testing turn

Much-criticized teacher literacy test could be on the chopping block next month

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Indianapolis Public Schools picked a new model for teacher observations.

New York is poised to make it significantly easier to become a teacher — though their plans are on ice for a month.

The state’s education policymakers were set to vote on a major change to teacher certification requirements on Monday that would have walked back a controversial effort to make the teaching profession more selective. Winter weather won out, canceling the meeting.

The votes may happen in March but education department officials said it’s too early to have a finalized agenda. Here’s what we know:

Big changes to teacher certifications

One change would eliminate the test designed to measure prospective teachers’ reading and writing ability, known as the Academic Literacy Skills Test. The Regents were also set to discuss changes to the edTPA exam, which requires prospective teachers to videotape their lessons. Under the new plan, prospective teachers who barely failed the edTPA exam could still get certified after a review of factors like recommendations and their grade point averages.

Both tests were added to the requirements to become a teacher in New York during a process to overhaul teacher preparation that started in 2009. At the time, Regents said they hoped more rigorous exams focused on literacy and the real-life demands of the teaching profession would help make sure students had well-qualified educators.

But it hasn’t been an easy transition for potential educators, or for the schools that prepare them. Only 77 percent of aspiring teachers have passed the edTPA since its rollout in New York, prompting a safety-net option that allowed candidates to take an easier, paper-based exam.

And not everyone has been convinced that the new tests offer valuable feedback or are worth the costs. The literacy test has even faced legal challenges, since black and Hispanic candidates have passed the test in lower numbers. In 2013-14, only 48 percent of aspiring black teachers and 56 percent of aspiring Hispanic teachers passed the exam, compared to 75 percent of prospective white teachers.

That has prompted concern that trying to solve one problem created others, keeping more teachers of color out of classrooms just as the state is trying to boost those numbers.

Those concerns led the Regents to create a task force of education officials and experts, offered recommendations for sweeping changes at the January Regents meeting.

The literacy test is duplicative and unnecessary, said Jamie Dangler, vice president for academics at United University Professions, which represents SUNY employees, and who co-chaired the state’s edTPA task force.

“There are serious problems with the content and format of the ALST,” Dangler said. “It’s a poorly constructed exam.”

The review process for students who just miss the edTPA passing score would apply to those have at least a 3.0 GPA, and pass other required exams. A committee would then review additional material, like teacher recommendations, to determine if the prospective educator should earn a certification. That change would go out for public comment and is likely to come before the board for a vote in June, according to board materials.

Those materials list a number of other potential changes related to the edTPA, including convening a committee to rethink the passing score — which could mean lowering it. The state wants a new cut score by 2017, according to Monday’s materials.

More ways to earn a diploma

The Regents were also set to pave the way for high school students to swap a foreign language test for their final Regents exam required to graduate.

Specifically, they were set to approve the criteria they will use to decide which foreign language exams will count as alternative graduation exams. That puts the state in a position to allow some students to use one of those exams to graduate in just a few months. New York has begun allowing students to swap art, career and technical skills, and a skills certificate for their fifth Regents exam.

Abja Midha, a project director at Advocates for Children, says she expects the state will start by approving nationally recognized foreign language tests, such as Advanced Placement exams.

The news of the day

The Regents were also set to take on a few hot topics, such as the recently released graduation rates and the governor’s controversial state aid proposal. To what extent do Regents think the bump in statewide graduation rates have to do with changes the state made to graduation requirements? Were the Regents planning to take a stand against Cuomo’s proposal to change the way the state funds high-needs schools?

We may not know until March.

early adopters

Here are the 25 districts committing to taking TNReady online this spring

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

One year after Tennessee’s first attempt at online testing fizzled, 25 out of 140 Tennessee school districts have signed up to try again.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday the number is what she expected as districts prepare to administer the state’s TNReady assessment in April.

Although all districts will make the switch to online testing by 2019 for middle and high school students, they had the option to forge ahead this year with their oldest students.

The Department of Education is staggering its transition to online testing — a lesson learned last year when most of the state tried to do it all at once and the online platform buckled on the first day. As a result, the department fired its testing company, derailing the state’s assessment program, and later hired  Questar as its new test maker.

Districts piloted Questar’s online platform last fall, and had until Wednesday to decide whether to forge ahead with online testing for their high school students this spring or opt for paper-and-pencil tests.

McQueen announced the state’s new game plan for TNReady testing in January and said she is confident that the new platform will work.

While this year was optional for high schools, all high schools will participate in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the test on paper to its youngest students.

Districts opting in this spring are:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Bedford County
  • Bledsoe County
  • Blount County
  • Bristol City
  • Campbell County
  • Cannon County
  • Cheatham County
  • Clay County
  • Cocke County
  • Coffee County
  • Cumberland County
  • Grundy County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hancock County
  • Knox County
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Moore County
  • Morgan County
  • Putnam County
  • Scott County
  • Sullivan County
  • Trousdale County
  • Washington County
  • Williamson County

ACT bump

Tennessee sees ACT gains after becoming first state to fund retakes for all students

Last fall, Tennessee became the nation’s first state to pay for its students to retake the ACT college entrance exam.

On Tuesday, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the investment paid off.

Nearly 26,000 students in the Class of 2017 opted to participate in the state’s first ACT Senior Retake Day in October. Of those, nearly 40 percent got higher scores. And about 5 percent — 1,331 students in all — raised their composite above the 21 necessary to receive the state’s HOPE Scholarship, which provides up to $16,000 toward in-state tuition.

The ACT retake also resulted in more students hitting the ACT college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects, an area where Tennessee has struggled. The percentage of students meeting all four benchmarks increased from 21.5 percent to 26.8 percent.

Additionally, over a third of school districts increased their ACT average, with the best gains in Maryville City, which increased its composite average by a full point.

Under the initiative, the State Department of Education paid the fees for students to take the test for a second time in hopes of boosting their scores and chances for college scholarships.

“Our goal is to open more doors for students after high school, and these results are one more step toward that vision,” McQueen said. “We want students to graduate from high school with the ability to access whatever path they want to explore, and we know too often low ACT scores create a barrier.”

The retake day cost the state $760,000. ACT provided an additional $353,000 in fee waivers for low-income students.

Gov. Bill Haslam has included money to continue the program in his budget proposal for 2017-18.