accountability accountability

Monitors are missing piece from proposal to boost test security

When Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged the country’s education commissioners this summer to ensure their standardized tests were as secure and reliable as possible, he specifically recommended four measures that would help them do so.

Here in New York State, officials for the most part heeded his advice. Last week, Commissioner John King’s proposal to upgrade testing and scoring procedures included three of the four measures.

But state officials ignored one Duncan recommendation: to conduct “unannounced, on-site visits during test administration.” That raised a red flag for Kathleen Cashin, a member of the Board of Regents who supervised schools in Brooklyn and Queens for many years.

“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 at last week’s Board of Regents meeting.

Principals and teachers report they rarely or never see test monitors in their schools, but it wasn’t always that way.

As a former district and regional superintendant in Brooklyn, Cashin said she blanketed her schools with monitors on testing days — uncovered cheating tactics that she said aren’t likely to be discovered in a computerized analysis of answer sheets, which King’s proposal calls for.

Transgressions included test proctors who helped students on questions, guided them toward the correct answer, allowed more time than was allotted and posted instructional materials on walls that would be helpful on tests.

“We caught people cheating even with the oversight,” said Cashin. “Imagine what’s going on without it.”

Cashin was referring to a change in the way test monitors are distributed among schools. Before school support services were restructured around networks, district offices had the responsibility of monitoring and deploying staff members to schools on test days. But district offices were downsized and stripped of many school responsibilities as part of the shift.

Now, test monitoring is coordinated centrally. Monitors are dispersed randomly to cover about 10 percent of schools that administer standardized tests. Last year, they made 99 visits to 97 elementary and middle schools over the six-day testing period.

“People know that at any moment, someone could be in there,” said Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who oversees implementation of the current system. “We’re not going to have enough people to hit every single school on every single testing day, but the fact that people are aware that they will eventually get audited as part of that is an effective deterrent.”

Teachers and principals have noticed the drop-off in monitors on test day as well.

“We used to have monitors where you had a body going room to room but now you have teachers who are alone in their own exam,” said Robert Hannibal, a middle school principal in the Bronx. “I haven’t had (monitors) in three or four years.”

One teacher said that while she never saw any of the monitors, their visits were “mentioned during every meeting preparing us to administer the tests and were seen as quite likely to be sent to our schools.”

“In recent years,” the teacher said, “I have never heard of monitors.”

State regulations don’t have specific requirements for school districts when it comes to conducting on-site visits and Polakow-Suransky points out that New York City’s guidelines actually go above and beyond what is required of them from the state.

Still, Cashin believes the random sampling implemented by New York City is insufficient and said districts should boost monitoring statewide.

Many state officials, including Cashin, say that districts should be responsible for providing their own monitors on test days. It is unclear what role, if any, the state would play in forcing districts to do so.

A new regulation that mandates districts to allocate resources and personnel for on-site visits could still emerge if it wasn’t included in this month’s proposal. King said that he would take Cashin’s suggestions into consideration when he consults with his test security task force and return with a more detailed plan at next month’s meeting.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”