Chancellor Tisch Defends Tests

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On Thursday's The Brian Lehrer Show, New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch acknowledged this is a "very stressful time" for schools because of the shift to higher learning standards known as the Common Core, and the tests that come with them. She cautioned New Yorkers not to be discouraged by this year's low test scores because the state is "in a moment of transition."


Excerpts from the interview below. And you can listen to the full segment by clicking play on the audio player above.

"I want to underline the fact that it would be a mistake to interpret the decline in student test scores as a decline in student learning. Or, quite frankly, a decline in educational performance," Tisch said. "The results from the new assessments will give educators, parents and policy makers and the public a more realistic picture of where students are in this pathway to becoming college and career ready, to be well prepared for a world that really awaits them as they graduate from high school. And I believe that we are in a moment of transition. We are at the beginning of a generational challenge to make sure that the students in the United States, and for our particular reasons in New York State, are prepared to be competitive in the 21st century economy."

Isn't it like teaching them arithmetic and then testing them on calculus, to give the exams before the curriculum?

"Two years ago the state announced a shift to the Common Core. In some districts there has been a magnificent amount of capacity building around professional development to teach to the Common Core. Other districts not so much. As we go forward here, I'd like to remind your listeners that New York State spends over $1 billion a year, $1 billion a year, towards professional development. It is going to be our ability to target those dollars to make sure that every teacher and every school district gets the preparation that is required in order to teach to this new higher standard.

Commissioner John King… often says you cannot deliver Common Core curriculum in a box. Right? That's not what this is. This is about being able to teach students to read challenging texts. We are going to support teaching them, to support their arguments with evidence drawn from texts. To write from sources. To achieve deep conceptual understanding. For all of the parents listening out there, I would say one thing: for years we have been listening very intently to people say to us so much classroom time is wasted on drill and kill. In other words, just teaching kids something they can spit back on a standardized test. This is a move away from that. If this movement is successful, and I hope it will be and I have every reason to believe it will be, we will be moving away from classrooms that drill students just for the purpose of regurgitation."

Ian, a middle school English teacher in Peekskill, called to ask about the appropriateness of the tests. He said: "On the second day of the English test some of my top students, kids who scored fours in previous years, were not able to complete this test. My kids were weeping."

"Obviously, it stresses me beyond anything you could imagine to hear that children felt so upset with the testing. I would say a couple of things. First of all, the highlighting of the testing in terms of what's been going on in the press, in terms of what parents are reading in the local newspapers, I think that added to the stress. Additionally, I think teachers were well aware that this was the first year in New York State where student test scores were going to be used as a barometer of teacher performance. I think all of those factors, coupled with the new format of the test, and the new requirements of the test, has added to an unusually stressful situation."

"Anyone who thinks we are out there to stress children I would say then you don't know us. But I would also say one more thing, in New York State 80 percent of the students graduating from our high schools when they go to two-year colleges need to be remediated in math or English. That means they are paying college tuition for high school credit. What happens is, when you look at the completion rates, after six years in a two-year college the graduation rates hover between 22-24 percent. Which means our young adults are not prepared to do college-level work when they leave our high schools, are not graduating two-year colleges, and are leaving these programs in huge amounts of debt. So I would say the urgency is clear in the numbers."