This morning’s Buffalo News article (December 30, 2015) touted State Education Commissioner Elia’s decision granting unbridled receivership powers to Buffalo Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash. Thanks to the Commissioner’s quick and decisive action, Superintendent Cash has been given unprecedented authority to circumvent the Teachers’ Contract and Board approval to institute any changes he deems necessary in 20 “receivership” schools. This action is being hailed by reformers as a “victory” that will benefit the students in the schools, which have been targeted “persistently struggling” and “struggling”.
As an aside, the reporter raised an issue that I wrote about two weeks ago; related to high stakes tests and receivership. On December 10th, Governor Cuomo announced the findings and final report of the Common Core Task Force. Appointed by the Governor, this group proposed a number of recommendations to address what they determined to be the flawed implementation of the State’s Common Core Learning Standards, including the Common Core aligned standardized ELA and Math exams. According to the Task Force, for numerous reasons, the validity of these tests was deemed to be equally questionable. As a result, the Task Force recommended that “the results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.” The Task Force did not suggest how this recommendation will be implemented but did offer a time frame, advising no use of the results from the tests until 2019-20. In fact the “moratorium” on the use of the test results extends from the 2012-13 school year to 2019-20.
The Board of Regents quickly accepted the recommendations and voted to suspend use of these tests as proposed by the Task Force. Historically, these high stakes tests have played a critical role in assessing accountability - that is judging the achievement of students, schools and school districts by the State Education Department. They were also the object of the grass-roots “opt-out” movement which succeeded in producing an astounding 220,000 students (about 20 percent of students statewide), who refused to take these tests this year. This movement deserves considerable credit for the pressure it exerted on the State, which contributed to the retreat from these inappropriate tests and their equally inappropriate uses.
Yet, in the face of these major developments, Commissioner Elia refuses to discuss how the Task Force recommendations regarding the tests impact decisions about the receivership schools. The Buffalo reporter re-iterated my concerns by stating that “those same tests, however, were a major factor in determining which schools were placed in receivership.” The article also noted that the Commissioner has been “dismissive” of this issue. The Task Force recommendation declared that students should be held harmless from the results of these tests. However, this apparently doesn’t apply to urban students. These students continue to be judged, evaluated and labeled by the results of invalid measures. There has been no change in the approach of the State Education Department with respect to the “receivership schools”, as recommended by the Task Force and dictated by sound pedagogical reasoning. Consequently, in light of the Task Force recommendation, how can some children be held harmless as a result of their test scores and others not? This raises the question of disparate treatment.
Furthermore, when the Commissioner brushes off the issue of the impact of the Regent’s decision to accept the Task Force recommendation to make these tests “advisory”, the question must be asked of the Regents as well as the Commissioner:
How does she justify granting sweeping receivership “powers” to the Superintendent for schools which have been labeled as “struggling” and “persistently struggling”, based in great part on invalid tests?
More to come on this subject.