accountability accountability

Regents endorse first steps in state's test security overhaul

ALBANY — Members of the Board of Regents today endorsed an independent review of the state’s procedures for investigating cheating.

The independent review is a first step in a complete overhaul of the state’s test security procedures that a State Education Department task force recommended last week. The Regents are reviewing the recommendations at their monthly meeting today and tomorrow.

Today’s vote to pursue the independent review came from the P-12 Committee, which supervises education from preschool through high school. With the committee’s endorsement, the measure is expected to pass easily when the entire board votes on it tomorrow.

Approval will trigger an “immediate” review, just as soon as the state finds an entity to conduct it. Education Commissioner John King said the state would look for entities to participate in the review at low or no cost to the state.

That review is likely to generate ideas for how SED can expand its investigative arm, which officials characterized as muddled.

Currently, cheating allegations are generally logged at the local district level. SED Deputy Commissioner Valerie Grey said today that complaints at the state level are logged through an anonymous hotline or directly to the Office of Assessment, but beyond that there is no clear chain of responsibility.

Grey said that she would look to hire investigative experts who could advise the state on how to form its own investigations unit.

“We’re looking for someone with extensive experience in investigations to take a look at what we do, in order to make sure we’re taking any sort of allegation as seriously as possible,” said Grey, posing hypothetical questions she hoped the review would answer. “What’s the intake process? Who’s responsible for looking into it and figuring out what is the proper follow-up?”

The committee also agreed to allow Grey to “further develop” a number of more specific measures that, if eventually approved and implemented, could overhaul test security as school districts know it. The proposals would centralize scoring at the state level, ban teachers from both proctoring and scoring their students’ tests, and instate erasure analysis and other tools to identify suspicious patterns of answers. Another proposal would develop a system where the open-answer section of tests would be scanned anonymously, then assigned out randomly for certified teachers to grade.

These items elicited the most discussion among the Regents, some of whom raised questions — as yet answered — about how much the proposals would cost.

The Regents emphasized that the move to tighten test security did not represent an attack on teachers’ integrity, but rather a necessary measure in a high-stakes testing environment. In her opening remarks, Chancellor Merryl Tisch said that New York State has the best teachers of any other state.

Kathleen Cashin, a former superintendent in New York City, said she partially disagreed with a proposal that would ban teachers from proctoring. In the elementary grades, she said, teachers should administer tests to their own students.

Cashin also recommended that every school be visited by testing monitors, a measure that she said proved to be effective when she was a superintendent in New York City.

“That is a preventive way, if someone is thinking of cheating, they might think twice if they knew someone was in the building touring,” Cashin said. “It’s just like athletes with drug tests. If they know they’re going to be drug tested, it will be preventive for some.”

New charter schools approved: The committee also voted to approve the charter applications for 18 new schools that would open in New York City in 2012. Two Regents from the city — Betty Rosa and Lester Young — abstained from votes, saying they had had more questions about the applications from KIPP and Success Charter School Network.

January Regents exams restored: The Regents also officially accepted the $1.5 million in donations solicited by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to restore January Regents exams, which the state eliminated to save money. But not every member was happy about it, with some complaining that the state had not restored funding on its own.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”