scrambling to the deadline

Splinter group takes matters into its own hands ahead of looming ISTEP panel deadline

PHOTO: Creative Commons / timlewisnm

After six months of meetings, the 23 educators, lawmakers and community members charged with coming up with a replacement for the unpopular ISTEP exam have reached no major consensus on a plan to present to the legislature by its Dec. 1 deadline.

But a faction of members on the ISTEP panel are now trying to ramp up the conversation by introducing a plan of their own.

The group of eight ISTEP panel members — seven educators and a business leader — say they took matters into their own hands after growing concerned that the deadline was looming with few signs of progress.

The legislature last spring voted to scrap ISTEP and replace it with a new exam by 2018. That timeline, however, is seeming increasingly unlikely.

Read all our testing coverage here.

It’s not clear whether the full panel will embrace the proposal put forward today, but the eight members behind it say their plan reflects input from Indiana educators.

“We tried to capture what we have heard from people all over the state,” said Wendy Robinson, a superintendent from Fort Wayne who was one of the eight members behind the proposal. “It is not impossible for people from diverse backgrounds to actually come to consensus on something … at some point, we have to ask educators what works.”

The group’s plan calls for a system similar in some ways to what Indiana has had in the past. It was presented today at the panel’s second-to-last meeting, and includes a few main components.

Students would:

  • Take one year-end math test and one year-end English test that would incorporate some social studies themes in grades three through eight.
  • Take a year-end science test in in grades four and six.
  • Take year-end tests in Algebra I, biology and ninth-grade English.
  • Show they are ready to graduate high school by completing Advanced Placement or dual credit courses or taking a college entrance or military placement exam, among other options.

The state would:

  • Eliminate the third grade reading test, IREAD.
  • Eliminate separate social studies tests.
  • Have experienced Indiana teachers grade writing tests.

Nicole Fama, an Indianapolis Public Schools principal and the panel’s chairwoman, said she’d work with panel members and staff over email to compile final recommendations, which could include ones from the plan presented today. The panel has just one meeting left before it votes Nov. 29 on the final recommendations.

Throughout the past few months, the panel’s legislator members have repeatedly said ISTEP might stick around for another year or more given the challenges to creating a new test within a short timeline outlined in the original bill. Lawmakers have the final say what the new test would look like over how the state’s current testing law would change, and they aren’t obligated to take the panel’s recommendations into account.

Fama said the panel does agree on some aspects, including that the test should be shorter and that teachers and parents should get results quickly. But those general conclusions didn’t require months of work, panelists said.

“We (educators) were placed on this committee for a reason,” said Ken Folks, a superintendent from East Allen County, another of the eight panelists who created their own plan. “Everything (Fama) said is very general, and I don’t believe that that’s our purpose on this committee. I find it unacceptable to produce a proposal without specifics.”

Robinson and the other educators who worked with her said they won’t give up, and they want to continue to work with lawmakers after the panel concludes its meetings.

“We didn’t sit here all this time not to be heard,” Robinson said. “We’re not backing off.”

testing talk

‘Virtually meaningless’ or ‘steady progress’? New York City reacts to this year’s state test scores

PHOTO: Grace Tatter

English and math exam pass rates inched up in New York City this year compared to last year — more than they did in the state as a whole, city officials announced Tuesday.

The annual release of test scores created a wave of reactions from education stakeholders across the state. Charter school advocates claimed victory, the state teachers union called them “meaningless” and Mayor Bill de Blasio said they represent the “painstaking work” of schools across New York City.

Here is a sample of reactions:

The mayor touted his own education agenda.

“These improvements over the past four years represent painstaking work – student by student, classroom by classroom, and school by school. It’s steady progress towards a stronger and fairer system for all. We are focused on building on these gains and others – such as the highest-ever high school graduation rate – to deliver equity and excellence for every public school student across the city, no matter their zip code.” — Mayor Bill de Blasio

Charter advocates said it shows the strength of their approach.

“New York City charter public schools are continuing to show us poverty is not destiny in the greatest city in the world. Charter public schools offer the promise of closing the achievement gap and today’s results show they are delivering on that promise. It’s been almost 20 years since New York passed its charter law and these public schools are now out of the experimentation phase: not only should their lessons have more reach, but so should they.” — StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis

Success Academy highlighted its push for more school space.

“These results should inspire the de Blasio administration to immediately support Success Academy and other high-performing charters to serve more students in public space.” — Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy founder and CEO

The state’s teachers union called the test scores “virtually meaningless.”

“They don’t count for students or teachers — and they shouldn’t count. They are derived from a broken testing system; are rooted in standards that are no longer being taught; and — for now — are the foundation of a totally discredited teacher evaluation system. The test-and-punish era damaged the trust and confidence of parents in our public education system, as evidenced by the continuing strength of the opt-out movement, and we believe dramatic changes are needed to win them back.” — NYSUT President Andy Pallotta

The city’s teachers union said they represented “progress.”

“Thanks to the efforts of teachers and other staff members across the city, our students are making solid, sustainable progress and the nation’s largest school system is moving in the right direction.” — UFT President Michael Mulgrew

Other groups took the chance to criticize opt-out.

“The results show the right thing to do is to keep moving forward, not tear down high standards and end annual assessments like opponents call for. The continued rise in proficiency scores is a clear sign that high standards are preparing students for future challenges, and parents are increasingly rejecting misguided calls to ‘opt out’ of the state’s annual check-ups. Both of these are good trends for every student in New York, no matter where they are growing up.” — High Achievement New York Executive Director Stephen Sigmund

And some pushed for more dramatic change.

“While we are pleased to see the test scores move in the right direction for New York City students overall, we are concerned about the persistent gaps that exist for students with disabilities and English language learners. Teaching students to read is one of the most fundamental tasks of schools.  With only 5.6% of English language learners and 10.7% of students with disabilities scoring proficiently in reading, the city must do more to support these students and ensure that they receive high-quality, evidence-based instruction that targets their individual needs.”— Advocates for Children Executive Director Kim Sweet

Testing Time

New York’s state test scores are coming out today. Here’s what we’ll be watching for.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

At long last, New York state English and math test scores are being released today, according to state officials.

Though the tests have been criticized as providing only a snapshot of what students have learned, they are still one of the main tools used to judge the progress of schools, students, and major education initiatives.

Because the tests themselves held steady between 2016 and 2017, the test scores will provide a brief glimpse into whether students are making progress. That could also mean smaller changes than last year, when English scores shot up nearly eight percentage points.

But stable comparisons will only make a temporary appearance in New York education. Next year, the state has announced it will shorten testing by two days, which will no doubt call yearly comparisons into question again.

Here are a few storylines we’ll be watching as the state prepares to release test results:

Is the city’s approach to education policy working? What about signature programs like “Renewal”?

When test results jumped almost eight points in English and roughly one point in math last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio was quick to say they showed “pure hard evidence” his policies were working.

The state’s top education policymakers, however, cautioned that due to changes in the test, an “apples-to-apples” comparison to the year before was impossible. The changes included offering students unlimited time and shortening the exams slightly. This year, state tests were kept consistent in order to make those comparisons possible.

That raises an important question: Without changes to tests, will the results still be good news for Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña? It is particularly important for high-profile efforts like the city’s “Renewal” turnaround program, which is entering the year in which the mayor said it should show results.

The only other year under de Blasio’s tenure when the state had fairly consistent testing compared to the prior year was 2015. In that year, test scores inched up one point in math and two points in English.

It may be a good thing if there are only small increases again, said Jennifer Jennings, an associate professor at NYU who has studied testing.

“We hope that they’re gradually inching upwards,” Jennings said. “Very large swings are often evidence that something is off.”

What will happen to opt-out?

For the last two years, about one in five students across New York state have boycotted state tests in protest. That number is significantly lower in New York City — though it has been growing. In 2016, 2.4 percent of city students sat out of the English exams and 2.8 opted out of math in New York City.

The opt-out rate acts as a litmus test of the public’s reaction to state education policy. The movement started in response to a series of state reforms, including adoption of the Common Core and test-based teacher evaluations.

Despite changes the state made last year to appease families upset about the tests, opt-out rates remained relatively consistent. (In fact, they ticked up a bit.) This year, the state has embarked on a process to reshape learning standards and submit a new plan to evaluate schools under the new federal education law.

Will that be enough to defuse some of the tension? Early results indicated opt-out rates may have decreased statewide, but the final tally will likely be released today with state test scores, as it has in past years.

What about equity, which is at the heart of the city’s agenda?

Each year, test results show a disheartening fact: Certain subgroups, such as black and Hispanic students, fare worse than their peers on tests. English learners and students with disabilities also historically score below average.

City and state officials have placed equity at the heart of their agenda. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Equity and Excellence” initiatives and his approach to turning around struggling schools are predicated on the idea that schools — particularly those in low-income communities — need resources in order to be successful. State officials have put equity at the center of their plan to reshape education policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

De Blasio’s critics, however, have argued the best way to address equity issues is tackling segregation in New York City schools. (The mayor released a preliminary diversity plan, but has been fairly slow to endorse integration as a strategy for school improvement.)

So, are the extra resources helping to close the gap between students of color and their white and Asian peers? This year’s test scores will help sort out that question, though many of the mayor’s major initiatives could take years to come to fruition.