On the Agenda

New York’s top policymakers leave open questions about testing, teacher evaluations

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Chancellor Betty Rosa, center, at a recent Board of Regents meeting.

You won’t find some of the hot-button issues facing state education policymakers on this month’s Board of Regents meeting agenda — but that doesn’t mean they won’t come up in Albany this week.

The legislature’s efforts to untie test scores from teacher evaluations have been major news for the state’s educators. Likewise, the state’s controversial testing vendor, Questar, has been making headlines with issues in New York and Tennessee. But neither matter requires immediate action from the Regents. Still, either topic could make a surprise appearance in discussion outside of the formal agenda — and they will almost certainly be talked about in the state education department’s hallways.

Here are the items that are definitely on the agenda for Monday’s meeting:

Student data privacy could bring up questions about Questar

Officials are set to discuss past data privacy breaches involving students and their draft regulations to protect students in the future. But beyond the topic of data privacy, another question lurks: Will state officials discuss their working relationship with Questar, the state’s testing vendor?

The state experienced a minor privacy breach in January and blamed Questar for the incident. Since then, schools across the state experienced a rocky roll-out of tests this year, including computer glitches. In Tennessee, which also uses Questar, the state experienced a slew of technical problems.

Social-emotional learning

State officials are releasing part of their response to national question of how to keep schools safe.

At  Monday’s meeting, officials are set to discuss guidance documents meant to help educators. foster social-emotional learning. The documents grew out of New York State Safe Schools Task Force, suggesting officials believe that helping students develop social skills beyond math and reading will make schools more safe.

The documents explain the potential benefits of focusing on social-emotional learning, including greater academic achievement and decreasing implicit bias. They also spell out what skill officials hope students will develop, including self-management skills and ethical decision-making.

Charter school and bullying

The board is also voting to renew some charter schools, which can cause tension since the Regents have not always been friendly to charter schools. State officials are also diving deeper into school climate issues, discussing an update to New York’s rules related to bullying and harassment prevention and the addition of mental health into schools’ health education curriculum.

In higher education, officials are slated to talk about regulations related to substitute teachers and how much time prospective teachers should work in classrooms. Finally, officials will have a conversation about their My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a plan to help boys and young men of color.

Not on the agenda: Teacher evaluations

Across the street from the state education department, a controversy is brewing over whether lawmakers will overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation system.

The state Assembly has already passed a bill that would prohibit any requirement that state tests are used in teacher evaluations. If approved by the governor and state Senate, the policy would mark a dramatic reversal from three years ago, when lawmakers put in place a system where as much as half of an educator’s rating could be based on test scores.

The state education department is in a strange position in this battle. Though they paused the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations for the past few years, officials had also been working on a long-term plan to revamp the state’s evaluation system. This law has the potential to short circuit some of their plans.

State officials sent a mixed statement about their stance on the Assembly’s bill, praising the lawmakers who crafted the bill while warning of “unintended consequences.” Though state education department officials and Regents don’t technically have a say in whether the bill passes, their blessing or opposition help sway the decision.


A student is in custody after Noblesville West Middle School shooting that injured another student and teacher

Police asses the scene outside Noblesville High School after a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School on May 25, 2018 (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

A male student shot and injured a teacher and another student at Noblesville West Middle School on Friday morning, police said.

Noblesville police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the shooting suspect asked to leave a class and returned armed with two handguns. The suspect, who police said appeared to be uninjured, is in custody and has not been identified by police.

The teacher, 29-year-old Jason Seaman, was in “good” condition Friday evening at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, police said. The female student, who was not identified by police, was in critical condition at Riley Hospital for Children.

News outlets were reporting that Seaman intervened to stop the shooter, but authorities said they could not confirm that on Friday afternoon.

The Noblesville Police Department has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school who responded to the incident, Jowitt said. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies also responded to the shooting.

“We do know that the situation resolved extremely quickly,” Jowitt said. “We don’t know what happened in the classroom, so I can’t make any kinds of comments about what [the resource officer’s] involvement was.”

Students were evacuated to Noblesville High School on Friday morning, where families met them.

Jowitt said an additional threat was made at the high school, but they had “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Police continue to investigate. They said they do not believe there are additional suspects. Noblesville Police spokesman Bruce Barnes could not say how the student acquired the guns, but he said search warrants have been issued.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students. Noblesville is a suburb of Indianapolis, about 20 miles north in Hamilton County. The district has about 10,500 students.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

“We’ve had these shootings around the country,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “You just never think it could happen in Noblesville, Indiana. But it did.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer praised the “heroic” efforts of school staff and students, saying they followed their training on how to react to an active shooter situation.

Barnes also hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

Watch the press conference:

A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene:

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”