The Regents Folly and Long Island Schools
August 8, 2011
By Richard C. Iannuzzi
Pencils down! Standardized tests in math, science, social studies and English Language Arts for third through eighth graders; mid-terms and finals; and an exhausting battery of high school Regents exams have all finally come to a close for Long Island’s 475,000 students. Who could blame them for exhaling a huge sigh of relief?
Unfortunately, however, that relief may be short lived. Even more dizzying, high-stakes testing pressure is coming. The Board of Regents, choosing political expediency over sound education policy, recently adopted regulations – contrary to state law that formed the centerpiece of New York’s successful Race to the Top application – that allow districts to double the weight of questionable standardized tests in measuring teacher effectiveness. Instead of requiring 20 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation to be based on student growth as demonstrated by standardized tests – and a second 20 percent based on other, locally developed measures – the Regents caved to political and financial pressure.
At the 11th hour, they allowed school districts the option of using state test scores for both the first- and second- 20 percent, essentially doubling to 40 percent the weight of high-stakes tests that both Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner John King agree are seriously flawed. The Regents, over the objections of Long Island Regent Roger Tilles as well as Regents Betty Rosa and Kathleen Cashin, chose political expedience over educationally sound and carefully developed high-quality measures of student growth.
While the issues center on the process for judging teachers, the Regents’ folly will have a significantly negative impact on students. If the system for judging teacher quality is flawed, then the outcomes will also be flawed. Some of the best teachers will be ignored, but some of those most in need of support will also be overlooked. When a flawed system drives emphasis in teacher evaluation on the wrong qualities, the wrong qualities will be emphasized in the classroom. Even greater “teaching to the test” and unrelenting “test prep” will take precedence over programs and policies that actually improve student achievement, emphasize critical-thinking skills and address the achievement gap. The pressure placed on principals and teachers to “stress the test” will no doubt “stress the students’” coping abilities.
Instead of well-rounded instruction in all subjects, impromptu discussions of world events and meaningful exposure to the arts, music and foreign languages, Long Island districts especially poorer ones such as Brentwood, Central Islip and Roosevelt – will find themselves chasing higher standardized test scores. Instead of developing meaningful measures of student growth to drive instruction, improve student performance and evaluate teacher effectiveness, many districts will find economic pressures leaving them no choice but to take the easy way out—seeking a double weighting of flawed exams over an educationally sound measure of performance.
New York State United Teachers filed a lawsuit Monday to overturn portions of these harmful regulations. NYSUT, to be clear, remains fully committed to a comprehensive, objective and fair system of evaluating teachers to improve student performance, one that includes high quality measures of student growth used appropriately. Our suit is based not only on clear violations of the law, but on mounting evidence that an over reliance on high-stakes testing has, so far, had little or no positive effect on graduation rates or actual student learning.
No one disagrees that only the most capable, highly-skilled professionals should have the privilege of teaching Long Island’s students. But, creating regulations that are contrary to law and the findings of the best of the best in educational research is more than just folly: It’s reckless and harmful to students and teachers. The Regents had a legal duty to write regulations consistent with state law and a moral one to improve student learning and accurately measure teacher effectiveness. Regrettably, the Regents failed New York’s teachers and principals and, more importantly, its children.
Richard C. Iannuzzi, a resident of Smithtown, taught elementary school for 34 years in Central Islip, and is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.