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UFT calls for moratorium on high stakes for Common Core tests

City schools are just a few months into implementing new teacher evaluations, but the teachers union is already hoping to slow things down.

Citing the many schools that still have incomplete curriculum materials that students will be expected to master to pass the 2014 state tests, the United Federation of Teachers wants a moratorium on using the exams to make any high-stakes decisions for both students and teachers. The union’s request, which came Wednesday night and just weeks before the legislature hosts a hearing on state education policies in New York City, would require Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Albany lawmakers to make yet another change to the state’s teacher evaluation law.

“We’re 15 percent through the school year and this is still a complete mess,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, referring to the lack of materials. “We have no choice but to go in this direction.”

New York City is the only district that is in its first year of implementing evaluations this year after Mulgrew and Department of Education officials failed to agree on a deal before a state-mandated deadline. Commissioner John King imposed a plan for the city to begin implementing in June.

Both sides endorsed King’s decision at the time, but implementing some of the plan’s minute complexities has been a less harmonious process.

It’s also come in the same year that nearly all city schools ordered, at the city’s request, new curriculum aligned to Common Core standards. The Department of Education was responsible for processing the orders and delivering the curriculum materials by the start of the school year.

But most schools are still missing all or part of the curriculum, according to a UFT survey of elementary and middle school teachers. The survey found that 64 percent of schools still lacked some math curriculum materials and 78 percent had not received English curriculum.

Schools have encountered other issues around the city-approved curriculum. GothamSchools reported last month that several schools received hundreds of copies of the wrong book, while others received too few copies to teach the curriculum for an entire grade.

The curriculum is supposed to help teachers better prepare students for the state’s end-of-the-year standardized tests. Students’ performances on the tests will have a direct result on the rating teachers receive on their evaluations.

Mulgrew said that the uneven distribution of curriculum materials meant teachers in some schools would be better-prepared than teachers in schools that are still waiting for the curriculum. He said the same was true for students, whose test scores are the sole factor for whether they can move onto the next grade.

“Now we know there is no debating with the fact that [the city’s] incompetence on getting the right materials to schools will have an adverse effect on the students and teachers,” Mulgrew said.

Buoyed by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, the state teachers union waged a similar campaign last year. Mulgrew pointed out that the city union’s approach was different in that it wasn’t asking for an all-out moratorium on tests.

“We’re not telling them not to administer the tests,” Mulgrew said. He said that the moratorium should be lifted “once you can assure us that every school” has the appropriate materials.

Mulgrew said he was prepared to aggressively lobby the State Education Department and legislature to back the UFT’s requests, which were formally voted on Wednesday by the union’s delegate assembly. But convincing Cuomo, who engineered a series of previous changes to the evaluation law, and lawmakers could take a big lift.

Mulgrew will get a chance to make his case to state lawmakers who are hosting a hearing on high-stakes testing and other state education policies Oct. 29 in New York City.

Mulgrew added that he felt compelled to take this approach because King has repeatedly deflected their concerns around the city’s handling of the new curriculum.

“If he’s not going to jump up and down and scream loud enough then we will,” Mulgrew said.

State and city education officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the timing of New York City’s legislative hearing. The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 29.

Here is the text of the resolutions:

RESOLUTION CALLING FOR A MORATORIUM ON HIGH-STAKES CONSEQUENCES FOR STATE TESTS

WHEREAS the United Federation of Teachers has since its founding been dedicated to creating conditions in New York City public schools that enhance learning and help every child to achieve; and

WHEREAS the UFT strongly supports the Common Core Learning Standards as a means toward ensuring that children in the city and across the country learn the critical thinking skills necessary for success in today’s competitive world; and

WHEREAS the UFT has always held that teachers must be given adequate resources and professional development for the transition to the Common Core standards to succeed; and

WHEREAS New York in the spring of 2013 administered new tests based on the Common Core before teachers and schools had even received curricula aligned to the new standards, with the result that student scores plunged in New York City and across the state; and

WHEREAS five weeks into the 2013-14 school year, many schools across New York City had still not received their new curricula aligned to the Common Core or had received them late, which is particularly problematic considering that the next round of state tests is to occur within a matter of months, in spring 2014; and

WHEREAS it is harmful and unfair to children to give them high-stakes tests on material and skills which their schools have not had adequate time or resources to teach; and

WHEREAS in New York City in particular a student’s scores on these tests can have life-changing consequences, including possibly determining whether the student is promoted to the next grade; and

WHEREAS in addition to the consequences for students, state tests count for 20 percent of a teacher’s year-end performance rating under the new teacher evaluation and development system that was established by order of the state education commissioner this year; and

WHEREAS the UFT continues to support having an evaluation system that bases a teacher’s rating on multiple measures, rather than solely on a principal’s opinion; and that gives teachers a professional voice in their schools; and

WHEREAS the UFT nevertheless holds that attaching high-stakes consequences to the new state exams at this time would be reckless and damaging to our public schools in light of the failure of the city to ensure that schools and teachers received adequate resources and professional development prior to the start of this school year; and

WHEREAS, the UFT recognizes that the high stakes attached to New York State tests are a result of federal and state education laws as well as New York City Department of Education policy; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the UFT calls for a moratorium on attaching high-stakes consequences to state tests until representatives of all interested parties – including parents and educators – have worked with members of Congress, the state Legislature, the state Commissioner of Education, the Board of Regents and the New York City Panel for Educational Policy to carefully examine how well the new curricula, professional development and tests align to the Common Core standards; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this moratorium will allow the state to continue administering the tests but will require that both the state and city pause in attaching to the test results any high-stakes consequences for students, teachers or schools until all stakeholders are assured that the system for implementing Common Core standards is working as it should to give our children the world-class education they deserve.

Resolution calling on the Panel for Educational Policy to end the overemphasis on standardized testing

WHEREAS, Mayor Bloomberg has during his 12 years running our school system created a culture driven by standardized testing; and

WHEREAS, New York City has virtually the only school system in the state where standardized test scores are the most important — and often the only — factor in decisions about children’s futures; and

WHEREAS, test scores became under Bloomberg the sole basis for decisions on student promotion to the next grade, until the policy was first quietly rolled back in 2010 with the start of more difficult state tests and then effectively suspended this year when low scores on the state’s Common Core-aligned tests led to the decision to grade students on a bell curve rather than a hard cutoff; and

WHEREAS, children’s admission into gifted-and-talented programs, which used to be based on multiple measures, is now decided solely through a single test, which has resulted in fewer students than ever getting admitted to these programs, more children from middle-class and wealthy families getting coached for the test, and the absurdity of ranking of 5-year-olds’ scores within tenths of a point; and

WHEREAS, standardized test scores are also the main consideration in the letter grades assigned to schools on the Department of Education’s school progress reports, with these letter grades often becoming determining factors in the closing of schools; and

WHEREAS, the obsession with test scores has led to a narrowing of the curriculum to focus primarily on reading and math instruction at the expense of other important subjects, including art and music; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the UFT calls on the Panel for Educational Policy to end the destructive overemphasis on test scores by: basing student promotion on a thoughtful decision by the teacher and principal; deciding admissions into gifted-and-talented programs and the specialized high schools through multiple measures that give a truer account of a students’ potential; and halting the practice of issuing school progress reports and school letter grades; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the UFT calls on the Panel for Educational Policy to put test scores into perspective as one among many measures of a child’s ability and progress and to focus instead on improving curriculum and ensuring that teachers and schools get the support and resources they need to give our children the education they deserve.

Motion: To amend by adding a last whereas clause as follows:

WHEREAS, the current intensity of the standardized test taking and test prep affects children emotionally and physically leading to anxiety, frustration, low self-esteem, headaches and other physical ailments.

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