The state and the city disagree about which extra tests are necessary in order to comply with New York's new teacher evaluation law, if any. And teachers have complained about the testing component of the new teacher evaluation system which relies in part on student scores.
In search of clarity, Schoolbook spoke with Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and the state education department's assistant commissioner for accountability, Ira Schwartz, who insisted there are ways for schools to assess their teachers without adding more tests.
SCHOOLBOOK: Why are we hearing complaints about children in kindergarten through second grade being given extra assessments that are taking time away from class?
SCHWARTZ: That would depend upon the strategy that was locally collectively bargained. There may be some districts in which they decided that they were going to give a pretest. But that was something that they decided, and we have offered other alternatives for districts that want to take a different direction.
SCHOOLBOOK: What would those alternatives be? You're saying children don't have to take an extra assessment?
SCHWARTZ: No, what I was saying is that in some cases you can use information that is already in hand as the pre-test. In some cases you can use a group measure for the students. In that case, the teachers essentially are using one assessment that may be covering a variety of other teachers in other subjects. So in that case, there are no additional assessments that would need to be used because there's an agreement by that collective bargaining unit that all of the teachers will collectively be assessed based upon a particular assessment.
SCHOOLBOOK: It sounds very confusing.
SCHWARTZ: It is not confusing, it is complex. And it is new. And so when things are new they are unfamiliar and as we all continue to learn about this system, it will become something that will become much clearer to everyone. The confusion will hopefully disappear.
SCHOOLBOOK: People from the group Time Out From Testing say young children, six-year-olds, have to learn about Mesopotamia, words like cuneiform, the entire skeleton system. It's not that this is hard, it's that this is developmentally inappropriate.
SCHWARTZ: I would leave that to my colleagues who are more familiar with the curricula to address that.
SCHOOLBOOK: But do they have to do that?
SCHWARTZ: They do not have to do the curriculum. We have said that the curriculum that we have proposed, that we have made available, is a tool and it is up to each district to decide whether and how they plan to use that tool.
TISCH: I would add, for years, decades, the teachers union has been saying to the state that they would like the state to provide curriculum. That is just factual. We were the only state that took any of its Race to the Top dollars to produce a curriculum. The idea is it's not a mandated curriculum. But knowing there were 700 districts around the state, knowing that Common Core was going to be going through its implementation phase, the state felt it was important to try to produce a tool, including curricula, which would allow districts that didn't have the ability to go out and purchase curriculum, or develop curricula, to have something to use.
This has never been mandated, it's only there to use if people want to use it. And certainly there are many districts that are choosing not to use it. And I would say quite frankly, I go out into the field and I hear people tell me how great the modules are. How important the modules have been to them as part of a professional development tool. So, I think there's a lot of misconception about this curriculum and its status in terms of mandate. And, you know, that's the purpose of these hearings, that's the purpose of our forums to go out there and have a conversation to correct misconceptions and to listen carefully about adjustments that need to be made along the way.
SCHOOLBOOK: Could there be adjustments?
TISCH: We have said from the beginning that any policy that is not built to adjust is not good public policy. And I think last week at the Regents meeting, the state education department proposed two or three, I think significant adjustments. I think that is the beginning. Clearly we are listening. As a colleague of mine always loves to say, what we produced is Microsoft model 1.0. Let's see what 2.0 looks like, let's see what 3.0 looks like. But this is the beginning of a generational shift to a higher standard that is basically focused around student performance and that is engaged in professional development to help students perform at a higher level.