Grading the Regents

by Timothy G. Kremer

On Board Online • October 9, 2017

Timothy G. Kremer
NYSSBA Executive Director

At its September meeting, the state Board of Regents acted on three major policy initiatives: adoption of a state compliance plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), new learning standards, and revised teacher certification standards.

The first two items are good news. The third - tinkering with teacher certification - is an annual tradition that I find puzzling and disturbing. Here is a rundown:

Every Student Succeeds Act

The state's ESSA plan establishes a comprehensive set of criteria for demonstrating school quality and success. One of the best features of the plan is the inclusion of measures beyond student performance on ELA and math assessments. New metrics include science and social studies, progress toward English language proficiency, chronic absenteeism, out-of-school suspensions as well as measures of college, career and civic readiness.

If approved by the U.S. Department of Education, schools will get credit for students who are partially proficient and extra credit for advanced students.

Appropriately, the ESSA plan is intended to track both inputs and outputs. The plan correctly sets rigorous timelines, program requirements and expectations for schools to close proficiency gaps and improve graduation rates.

Nevertheless, the plan will require substantial funding to implement at perhaps the most inopportune time, when the possibility of federal budget cuts to education and Medicaid loom large. Overall grade: B+.

Next Generation Standards

Originally, I perceived the Common Core Learning Standards as a well-designed guide for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Later I learned that, among many concerns, the standards expected too much of many early learners, gave short shrift to fiction reading, used learning methods that were difficult to comprehend, and too quickly led to proficiency rates defined by one high-stakes test. The result was New York's opt-out movement and a long moratorium on any purposeful use of test data.

With such baggage, it was wise for the Regents to jettison the Common Core standards.

In developing the Next Generation Learning Standards to replace the Common Core, SED used a collaborative and inclusive process, surveying stakeholders and consulting teachers, subject matter and child development experts, parents, school board members and many others to craft a better set of standards and obtain buy-in from stakeholders.

For teachers and school administrators, changing standards means lots of work. The state will try to make the transition easier by providing "crosswalk" and "roadmap" documents that explain what's different and what's the same.

Proficiency tests on the Next Generation Standards will not be administered until 2019-20, which should give teachers enough time to incorporate the standards into their curriculums and receive adequate professional development. Overall grade: A.

Teacher certification

Once again, the Regents are planning to create a "safety net" for would-be teachers who don't make the grade on the edTPA, a certification exam.

The Regents have been extending various safety nets on the edTPA since 2013. That year the edTPA was supposed to become the state's main exam for entering the teaching profession, but it was delayed to 2014 "to provide educator preparation programs with an additional year to prepare teaching candidates." After that, there was a series of measures to help people who failed the edTPA, such as certifying them if they passed a different test.

Most recently, the Regents advanced a proposal to drop the passing score from 41 to 38, then gradually raise it to 40 in January 2022. Final adoption will be considered in December, after a comment period.

Okay, here's my comment: Why can't colleges of education produce graduates who can all pass this test, which the Regents first voted to begin using in 2010?

I do not know whether the edTPA is a good test, nor do I know whether dropping the passing score from 41 to 38 is a big difference. But I do know what backpedaling looks like. How can we have faith in teacher certification when the Regents keep tinkering with the rules and moving the goalposts?

If the medical, aviation or accounting professions developed a habit of tinkering with their certification tests and dropped the passing score, Congress would be holding hearings.

A fifth of new public school teachers leave the profession after just one year on the job, and almost half leave within five years, according to the National Education Association. Could inadequate preparation and/or poor suitability for the job be part of the reason?

Maybe the Regents' proposed action will help districts fill openings. But if I were a superintendent, I'd be relying chiefly on my own judgment to assess who will be good in the classroom. State certification seems like a squishy credential. Overall grade: C.

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