The State Education Department is facing increased pressure to curb its student data-sharing plans.
Last week, Republican Senator John Flanagan introduced a bill to address looming concerns around the plan's data privacy and security. He also called for the state to halt the initiative, which is scheduled to begin next month, for at least a year.
Now, a group of Democratic lawmakers, including Speaker Sheldon Silver and Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan, are raising their own red flags. Like Flanagan, they want the state to halt the plan, but they are also suggesting that they might not ever want to see it start up again.
The controversy is over an initiative funded in part by federal Race to the Top grants designed to help districts use information about an individual student's personal and academic history to create more individualized lesson plans and inform a teacher's instruction. Some data elements being collected include test scores, report card grades, information about special needs, attendance records and disciplinary records.
Nearly a year after Pearson, the testing company, took a public beating for mistakes on the exams it produced for New York State, state education officials are piling on.
Today, the State Education Department announced that the state will forgo a new high school equivalency exam made by Pearson in favor of its own exam, which the publishing company McGraw-Hill will produce.
The state announced that it would consider other vendors to create an equivalency test after Pearson partnered with the non-profit group that had previously produced the GED, which people who have not graduated from high school can take to show they are prepared for college, work, or the military. Cost was a major concern: Pearson's test will cost $120 to start, twice what the current exam costs.
"While the GED was run by a not-for-profit, the system worked fairly well. But a Pearson GED monopoly would put our students at the mercy of Pearson’s pricing," Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a statement today. "We can’t let price deny anyone the opportunity for success. That’s why, rather than pay Pearson twice the current cost or limit the number of students who can take the exam, the Regents approved a competitive process to develop a new assessment."
The city Department of Education delivered a plan for how it will implement new teacher and principal evaluations to the state ahead of schedule today — but without giving state officials much of the information they asked for.
According to a memo that Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent today to the state, the city plans to spend $23 million in the next six months preparing city educators for a new evaluation system. The memo is a response to State Education Commissioner John King's demand, made last month after the city and teachers union failed to agree on a new teacher evaluation system, that the city detail its implementation plans or lose state funds.
The plan that Walcott delivered today is broader than the highlights that city officials released last week. In addition to dealing just with teacher and administrator training about the observation model the city is planning to use to assess teachers in action, the memo also explains how city educators will learn about some components of evaluations that must be based on student performance. It also delineates different training programs for teachers, principals, department officials and attaches a price tag to each one.
But for the most part, the plan contains only the bare minimum of what city officials were told on Friday should be included in their implementation plan. In response to requests for guidance from the city, the state official overseeing review and approval of all evaluation plans, Julia Rafal-Baer, sent a chart to Chancellor Dennis Walcott with dozens of "key questions" whose answers do not appear in the plan the city submitted today.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mark Page, his budget director, testified in Albany today about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget, which would penalize the city again for not adopting new teacher evaluations.
ALBANY — New York City would have to cut 2,500 teaching positions over the next two years under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget plans, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told lawmakers this morning.
Appearing at a hearing about Cuomo's budget proposal, Bloomberg focused on the school aid that would be withheld because the city and teachers union have not agreed on new teacher evaluations. The city already lost out on $240 million in state aid this year as a consequence of missing a Jan. 17 deadline that was written into law and could lose another $224 million next year if Cuomo goes through with his plan to tie school aid to evaluations again.
The cost of that penalty would be severe, Bloomberg told the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, forcing cuts to city schools' spending on personnel and programming.
Bloomberg blamed the UFT, again, for the city's shortfall and also criticized the State Education Department, which is threatening to penalize the city further by withholding some resources for high-need students.
But during a fierce exchange with Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who chairs the education committee, the blame also landed briefly on Bloomberg himself.
Nolan pointed out that Bloomberg had supported the law that paved the way for the union and the city to reach a deal on evaluations last February. She recited Bloomberg's comments at the time the law was passed (“This is a win-win-win for the kids and for the adults”).
"Don't you feel some responsibility for this disaster?" she asked. "And it is a disaster."
Jeff Li, who stepped down at Teach for America to return to the classroom this year, is one of seven city educators on the state's new Teacher Advisory Council.
Among the 23 teachers from across the state that Education Commissioner John King has tapped to give him feedback about how policy is playing out in the classroom, seven work in New York City schools.
The commissioner's Teacher Advisory Council, announced today, will meet periodically to discuss the policy agenda that the state's Board of Regents is advancing. That agenda, aimed at helping more students become college ready, includes adopting more challenging standards; overhauling low-performing schools; facilitating data-driven instruction; and improving teacher preparation and evaluation.
"The teachers on the Council will give direct feedback from the frontlines of reform – the classroom," King said in a statement. "The most important thing we can do as educators is maintain focus on the students, and these extraordinary teachers will help us do just that."
The teacher council parallels ones that already exist for superintendents, school boards, and other groups, according to Dennis Tompkins, a State Education Department spokesman.
One of the city teachers on the board is Jeff Li, the former head of Teach For America's New York City office who returned to the classroom this fall.
For multiple reasons, passages similar to "The Hare and the Pineapple," which netted the state criticism last year, will not appear on this year's state tests.
Next year's state tests will be shorter, quieter, and potentially more offensive, state education officials said today.
The state math and reading tests that students in elementary and middle school take this spring — just over six months from now — will be the first that are aligned to new curriculum standards known as the Common Core. City and state officials have both warned that the tests will be tougher than what students have been used to, and in dribs and drabs they have released examples of Common Core-aligned test questions.
State officials outlined more nuts-and-bolts changes in a briefing with reporters today. They said that even though questions will more often test multiple skills, the overall length of the exams will not increase. For the youngest test-takers, students in third and fourth grade, the tests will actually decrease in duration, they said.
Last year's tests were longer than ever before, with students in all grades sitting for around six hours of testing over six days. For third-graders, last year's tests were more than twice as long as in 2011.
In another shift, the state will make it clear to schools that it's okay for students to read quietly after they turn in their tests. At some schools, students have in the past been required to stay at their seats without anything to do until the maximum testing period elapsed, an arrangement that one anti-testing activist told the New York Times left her son playing "ballgames in his head."
A chart from a 2010 analysis that compared charter schools' performance by authorizer.
When a researcher with a penchant for crunching charter school data sat down to compare New York State's charter authorizers in 2010, her impetus wasn't merely academic.
For Jonas Chartock, then the director of one of three authorizers, who requested an analysis, the data was a matter of survival.
“At the time there was a real push by some politicians to eliminate SUNY as an authorizer,” said Chartock, who headed SUNY's Charter School Institute until early 2011.
Chartock asked Macke Raymond, a Stanford researcher who had just wrapped up a broad study of New York City's charter sector, to examine her school performance data based on which office had authorized it. Her comparison showed up as an attachment to one of several hundred Department of Education emails released last week in response to a teachers union's Freedom of Information Law request.
Raymond found that students at SUNY-authorized charter schools improved at a quicker pace than students at schools authorized by the State Education Department and the city Department of Education. At schools authorized by SED, she found, students actually lost ground over time.
Even when it seemed that everyone had something to say about "The Hare and the Pineapple," the seemingly nonsensical story that appeared on New York's eighth-grade reading exam, the company that created the test remained silent.
Now, a leaked memo makes it clear that state officials sought an explanation from Pearson of why the story appeared on some exams — and that Pearson offered a vigorous defense of its test-construction choices.
"The Hare and the Pineapple” and associated items had been field tested in New York State, yielded appropriate statistics for inclusion, and it was aligned to the appropriate NYS Standard," a Pearson vice president wrote to Kenneth Slentz, the state's interim testing czar. The story was meant to test students' ability to interpret characters' traits and behavior and to "elicit supporting detail," according to the memo, which Time Magazine published today.
The memo was obtained by Andrew Rotherham, head of the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners, who said it was given to him by a state government employee. A State Education Department official confirmed the authenticity of the memo, which was signed by John Twing, a Pearson vice president who serves as the company's "chief measurement officer."
Responding to criticism about the now-famous "Hare and the Pineapple" story that appeared on last week's eighth-grade reading test, state education officials today made a promise: State tests will no longer include literary works that have been revised.
"We will use only authentic passages, passages that have been published and not edited," Kristen Huff, a senior fellow for testing, told members of the Board of Regents during their monthly meeting this morning.
If Huff's promise sounds familiar, that's because it is. Exactly a decade ago, then-State Education Commissioner Richard Mills made the same vow.
''It is important that we use literature on the tests without changes in the passages,'' Mills said at the time, according to a report in the New York Times. ''I have looked carefully at the Education Department's current practices and the concerns of the writers and have directed that these changes be made.''
Mills was reacting to an expose, engineered by an assiduous Brooklyn parent, that showed that the English Regents exam taken by high school students across the state contained oddly edited passages. The editing had stripped the texts of "virtually any reference to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, nudity, alcohol, even the mildest profanity and just about anything that might offend someone for some reason," the Times reported in 2002.
State officials have chosen the first member of a million-dollar team that will crack down on cheating.
State Education Commissioner John King today appointed Tina Sciocchetti to be the executive director of the Test Security and Educator Integrity office, a division whose creation King announced last week following a four-month audit of the state's test security policies and procedures.
The auditor, Hank Greenberg, found an array of deficiencies in the department's capacity to receive and pursue test fraud allegations and issued a series of recommendations for reforms. On Monday, Greenberg presented those recommendations to the Board of Regents and today the Regents voted to approve them, formally creating the test security office.
Sciocchetti, a lawyer, will have her work cut out for her. She will confront a department that lacks an infrastructure to handle reports from local districts or pursue its own investigations. According to Greenberg's presentation to the Regents, nearly half of the allegations received by SED between 2006 and 2011 remain unresolved. A lack of clarity about how to handle the 276 verified allegations from the same period meant that state officials pursued revoking a teacher's certification in just four cases.
Sciocchetti's new office will be responsible for resolving the open cases, setting consequences for misconduct, and establishing new guidelines for pursuing its own cases using data methods that look for suspicious test score patterns.
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."
New York City isn't alone in having its federal School Improvement Grants frozen.
State Education Commission John King announced this afternoon that he was suspending the SIG grants of all 10 districts eligible for them even though six met the deadline to negotiate new teacher evaluations. The grants total more than $100 million altogether.
Roosevelt, Poughkeepsie, Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and Rochester all submitted applications to use the funds before the Dec. 31 deadline, but there are shortcomings in all of them, King said in a statement today.
King outlined those shortcomings in letters to each district today. Rochester's SIG spending plan, for example, simply did not outline appeals procedures for teachers who receive low ratings — the policy point that derailed negotiations in New York City. Buffalo's plan outlined appeals procedures, but the state rated only five out of 13 components of the application as sufficient.
Three other districts — Schenectady, Greenburgh 11, and Yonkers — joined the city in missing the deadline entirely. Officials in Yonkers petitioned for extra time, saying that negotiators on both sides of the table were on vacation last week.