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NY Senate report calls for testing ban and data-collection delay

A combination of education policy revisions and new state laws would ban early grade testing, delay student data collection and help school districts change their evaluation plans to eliminate testing, according to recommendations released in a report this afternoon by Republican State Sen. John Flanagan.

Flanagan, a Long Island Republican who chairs the State Senate’s education committee, held five hearings this fall to discuss some of the sweeping policies taking shape in classrooms around the state, such as teacher evaluations and new learning standards. The recommendations are a culmination of feedback from the hearings, one of which took place in New York City.

The report takes some policy advice from the New York City and state teachers unions, two political heavyweights that regularly spar with Republican senators like Flanagan come election season. It also calls for legislation to require the state officials to accelerate their review of local evaluation plans to see where an abundance of student testing can be reduced, something that district officials have taken upon themselves to fix this year.

The report reflected testimony from United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who called for a statewide ban on standardized tests in kindergarten through second grades at New York City’s hearing in October. Flanagan proposes that the state enact a law to prohibit schools from administering “bubble tests” in the early elementary school grades, a requirement for more than 30 city elementary schools this year.

Flanagan also recommended passage of the “Truth-In-Testing Bill,” which is a top legislative priority for the New York State United Teachers. The bill would require the state education department to release reports on the quality of its new Common Core-aligned tests, as well as independently audit the testing program.

The state teachers union said the report validated concerns that they’ve been raising.

​“Clearly, the voices of students, parents and educators are being heard,” said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.

But the report stops short of calling for the kinds of significant changes that the union and other advocates have called for. There is no mention, for instance, of a moratorium on high-stakes tied to Common Core-aligned tests.

The report recommends that the state delay by one year its plans to deploy a student data collection system that has raised concerns from parents and school administrators around privacy. It also advocates for legislation to strengthen privacy protections around student information that would be stored on a privately managed data portal.

The privacy recommendations don’t go far enough, said Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, who wants parents to have the option to opt out of the data collection. She added that it wasn’t clear if the one-year delay would also prevent the department from continuing to upload student data to the portal, called inBloom, as part of its “data portal roadshow” presentations to school districts.

“Unfortunately, the report’s recommendations as written are ambiguous, and his bill is an inadequate response to the furor aroused by the state’s plan to share public schoolchildren’s personal and highly sensitive student data with the corporation called inBloom Inc,” a Class Size Matters’ press release read.

Some of the policy suggestions already have population support and were likely to happen anyway. The top recommendation, to obtain a waiver on federal testing requirements for students with disabilities and English language learners, is already being submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. Increasing the state’s budget for professional development is already a top funding priority for the Board of Regents, Chancellor Merryl Tisch said this week.

“While we have concerns about some aspects of the report, it’s clear that Senator Flanagan has put together some strong recommendations that we look forward to working collaboratively to address,” Tisch said, adding that the state would make “necessary changes in implementation [of the Common Core], but we cannot change course.”

A press release from Flanagan’s office summarizing the report, and the report itself, is below.

Senator Flanagan Calls For Immediate SED Action on Common Core and Unveils a Package of Legislative Actions

Today, Senator John Flanagan (2nd Senate District), Chairman of the New York State Senate Standing Committee on Education, issued a report of findings and recommendations related to the Education Committee’s recent series of statewide public hearings entitled: The Regents Reform Agenda: “Assessing” Our Progress.

The five hearings – held in Long Island, Syracuse, Buffalo, New York City and Albany – gathered extensive testimony from a broad cross-section of educational stakeholders around the State on concerns related to the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) by the State Education Department (SED).

The Committee heard a variety of concerns from witnesses that included the over-testing of students, inadequate professional development funding for teacher training, incomplete and missing modules (i.e., curriculum), the use of test questions that were neither age-level nor developmentally appropriate, and the security of student, teacher and principal data that will be stored on the statewide Education Data Portal (EDP).

Common Core Learning Standards were adopted in New York by the Board of Regents in 2010. In the 2012-13 academic year, the State Education Department began aligning curriculum and assessments to the implementation of these new learning standards in all grades, Pre-K through 12. The implementation has been admittedly flawed and a significant subject of controversy and criticism for parents, teachers and administrators.

The Senate Education Committee was the first official body to hold public hearings to allow stakeholders to express their concerns and offer recommendations for making improvements. The five hearings produced over thirty hours of testimony, 115 witnesses and close to 1000 pages of written testimony which were all included as part of the official record.

During the hearings, the Committee heard heartfelt, emotional testimony from parents about their children experiencing severe stress, anxiety and frustrations as they struggled to understand the new curriculum, while also trying to learn in a whole new way.

Teachers expressed exasperation over the lack of time and resources given to professional development training in order to adequately prepare
lesson plans before teaching and testing their students.

Privacy experts and school administrators raised serious concerns about the ability of unauthorized third-parties to access personally identifiable information (PII) of students, teachers and principals that will be collected on the state-wide EDP.

“There was no shortage of opinions from the witnesses testifying at these hearings,” stated Senator Flanagan. “It was a robust and thoughtful
discussion on the many important issues and problems related to the implementation of the State’s new learning standards. Some of the most passionate testimony came from parents who, at the end of the day, all want the same thing for their children regardless of where they live – a good education. Our state’s most basic obligation is to provide the funding and resources to ensure that every student has the best chance at success.”

The report being issued today will include an overview of the testimony heard by the Committee and strong recommendations of administrative action that can be taken immediately by the State Education Department (SED) to address concerns regarding the Department’s flawed implementation of Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS). Those administrative actions include:

· Expediting waivers from the Federal government (US Department of Education) to relax onerous and rigid testing restrictions placed on certain students, such as Students With Disabilities and English Language Learners (ELL);
· Producing all missing or incomplete curriculum modules immediately;
· Aligning assessments proportionally to curriculum actually implemented;
· Delaying operation of the Education Data Portal (EDP) for one year; and
· Increasing funding for the professional development of teachers.

The report will also include action that the State Legislature can take on several pieces of legislation, including:
· “P-2 Bill” – which would ban standardized testing on students in Pre-K through 2nd grade;
· “Unnecessary Testing” Bill – which would require the Commissioner ofEducation to expedite a review of APPR plans solely to eliminate unnecessary student assessments;
· Privacy Bill – which would strengthen protections of personal information stored on the state-wide data portal, establish significant civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized disclosure of personal information and create independent oversight within SED on matters related to privacy; and
· Truth-In-Testing Bill – would require the Commissioner of Education to report on the effectiveness of common core tests and require an independent audit to review and evaluate the common core testing program.

“The recommendations contained within this report are a good first step in addressing the concerns heard by the Committee which overwhelmingly revolved around the issue of over-testing,” stated Senator Flanagan.

“Setting rigorous academic standards to ensure that all students are college and career ready should always be an important goal to attain.

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