Test security measures nixed from 2012-2013 state budget

Funding for statewide erasure analysis and other test security measures was omitted from early drafts of the 2012-2013 budget, meaning a major initiative by the state education department could be shelved indefinitely.

Back in October, the Board of Regents signed off on a plan to request $2.1 million in the 2012-2013 budget for erasure analysis as part of changes to address concerns that state tests were not secure. State education officials lobbied the Governor’s office for the funding, but when Cuomo released his $132.5 billion preliminary budget in January, the line item was not included.

Funding for the initiatives was also left out of budget proposals submitted this week by the Assembly and Senate.

“The legislature said it’s obviously not a priority for them,” SED spokesman Dennis Tompkins said of the test security proposals.

Every spring, state agencies lobby Cuomo’s budget office for their legislative priorities. In addition to funding for test security, SED officials also wanted a budget amendment to reduce costs and shorten the length of time it takes to complete disciplinary hearings for tenured teachers, a wish that Cuomo granted.

The omission of test security proposals came at the same time as Cuomo used the budget process to push districts and teachers unions to accept an evaluation system that makes test scores a part of teacher ratings.

Some legislators said test security got short shrift during the budgetary process.
“As more and more importance is placed on state tests, there needs to be real reform: higher quality tests, better formats, and improved test integrity,” said Senator Daniel Squadron. “The only way to improve the quality of the tests and the integrity of the scoring is to invest more dollars to move beyond oversimplified multiple choice, and to professionalize assessment.”

Erasure analysis was a central piece to a test integrity initiative meant to strengthen state testing policies. The proposal came in response to a series of cheating scandals that popped up around the country last summer, where erasure analysis was used to confirm instances of widespread abuse.

Previously, the state piloted erasure analysis for a sample of state tests and found that it identified several instances where cheating might have occurred. Although the analysis raised suspicions in only a small fraction of the exams, Commissioner John King said at the time that it affirmed the need to boost state test security.

“Even this small body of evidence reinforces the larger message of the Department’s comprehensive test integrity review launched in August 2011 shortly after I became Commissioner: we need to take strong steps to ensure the integrity of New York State tests,” King wrote in a letter to district superintendents.

The line item would have also funded other measures to discourage cheating, including a program that measures the consistency and accuracy of grading on open response test questions.

“Absent the funding, it will be very difficult to move forward with most of these proposals,” Tompkins said. “But the Regents and SED will continue to work to protect the integrity of the state assessments.”

The funding would have also helped SED launch a computer-based testing pilot to help them prepare its move toward online-only tests by 2015, a requirement for states participating in a program that’s building assessments based on the Common Core.

Some elements of the proposal can go forward without new funds from the state. Teachers will still be prohibited from grading their own students’ exams and districts will still be required to enforce test-day guidelines more aggressively with test monitors, but costs for those initiatives will likely paid for by local districts.

Cuomo and legislators say they expect a final budget to be submitted before the April 1 deadline and they continue to negotiate behind closed doors, but it’s unlikely that funding for erasure analysis will be restored, budget experts said. Both the State and the Assembly want to push back against Cuomo’s performance-based grants and that issue is dominating these discussions, officials said.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.