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March 13, 2017

Regents validate UUP’s call for teacher certification changes

For three years, United University Professions has been an outspoken critic of the State Education Department’s botched, hurried rollout of new teacher certification tests and the state’s previous unwillingness to make necessary changes to the deeply flawed exams.

At long last, many of the changes UUP sought and fought for have become reality.

At its March 13 meeting, the state Board of Regents made significant changes to the state’s teacher certification process.

The Regents voted to eliminate the faulty Academic Literacy Skills Test; set up a process to review and revise the Educating All Students exam; and establish a Standards Setting panel to assess the educative Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) score requirements.

The board also decided to allow the Commissioner of Education to approve use of an alternative performance assessment when the edTPA doesn’t match well with a specific teaching specialty area; create a process to review faculty recommendations and other teaching readiness measures for students who fall within one standard deviation of the edTPA’s passing score; and making the qualifications of edTPA scorers public.

“Today’s actions by the Regents mark the first serious step we’ve seen to set right the misguided policy adopted under former Commissioner John King,” said UUP Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler, Ph.D, who led UUP’s campaign to revamp the state’s teacher certification process. “Talented future teachers are being driven out of our state because of a poorly designed and expensive system of exams. This is an important first step toward reversing that process.”

“We applaud the actions taken today by the Regents,” said UUP President Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D. “The Regents understand that significant changes were necessary, and these decisions will set in motion a series of steps needed to improve the quality and fairness of the state’s teacher certification process."

In January, the state’s edTPA Task Force—reconvened by the Regents last year—submitted a series of recommendations to the Regents to fix the state’s highly problematic certification exams. Dangler is one of three UUP representatives on the panel, which includes members from NYSUT and the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, other teacher education faculty and staff from public and private colleges, K-12 teachers, and school district superintendents. Dangler co-chairs the statewide task force with David Cantaffa, SUNY assistant provost for teacher preparation.

The flawed exams, which SED introduced in 2014, have contributed to a sharp drop-off in the number of college students who want to become teachers. Teacher education program enrollments in New York fell by 46.5 percent—more than 36,000 students—between 2009 and 2014.

“Since 2014, high-quality teacher candidates from public and private colleges have been sacrificed because of the highly flawed Pearson exams,” Dangler said. “They are leaving our state to become teachers elsewhere.”

The exams have been rife with problems, to the point where the Regents—in response to an outcry from UUP, NYSUT, PSC/CUNY, student teachers, faculty and parents—have put so-called “safety nets” in place since 2014 that allow future teachers alternatives if they fail one or more of the exams.

“Many of these tests are unfair, inaccurate assessments of a student’s ability to teach,” said Dangler.

Dangler pointed to several important changes made by the Regents, including setting up a Standards Setting panel that would decide whether to reset the edTPA passing score.

“The state rushed to set the highest edTPA passing scores in the nation without adequately field-testing the exam,” said Dangler. “That was misguided and very damaging to the teaching profession.”

Creating a review process for students who fall within one standard deviation of the required edTPA passing score is crucial, Dangler said. The review process, which would include faculty recommendations and other measures of teaching readiness, will help fix problems stemming from the use of off-site scorers hired by corporate giant Pearson, Inc.—which administers and scores the edTPA.

“One test score should not permanently block someone from becoming a teacher when they have demonstrated their capabilities through many other measures,” Dangler said. “This is especially important for the edTPA, which uses hired Pearson scorers who don’t actually observe the student teachers they are grading.”

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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