March 5, 2015

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UUP to Regents, Legislature: Investigate SED teacher prep certification process

uupdate 3-5-15

Read the UUP press release

View UUP's video of the press conference

UUP’s call for a legislative investigation into the state’s deeply flawed teacher certification process is heading to the Board of Regents, as support grows for the union’s protest against the disastrous rollout of high-stakes exams for student teachers.

“Today, UUP calls for an investigation of the State Education Department requirements that have been established for teacher education students,” UUP President Fred Kowal said during a March 5 news conference in the Legislative Office Building in Albany. “We must protect the programs that will teach, mentor and guide the next generation of learners.

“This is failure by design,” he continued. “Frankly put, New York State teacher preparation students have been set up to fail by the State Education Department and Governor Cuomo.”

Kowal was joined by a broad-based and large group of supporters – including a member of the New York State Board of Regents, Kathleen Cashin; NYSUT Executive Vice President Catalina Fortino; public and private college faculty, college students and recent graduates and parents.

Cashin, above, said that she intends to carry concerns to the full Board of Regents at its next meeting, to reinforce longstanding public criticisms of the new certification exams.

“The evaluation methods need to be valid and reliable,” said Cashin, who added that it’s wrong to silence the voice of teacher preparation faculty who are being affected by new state policies they had no say in creating.

Last spring, the Regents—in response to an outcry by NYSUT, UUP, the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, teacher preparation students, faculty and parents—passed an emergency resolution to provide partial relief to graduating seniors in teacher preparation programs in 2014 and again this year. Those students are allowed to substitute a previous exam for a new performance assessment, the educative Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA.

That emergency regulation failed to provide the protections that UUP, NYSUT and the PSC sought, and problems with the other two new exams also quickly became apparent. Since then, they have pressed SED and the Regents for a more far-reaching action on the entire teacher certification process. The unions contend that the new exams are based on unproven assumptions and that Pearson Inc. – the international educational testing corporation that administers all four teacher certification exams—has been unresponsive to constructive criticism.

Cashin will ask the Regents to consider at least temporarily removing the edTPA as a mandatory initial certification requirement and allowing teacher prep programs at public and private colleges statewide to lower the so-called “cut score” that determines a passing grade on the exams.

She will recommend that the edTPA be introduced through a pilot program—that would not require them for students already enrolled in teacher preparation programs before the tests were introduced—or that it be used as a “formative” exam for evaluating a student teacher’s skills without the high-stakes, make-or-break conditions imposed on graduating seniors in the last two years.

UUP will also reach out to the state Assembly and Senate standing committees on higher education to examine the new testing mandates, which SED botched in its rush to impose them in 2014 and this year, said UUP VP of Academics Jamie Dangler.

Joining Kowal and Cashin were NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, above, who oversees higher education policy for the union. Fortino said the governor’s Executive Budget “clearly does not support public higher education” and that the governor and the State Education Department “are shattering the dreams of future teachers.”

Two students also spoke at the press conference: Bobby Fatone, a 2014 SUNY Brockport graduate who studied to become a physical education teacher but has been unable to pass one of the certification exams because many of the questions are based on the assumption that he teaches in a traditional classroom setting; and Katherine Knapp, a student teacher at SUNY New Paltz.

Knapp said she and her fellow student teachers have found that the edTPA process has taken over their entire student teaching experience and has left little time to plan lessons or review feedback from supervising teachers and professors.

UUP member Julie Gorlewski, who serves on the UUP Task Force on Teacher Education, cited a list of problems with the new certification exams, including the exclusion of experienced practitioners from the process and Pearson’s highly questionable test scoring practices. Gorlewski, an English teacher by training, said Pearson offered her a position as a scorer of student teachers specializing in teaching mathematics, even though Gorlewski is not certified to teach math.

Private college faculty have also struggled with the new certification exams. Alexandra Miletta, an education professor at Mercy College, which has campuses in Manhattan and the Hudson Valley, said that with the new certification exams, “the degree to which we are setting up our own institutions for failure is unprecedented … the testing industry is expanding exponentially.”

Westchester County parent Tom Pinto, whose son faced the edTPA at SUNY Brockport last year, said that SED has repeatedly delivered what he considers misleading or inaccurate statements about the certification exams. SED was so late in providing the first preparation materials for the exams that neither faculty nor students knew what they faced.

“Given the evidence, it’s inconceivable that SED could claim that everything is fine with the new tests,” Pinto said.

In addition to the call for an investigation and an expanded “safety net” or grace period for 2014 and 2015 graduates facing the new exams, UUP wants experienced education professionals to have a say in content changes to the assessments and an examination of the many reported problems with their computer-based format.

The union is also asking the Legislature to reject budget proposals by the governor which would bash teacher preparation programs—including deregistration and suspension of programs based on certification exam scores of students and changes to tenure for new teachers.

UUP will continue pressing for the investigation, in meetings with lawmakers during the budget session. Although the governor has threatened not to sign a budget that does not include his punitive proposals—including those affecting teacher preparation programs, UUP is urging lawmakers not to pass a budget that contains these proposals.

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