The Empire State Supervisors and Administrators Association (ESSAA) meets regularly through the year with the New York State Education Department Commissioner of Education, Dr. John B. King, Deputy Commissioner Ken Slentz, and other SED officials to discuss a variety of common educational topics that are of concern to the Commissioner and to our members. This month the “ESSAA Stakeholders Meeting with the Commissioner” was held on November 5th at 10:00 a.m. at the New York State Education Department offices at 89 Washington Ave., Albany, NY

Present at the meeting were: NYSED Commissioner, Dr. John B. King; Deputy Commissioner, Ken Slentz; ESSAA President, Bill Evans; RASA Vice President, Carol Conklin-Spillane; CAS Executive Vice President, Albert Voorneveld; and ESSAA Liaison to SED and the Board of Regents, Dave Wagner.

We thanked the Commissioner for the opportunity to meet with him personally and for his willingness to conduct meaningful State Education Forums around the state over the next two months to meet with parents, teachers, school administrators and other stake holder groups in order to gather additional information before proceeding further with the hurried implementation of the Regents Reform Agenda.  We encouraged the Commissioner to suspend judgment and listen to the heartfelt concerns voiced by so many citizens across the state. 

We acknowledged that the department’s recent initiative to apply for a RTTT waiver to reduce the unnecessary duplication of math testing for our 8th grade students enrolled in Algebra is a positive step in the right direction. We also indicated that the Commissioner’s recent letter outlining “Smarter Testing Options” for our English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities is also an initiative that has been positively received by school administrators. This, combined with reduced requirements for SLO pre-assessments, the consideration of grants for districts to help them reduce local standardized testing requirements and testing time, and replacing 3rd party assessments with school-wide, group, or team measures based on State assessments, where allowable, have also initially been viewed positively by our members.

 During our meeting we reiterated the common themes of expressed concern that need to be heard and addressed and made the following suggestions:

  • Put high stakes testing and the full implementation of the Common Core Learning on hold and consider a three year moratorium. No new exams should be introduced; those that have already been rolled out should be shifted to pilot status as exams themselves and the results they generate evaluated with ongoing feedback from the field.  Have educators across the state review the CC Modules before finalizing and allow ample time for teachers to receive the appropriate staff development and training critical to successful implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards.
  • Systematically phase in effective “Safety Net” measures similar to the way we migrated from Regents Competency Tests to the current Regents examinations and allow for appropriate modifications for SWD and ELLs that are thoughtfully designed and piloted.
  • Broaden reform efforts beyond testing and accountability that focus on research based practices and hold school leaders accountable for fostering a school climate that improves student engagement.
  • Stop the one-size-fits-all approach. Differentiate mandates based on current district performance/achievement. Intensify efforts where they are needed most instead of forcing compliance when it isn’t helpful (i.e. The Data Dashboard – exempt those districts that already have systems that meet the criteria). Listen to parents’ justifiable concerns related to the proposed Pearson/In-bloom collection and maintenance of sensitive student information.
  • De-escalate rising tension and anxiety over testing by putting it in perspective as one piece of the reform puzzle. Expect schools to keep moving toward developing curriculum, instruction and assessment in line with CCLS; shift emphasis while assessment is fully developed to requiring plans for program components that personalize school environments for students, encourage collaborative leadership and provide multiple opportunities for staff development and training in the Common Core.

Regarding the Common Core assessments, we specifically suggested the following:

  • further reduce the time to administer the tests, especially at the   lower elementary grade levels
  • create more transparency by releasing test questions to help parents, teachers and administrator better understand the tasks required
  • allow for comprehensive field review of the tests by public school    teachers and administrators prior to administration to eliminate    ambiguous questions
  •  eliminate embedded field test questions that frustrate students and extend the time needed for testing
  •  reexamine the inflated “College Readiness” benchmark of (1630 – R560/W540/M530) to create fairer and more attainable cut scores 

We agreed the recent decision to not participate in initial PARCC testing during the 2014-15 school was positive but at the same time restated our suggestion that PARCC testing should be  indefinitely delayed  because of the cost, conflict with the Regents testing program, time to administer and lack of appropriate technology resources.

Regarding the recently released preliminary APPR Growth and Composite scores for teachers and principals, we were assured that additional information would be published soon providing a  deeper analysis of HEDI score movement between categories by district type: Urban, Suburban, Rural, City, SES, High Need, Low Wealth, etc.  We were also assured that the disclosure of personally identifiable APPR data for teachers and principals working in smaller schools/districts that would essentially identify the teacher or principal would be disclosed on a countywide basis. 

In light of a clear lack of “buy in” from those entrusted to carry out the plan, we encouraged the Commissioner to heed the concerns of parents, teachers and administrators and suggested abandoning the hurried rush to compliance in order to take the time needed to get it right. We asked the Commissioner to re-evaluate department priorities to determine what is more important, the needs of the vendors (Pearson, In-Bloom) or the needs of students?    

We concluded the meeting by reiterating  our belief that school leaders should be held accountable for the outcome of implementing CCLS and getting students ‘College and Career Ready’ but they need the time, training and latitude to adequately help our students achieve success.

Anthony C. Laurino 

Executive Vice President, ESSAA

President, CAS
490 Wheeler Road, Suite 280
Hauppauge, NY  11788
631-761-5451
Fax:  631-761-5454