adjustment bureau

Officials reassess state tests in wake of attendance disruptions

ALBANY — As state exams near, education officials are growing increasingly anxious about the large swath of city students whose schooling has been interrupted this year by Hurricane Sandy and the ongoing school bus drivers’ strike.

Speaking to members of the Board of Regents at their monthly meeting today, Chancellor Merryl Tisch said she thought students with disabilities who have not been able to get to school should not have to take the state’s math and reading tests in April.

“I’m not comfortable asking this population to sit for state exams when they have missed chunks of the school year,” said Tisch, who pressed State Education Commissioner John King on the State Education Department’s authority to waive test requirements.

The city is mulling its options about how to use the test results of students with a high number of unavoidable absences, a spokeswoman said today.

One option for the most affected students could include not using their test scores in “high-stakes” ways. Typically, test scores determine whether a student is promoted to the next grade and factor heavily into school progress reports. Under the state’s teacher evaluation law, the scores will also play a significant role in how teachers are rated. But students and schools that were heavily affected by the year’s tumult might be spared the most severe consequences this year.

The end-of-year tests are designed to measure how much students have learned, but this school year was disrupted by two significant events. Schools citywide closed for at least five days after Hurricane Sandy last fall, and thousands of students living in hard-hit areas stayed out of school even longer.

Then, last month, bus drivers walked off the job in a labor dispute with the city, leaving 150,000 students — including 50,000 students with disabilities — without a way to get to school. Attendance rates for students who most rely on buses dropped by as much as 20 percentage points in January, and attendance in high-need special education schools is down 16 percent this month compared to the same time last year. In all, as many as 2,500 special education students haven’t gone to school since the strike started, according Advocates for Children.

City officials rescheduled most of the time missed because of Sandy for next week, which was originally slated to be a break. But a spokeswoman said today that the Department of Education could make additional changes because of the disruptions.

“We are aware of these concerns and plan to decide whether any adjustments are necessary after we have reviewed the data,” said Connie Pankratz, a department spokeswoman.

Many of the students who have missed school because of the bus strike do not have to take state tests because they have severe cognitive disabilities. Those students take the New York State Alternate Assessment, which relies on classroom observations and student work to measure learning.

Some districts have tried to stop high absenteeism from influencing teacher evaluations. Last year, King chastised Buffalo and its teachers union for trying to exclude the performance of chronically absent students from calculations of the value that teachers added to their students. Ultimately, he accepted a plan that lowered some performance goals in schools with many chronically absent students.

In New York City, a union official said a year ago that the city and union shared the belief that teachers should not be held accountable for the performance of chronically absent students. But a union spokesman said today that the role of attendance in teacher evaluations had not been resolved in the current round of negotiations.

Responding to Tisch’s questions, King said students are required under state law to take tests regardless of how much time they missed. He said he would leave it up the city to decide how to use the test scores in its decisions about about teachers, students, or schools.

“The city will have to make the accountability decision ultimately and they will need to adjust those decisions … consistent with their analysis of the situation,” King said.

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.