As state education officials have been tasked with crafting a new teacher evaluation system, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on Tuesday continued to defend the need for a state test as a necessary measure to address longstanding inequities.
State test results “scream to anyone who looks at them carefully for the needs of access and opportunity for students living in our high-needs districts,” she said. “We need an objective measure and that objective measure is a state test.”
One week before schools will start to administer the state’s annual reading exam, Tisch took issue with the motives of those supporting the movement to opt students out of taking the tests and blamed high levels of student stress on “angry rhetoric” coming from adults.
“I truly believe that if the adults in the situation and in the room start to work with each other — calm down a little bit — I think the stress levels would be greatly diminished,” she said on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show Tuesday.
Tisch has spoken out against the opt-out movement before, calling it a “terrible mistake,” but her comments Tuesday went a step further by calling out Karen Magee, president of New York State United Teachers, for openly urging parents to “opt out.”
While city teachers union leaders have avoided making similar statements, Tisch cautioned against the possible implications of endorsing the movement for the purpose of parent choice.
If the teachers union comes out in support of opting out of annual state tests, “as Karen Magee at NYSUT has,” Tisch said, “I would say… if it’s parents’ rights, let’s put it all on the table. Let’s not just pick one thing and say, ‘We want parents to have a choice there.’”
“Why don’t we talk about parents whose kids don’t have a choice other than to go to a failing school or to have a teacher that hasn’t been effective or prepared effectively?”
Tisch also warned that a mass opt-out of the state tests could result in New York moving away from its own locally-designed exams and be forced to adopt the Common Core-aligned tests created by one of two groups of states.
“In order for us to be able to have a viable state test, we need a viable number of students in every district showing up to be tested,” she said.
Last year, tens of thousands of students across New York sat out the state exams, as did more than 1,900 in the city — a tiny fraction of the 410,000 students who took the tests, but a 450 percent increase over the previous year.
State test scores will continue to play a prominent role in how a teacher is rated, which will also take into account at least one observation by the teacher’s principal, and one observation from an “independent” evaluator.
Under the budget agreement, the ratings will also be tied to teacher tenure eligibility and be used to make it easier to fire a teacher who repeatedly earns “ineffective” ratings.
“Not one teacher in this state has yet been let go, to the best of my knowledge, because of anything having to do with evaluations,” Tisch said.
But Tisch reiterated that “nowhere in the new law” does it require that 50 percent of a teacher’s overall rating must be based on student growth on state standardized tests, which is the measure that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was hoping to achieve.
The governor and legislative leaders are “all over the map” when it comes to the new rating system, Tisch said. “They are looking to us to bring a grown up’s perspective to a very complicated issue… This has been set up so no matter who we disappoint, it’s our fault.”
The state education commissioner (for now, a vacant position) and Tisch have been tasked with settling the details of the new scoring system by the end of June — though they require approval from the full 17-member board.
And while the governor’s office has been referring to the state education department’s role in developing the evaluation system as “purely administrative,” Tisch said the budget language provides an “enormous opportunity” to speak with teachers, principals, superintendents and parents about “where we’ve been” and “where we need to go.”
“I hope that the state education department will be able to become the table of reason to manage this in an appropriate way, so that educators feel good about it, parents are informed about it, and the system is allowed to go on and put all of this noise and nonsense behind them,” she said.
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