ALBANY — State education officials expressed doubt today about whether the testing firm Pearson, which has several contracts in New York, can handle its expanding workload.
"Obviously, the public is starting to question, I think, very aggressively with us whether or not they're able to manage all of the things they've taken on," New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said of Pearson, whose subsidiary testing company NCS Pearson, Inc. has a five-year, $32 million contract to create tests for the state.
Tisch, who has criticized the testing company before, was responding to Pearson's latest misstep in test administration. On Friday, the New York City Department of Education said nearly 5,000 students were told they were ineligible for the city's Gifted & Talented programs when they actually should have made the cut. Three separate errors took place during test grading, which Pearson oversaw, department and company officials both said.
Deputy Commissioner John King, who will soon become commissioner, said that for a teacher to earn a rating of developing, effective, or highly effective, there should be some evidence of student progress on state tests.
Introducing a new option for how to change teacher evaluation, the Board of Regents voted today to allow districts and unions to increase the weight of student test scores on those evaluations to 40 percent.
According to the law passed last summer, which changed how teachers in New York State are evaluated and introduced their students' test scores as an element for consideration, state tests would count for 20 out of 100 points. Another 20 points would come from local assessments, which school districts could devise on their own. Yet the set of regulations approved in a vote this evening will allow school districts, with the approval of teachers unions, to count students' progress on state tests for 40 points of a teacher's evaluation score.
The board voted 14 to 3 to approve the regulations. Regents Betty Rosa, Roger Tilles, and the board's newest member Kathleen Cashin, voted against the proposal.
The increased emphasis on students' progress on standardized tests turned up in the final draft of regulations after Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped into the discussions last week. In a letter to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, the governor said he believed that students' scores on the annual math and reading tests should carry more weight in the evaluation of their teachers. Mayor Bloomberg agreed, saying that an earlier draft of the regulations did not place enough importance on the tests.
Yesterday, a group of 10 prominent education researchers sent the Regents a letter asking them not to place more weight on value-added scores, which measure students' progress on tests against that of similar types of students.
"All the levers are in the hands of two people... and they don't have to listen to any of us," historian of education Diane Ravitch said on Wednesday night at the first of five public forums about mayoral control sponsored by the Parent Commission on School Governance.
Ravitch and her fellow panelists, community organizer and retired educator Jitu Weusi and New York State Regent and former educator Betty Rosa, provided an overview of the history of school governance to a crowd of more than 200 parents, education activists, teachers, and others interested in the future organization of the city school system. The current school governance law, establishing mayoral control of the schools, sunsets in June 2009; the state assembly will begin holding public hearings on the issue in January.
The Parent Commission is planning monthly panels on different aspects of school governance to help answer the overarching question of what model will serve New York's children best.
Ravitch launched her overview of 200 years of changing school governance in New York with the statement, "You're in school, here's your history lesson." You can read a detailed account in her paper advising the Public Advocate's Commission on School Governance, but here are a few highlights:
In 1869 Boss Tweed took over the school system, shut down the existing Board of Education, and created a created a Department of Education run by the mayor. When Tweed was jailed in 1873, reformers returned power to an independent Board of Education, however, all members were appointed by the mayor and no school officials at any level were elected. The boroughs were consolidated in 1898 to form the City of New York, and a central board was created along with 4 boards representing the boroughs (Manhattan and the Bronx were combined). Conflict among these boards soon led the state to abolish them and create a large central school board and many small, powerless district boards. This system lasted until 1969, when, in response to the Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict, a new 7-member central board was created, with 1 elected member from each borough, plus two mayoral appointees. Due to concerns about unfair representation since borough populations varied, elections never took place and instead borough representatives were appointed by the borough presidents. Finally, in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg took over control of the schools, created the Department of Education and reorganized the school bureaucracy.
"At no time has there been so total an absence of democratic participation in control of the schools," Ravitch concluded,