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State teachers union protests ‘gag order’ on teachers discussing Regents test questions

The multi-classroom leaders meet regularly with teachers and district coaches to review data and plan lessons. Dylan Peers McCoy

A new state rule that temporarily prohibits teachers from discussing Regents exam questions online is raising eyebrows among teachers across New York.

The provision was blasted Tuesday by the New York State United Teachers union, which described it as a “gag order” on teachers. Implemented by the State Education Department, the rule states that teachers cannot use email or a listserv to discuss test questions or other specific content with other teachers until a week after the exam periods ends on June 23, though they can still communicate in person or via phone.

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a statement that the regulation infringed on teachers’ ability to do their jobs.

“Teachers are professionals who must always be free to speak out on behalf of their students,” he said. “This includes voicing their professional concerns about test questions that may be unfair or contain errors that could hurt students’ grades or prevent them from graduating. There is no acceptable rationale for SED’s new gag order.”

Gene Gordon, a physics teacher at Fairport High School in Monroe County and the former president of the Science Teachers Association of New York State, said the option of calling colleagues was unrealistic.

Email and listservs “are the primary means of communication between teachers today,” he said.“There is no way a physics teacher in Waterloo, [New York] knows the personal phone numbers of many teachers of physics. By saying teachers can call each other, it is just a way to stop people from [having] group discussions.”

Gordon noted that teachers rely on listservs and email as a forum for group discussion, especially when grading the short-answer question sections on exams.

Current STANYS President Glen Cochrane said teachers are worried they will no longer be able to use listservs to discuss questions and seek help with scoring.

Dave Hurst, current president of the Association of Mathematics Teachers of New York State, said teachers had also come to him with concerns regarding the new rule, worried that the provision would not only limit conversations about grading, but also teachers’ ability to compare notes on questions they might consider faulty or unfair.

State Education Department officials told Chalkbeat the new provision was instituted to ensure that testing material was not spread online before all students had taken all exams. Protecting the test is important, the state said, because students with special needs can take the Regents across multiple days, and Regents are sometimes offered on different dates in different schools because of weather-related closures.

The officials added that the change in policy did not limit teachers’ ability to discuss test questions among themselves or with others in person, and that teachers concerned about examination content should contact the Office of State Assessment’s subject matter specialists.

However, some teachers suspect the provision is an attempt to keep teachers from publicly objecting to Regents questions that might be poorly worded or constructed.

NYSUT is now demanding that teachers be allowed to use email, listserv and other online tools to communicate about the “fairness, accuracy and appropriateness” of Regent exam questions once the exam period concludes on June 23.

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