Nov. 10, 2015

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VPA Dangler invites NYSRA to join push to revise teacher cert exams

uupdate 11-10-15

UUP continued its ever-expanding reach for allies in the effort to change the state’s flawed teacher certification process Nov. 10, as VP for Academics Jamie Dangler told members of a statewide group of reading instructors that the union needs their help.

“We are trying to advocate for change,” Dangler said during her presentation at a workshop at the statewide conference of the New York State Reading Association (NYSRA)—whose membership includes hundreds of reading and literacy educators—in Saratoga Springs. “The bottom line is you can help us. This year is critical—the safety nets expire in June of 2016.”

The best way to help, Dangler said, is to call members of the state’s Board of Regents and tell them the same stories of frustration and dashed hopes they recounted during the conference. Many NYSRA members work as reading and literacy professors in college teacher preparation programs, and they told Dangler during the workshop about promising students who could not pass the new exams or, in some cases, figure out the complicated process to register for them.

The safety nets Dangler referred to are temporary measures put in place by the Board of Regents that allow teacher preparation students to take an alternative path to certification if they fail one or more of the new certification exams. These alternatives will remain in place until June; UUP members in teacher preparation programs have pointed out that a major overhaul of the exams is needed, not more stopgap measures.

“We’re not only dealing with our students to be future teachers, but regretfully, we also have to prepare them for the teacher certification exams,” said UUP member Mary Jo Morse, an instructor in reading and literacy at SUNY Cortland’s teacher preparation program, who is also a NYRSA statewide committee chair and led the workshop where Dangler spoke.

Graduate-level faculty would like the state to change a separate but related problem for their students that also reflects the state’s interference with the expertise of practitioners. A new state law requires education graduate students to meet revised admission criteria, including a minimum 3.0 undergraduate grade point average and an across-the-board requirement that all applicants take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or an equivalent exam.

Graduate programs whose students do not meet new state-mandated pass rates on certification exams risk suspension and closure. Faculty say the new admission requirements overlook other factors that may help determine a student’s readiness for the program, and interfere with their ability to judge the qualifications of a candidate.

“What’s the validity of the GRE for teacher preparation or school leadership, relative to other measures?” UUP member Virginia Goatley, a professor at the UAlbany School of Education, asked rhetorically as she explained the frustration of dealing with the new requirements.

Dangler said the union intends to continue pressing for positive changes to the teacher preparation exams. The numbers speak for themselves on the damage that New York has done to the teaching profession with the new certification process and a culture of publicly blaming teachers whose students cannot always achieve perfection in schools plagued by poverty and underfunding. The state’s teacher preparation programs have seen a 40 percent decline in enrollment since the 2008-2009 school year, a trend that few expect to see reversed any time soon.

“We’re not going to give up,” Dangler told the group. “We’ll do whatever we can to help.”

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