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March 5, 2015

UUP calls for investigation of SED teacher certification process; students tell of anxiety, difficulties with new exams

ALBANY – United University Professions, the union representing academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York, today demanded an investigation of the State Education Department’s deeply flawed new teacher certification process. The union is calling on the state Legislature and the Board of Regents to examine the new testing mandates, which SED botched in its rush to impose them in 2014 and this year.

UUP’s action comes after more than a year of attempting to work collaboratively with SED to fix a litany of problems associated with the new teacher certification requirements. Those efforts included UUP’s participation in an edTPA task force created by the Board of Regents in 2014; the task force’s review was limited and censored by former SED Commissioner John King Jr.

“The bungled rollout and implementation of these new high-stakes tests have thrown major obstacles into the path of thousands of New York students aspiring to become teachers,” UUP President Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D., said. “We need the state Legislature and the Board of Regents to investigate and uncover what went wrong. We must prevent any further harm to students hoping to become certified teachers in New York.”

“Teaching is the primary profession around which every other profession revolves,” Regent Kathleen Cashin said. “Teachers must be given a significant voice, and policies should be developed from the bottom up, not the top down.”

A recent graduate and a student teacher described their anxiety and difficulties with the new exams. Bobby Fatone, a 2014 SUNY Brockport teacher education graduate, rang up $80,000 in debt to earn his degree but has yet to earn his teaching certificate. Katherine Knapp is a student teacher at SUNY New Paltz.

“Should it be a luxury for student teachers to reach out to professors and experienced teachers for support and guidance?” asked Knapp. “Should it be a luxury to focus on upcoming lessons, rather than writing commentaries on lessons long past? Unfortunately, the guidelines of the edTPA trump every aspect of student teaching and reduce the essential components of student teaching to luxuries that we rarely have time for.”

Three of the new exams—the edTPA, the Educating All Students exam and the Academic Literacy Skills Test—were put in place in 2014. Revised versions of the Content Specialty Tests are being rolled out this academic year. Preparation guides for the exams were not made available in a timely fashion. Further, two exams—the EAS and ALST—are tied to the Common Core, even though the state-approved teaching curriculum has not reflected Common Core changes.

SED changed certification requirements for 2014 and 2015 student teachers after they enrolled; teacher educators haven’t had enough time to adjust curriculum to teach to the new tests. Many student teachers—particularly those nearing graduation—were left unprepared to take the new exams.

“The botched implementation of licensure reforms for new teachers has created havoc in its wake,” said Mercy College faculty member Alexandra Miletta. “Exams that lack requisite validity from pilot testing and analysis, with unreasonably high cut scores, have created financial hardship and low morale, and have little to do with the goals and values of improving teaching and learning."

Julie Gorlewski, a SUNY New Paltz teacher educator and UUP member, questioned SED’s decision to hire Pearson Inc.—a corporate education testing company—to administer the certification exams.

“Educators dedicate our lives to learners, not profits. My colleagues and I would never exploit the labor of learners in the pursuit of profit—and I promise that, despite our very human deficiencies, you can trust us more than a corporate entity like Pearson,” she said.

UUP, NYSUT and the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY—which served on the edTPA Task Force—have recommended that the edTPA be removed as a high-stakes testing requirement. UUP’s recommendations are to:

  • Conduct a full investigation of SED’s teacher certification requirements and faulty exam and employment data;
  • Develop a safety net for 2014 and 2015 graduates who fail the ALST and EAS due to faulty test design and invalid content;
  • Call on experienced education professionals to recommend content changes for the new exams to bring them into compliance with professional standards;
  • Address problems with Pearson’s computer-based exam formats and testing sites; faculty and student input must be condiered; and
  • Reject the governor’s 2015-16 Executive Budget proposals for teacher preparation programs.

UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 37,000 academic and professional faculty and retirees. UUP members work at 29 New York state-operated campuses, including SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and health science centers in Brooklyn, Long Island and Syracuse. It is an affiliate of NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO.


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