’ rating.
Students (and teachers) are still being assessed on Common Core
As noted, the moratorium is on STATE common core tests. But the requirements continue to call for testing, and since our math and ELA curriculum is still based on the common core, then obviously our local tests will need to be as well (unless we’ll be testing students on something other than what we’re teaching them). So even though the commission found serious flaws with the Common Core that necessitate it being revisited and revised over the next few years, it will still be used for evaluation.
A false sense of security
The way the press has been reporting this story, along with misleading statements from Commissioner Elia (e.g. “Now that we’ve put the use of assessments for evaluations on hold…”), make it seem that, at least for the time being, things are just fine. Obviously, they are not, and the big fear is that just as we need to get people involved and active, they will become complacent and will not push for the legislative change that is needed. Along with the the issues above, we need to remember that all the other negative aspects of the Education Transformation act (diminished due process, unrealistic tenure requirements, school takeovers, etc) remain in place. The longer this law stays on the books, the more difficult it will become to swing things back.
A strong, organized, push will be necessary to bring people together to fight for change. We hope that people respond. We will keep you posted.