Concerns regarding NYSSBA resolutions and Common Core

The New York State School Boards Association convention will begin on October 26, 2014.  At this convention representatives from school boards throughout the state will vote on a number of resolutions that are being presented by NYSSBA.  Three of these resolutions, resolutions 4, 9 and 10, deal with the Common Core and/or APPR which are very volatile areas at this time and I am asking that the Kingston School District Board of Education change their support of these resolutions to a ‘No’ vote.

The resolutions can be read in this document – Proposed Bylaw Amendments & Resolutions in their entirety but here are brief descriptions:

  • Resolution 4:  RESOLVED, that the New York State School Boards Association support a dedicated funding stream for professional development and other supports associated with implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards.
  • Resolution 9:  RESOLVED, that the New York State School Boards Association support changes in the certification examinations for teachers in New York State to align with the Common Core Learning Standards.
  • Resolution 10:  RESOLVED, that the New York State School Boards Association support the continued use of student performance data in the Annual Professional Performance Reviews.

Details of the concerns are presented below from various school boards, school board members and parents groups as well as my personal concerns.

Two school boards have passed a resolution supporting a rebuttal of resolution 10 which articulates many of the reasons why student test scores should NOT be part of APPR for educators.  The rebuttal (here) from the Board of Education of the West Seneca Central School District lists concerns in the areas of negative student impact, negative educator impact and school district financial impact.

The Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA has expressed many similar concerns in their letter to their local board of education asking for a ‘No’ vote on resolution 10 (included below) and New Paltz Board of Education member Steve Greenfield has concerns as well.

My biggest concern with the use of student test results in evaluating teachers is the extensive research that indicates it is not valid to do so.  Noted experts in the education field New York’s 2013 Principal of the Year Carol Burris and Diane Ravitch have written more articles than I can count explaining why Value-added models of teacher effectiveness (ie student test results) do not produce reliable results.  For some examples read here and here.

Value-added scores – Although the federal government is encouraging states to use value added scores for teacher, principal and school evaluations, this policy direction is not appropriate. A strong body of recent research has found that there is no valid method of calculating “value-added” scores which compare pass rates from one year to the next, nor do current value-added models adequately account for factors outside the school that influence student performance scores. Thus, other than for research or experimental purposes, this technique will not be employed in Vermont schools for any consequential purpose.

I would also like to bring to mind Resolution BOE67 – High Stakes Testing passed by the Kingston BOE on March 20, 2013 in which the Kingston board of education stated the following:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Kingston City School District calls on Governor Cuomo, Commissioner King, the State Legislature, and the Board of Regents to reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, including the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) and urges the State legislature to seek a waiver from the federal government to exempt school districts from the requirement that Annual Professional Performance Review requires the use of State assessments as a necessary component for receipt of funds associated with the Race to the Top and to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which do not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflect the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools;

Regarding Common Core, the concerns are ever-growing.  A Times Union and Siena College poll from June 2014 found that 82% of New Yorkers want to ‘put the brakes on Common Core’.  This past spring, 35% of Kingston City School District students in grades 3-8 refused the New York State standardized tests and while that is not 82%, it is a significant portion of the district that has concerns with aspects of Common Core.

Let me end with two more articles.  Carol Burris, who for a long time supported the Common Core Standards but had problems with the high-stakes testing, now states that there are problems with the standards themselves.  The New York State Board of Regents is not even unanimous in support of Common core – read here.

With such concerns both locally and state-wide, I believe that NYSSBA should be holding back on decisions involving Common Core rather than rushing forward on topics that many in the school communities hold such concerns about and therefore Resolutions 4 and 9 should also receive a ‘No’ vote.

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Dear Board of Education members:

We write to ask that you vote “NO” on the NY State School Board Association’s (“NYSSBA”) Resolution number 10, entitled “Supporting the Use of Student Performance in APPR,” at the NYSSBA’s Annual Business Meeting at the end of October (see p.15, http://www.nyssba.org/…/nyss…/final_resolution_book_2014.pdf).

NY’s Annual Professional Performance Review (“APPR”) law requires that student performance count for at least 20% of a teacher’s annual evaluation and be based on “state assessments or other comparable measures” (NY Education Law 3012-C). For many of our teachers state-wide, this component uses the scores on the grades 3-8 Common Core English Language Arts (“ELA”) and Math standardized assessments.

Since APPR was in its infancy, educators and experts have cautioned against the use of standardized tests with high-stakes consequences, for reasons of forcing teaching to the test, narrowing curriculum, causing undue stress on students, creating more costs to districts by increasing unfunded mandates, not accounting for scoring differences for children with special needs and English Language Learners, and more (see, e.g.,http://kpae.us/…/strong-words-about-appr-from-the-west-sene…,http://www.newyorkprincipals.org/appr-paper). But before any of these issues can be studied, the threshold issue of test validity and reliability must be addressed: are these standardized tests accurate measures of student learning and of effective teaching? For that determination to be made, the tests must be available to the public in full, so that independent analyses can be made by disinterested parties, proving or disproving whether the tests are quality tests and are valid indicators.

Unfortunately, these Common Core ELA and Math tests are not available for public review or for independent assessment. A state-issued gag order prevents teachers and administrators from discussing any test details. And while NY used to publish the grades 3-8 ELA and Math tests in full for the public, it abruptly stopped full transparency in 2011. Now the State Education Department releases only portions of the tests (25% in 2013, 50% in 2014) and specifically cautions that the released state-selected questions do not represent a full test: “These Released Questions Do Not Comprise a Mini Test” and are “NOT intended to show how operational tests look” (see,e.g., https://www.engageny.org/…/2014_ela_grade_7_sample_annotate…)(emphasis in original). Without transparency, there is no way to even begin to insure that these tests are effective indicators of what a child has learned or how well a teacher has taught.

Parents have been so dismayed by NY’s lack of transparency over these high-stakes tests that in June and July this year, over 3,000 New Yorkers wrote to our government leaders (Gov. Cuomo, Board of Regents, Commissioner John King, and various legislators) demanding that the tests be published in full, for the very reason of assuring that they are fair and accurate tests that truly measure learning and teaching. These requests have gone unanswered as of yet. (We are hopeful that the various Transparency-in-Testing bills in our state legislature will pass this year, allowing for publication in full.)

Making matters worse is that based on the information that is available, the Common Core ELA and Math tests are terribly flawed. These tests have been cited for containing numerous factual errors as well as for being confusing, developmentally inappropriate, above grade level, too long, and not aligned with the Common Core Learning Standards. In May, 2012, NY Board of Regents Commissioner Merryl Tisch called the myriad errors on these tests “inexcusable” and “really disturbing.” She cautioned Pearson, the test creator, to “take this really seriously” (http://www.nydailynews.com/…/chancellor-merryl-tisch-condem…). This past year’s tests were reported to be even more troubling. Liz Phillips, principal of the high-achieving PS 321 elementary school in Park Slope, wrote in the New York Times that “[i]t was truly shocking to look at the exams in third, fourth and fifth grade and to see that they were worse than ever. We felt as if we’d been had” (http://www.nytimes.com/…/the-problem-with-the-common-core.h…).

As long as these tests are not available in full for public review and independent assessment, they must not be used for weighty consequences; specifically, these tests should not be permitted to be part of a teacher’s or administrator’s annual review. As discussed above, extensive anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that the tests are deeply flawed — and there is no other means of checking the tests’ validity at this time. Fairness, due process concerns, and common sense dictate that student performance data in the form of these tests be rejected. Accordingly, we ask that you vote “NO” to this resolution.

Please let us know what position you will take on Resolution number 10, and know that we are readily available to discuss this issue further. And of course, our many thanks for all the time and effort you dedicate to our schools.

Sincerely,
The Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Executive Board

Steve Greenfield, a member of the New Paltz Board of Education, raises a variety of concerns and is asking for a no vote on NYSSBA resolutions 4, 9 and 10 – click here for details.