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Carol Burris: Will Governor Cuomo Actually Change Anything?

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Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and former principal at South Side High School in Rockville Center, Long Island, New York, has subjected the report of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s task force to a close reading.

 

But not the kind of close reading where you forget about context and prior knowledge. She notes that Governor Cuomo has no intention of amending or repealing the law he pushed through last June, which requires that teachers are evaluated by test scores that count for 50% of the evaluation.

 

There is the elephant in the room–the evaluation of teachers by test scores. When it comes to the damage done by APPR, the report is strangely silent. It is as though the committee never heard a complaint on how evaluating teachers by test scores increased both anxiety and test prep. The only place where it is addressed is in Recommendation 21 that states that until a new set of standards are phased in, the results of Common Core 3-8 assessments should be advisory only. Cuomo immediately seized on the ambiguity of that statement and issued the following:

 

[Cuomo statement] “The Education Transformation Act of 2015 will remain in place, and no new legislation is required to implement the recommendations of the report, including recommendations regarding the transition period for consequences for students and teachers. During the transition, the 18 percent of teachers whose performance is measured, in part, by Common Core tests will use different local measures approved by the state, similar to the measures already being used by the majority of teachers.”

 

The Education Transformation Act was the bill Cuomo pushed through the legislature to raise the percentage of test scores in teacher evaluations to 50 percent. Like a teenage boy who doesn’t get that the relationship is over, Cuomo cannot let go of his APPR, even though more researchers agree that evaluating teachers by test student scores makes no sense.

 

And more ominously, she describes the new testing corporation that New York has contracted with for the next five years.

 

Truth be told, no matter what recommendations the report made, at least half of the horse is already out of the testing barn. The new direction in assessment was set with the July approval of a $44 million contract with Questar that locks the state in for five years. If parents are looking for relief from test-driven instruction, they will not find it with Questar. You can read about the company’s philosophy of continuous assessment-driven instruction here. Below is an excerpt:

 

…after every five minutes of individualized tablet-based instruction, students would be presented with a brief series of questions that adapt to their skill level, much as computer-adaptive tests operate today. After that assessment, the next set of instructional material would be customized according to these results. If a student needs to relearn some material, the software automatically adjusts and creates a custom learning plan on the fly. The student would then be reassessed and the cycle would continue…

 

The practice of adaptive, computer-based learning, known as Competency Based Education (CBE), is a reincarnation of two other failed reforms from the last century — Outcomes Based Instruction and Mastery Learning. As the tests roll out, Questar will be marketing their CBE modules for test prep, and schools desperate to increase scores will buy them.

 

Thus far, Governor Cuomo has gotten the press he wanted: banner headlines in the New York Daily News and Long Island’s Newsday, proclaiming prematurely that Common Core is dead. No, it is not. What happens next is up to the Governor.

 

The good news is that he has an outstanding educator advising him, Jere Hochman, former superintendent in Bedford, New York. Hopefully, Hochman will help the Governor understand how to get out of the hole he dug for himself and how to take concrete steps to remove the disruption and constant churn that the State Education Department and the Governor’s interventions have imposed on schools. It is time for some stability and sanity at the helm. At the moment, teachers and students see a battle for control of the wheel, and the ship is lurching from side to side. I won’t torture the analogy any more. But I do hope that Governor Cuomo listens to Jere Hochman’s advice and takes the task force report seriously.

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