Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A New York Teachers Letter on the Failed Leadership of John King

I am dismayed by the leadership provided by John King, Education Commissioner of the State of New York. He is deliberately creating a testing and curriculum that penalizes children - especially children with emotional illnesses and learning disabilities. I have spent my summer working with students who cannot graduate because they have not passed one of the five required Regents or RCT exams. These students have met all other local requirements and have passed the other four required Regents/RCTs - and would have passed the last remaining exam had the cut scores not been raised recently.
Certainly, it is a lofty goal to want all HS graduates in NY State to achieve superior academic performance at the A+ level. I have been teaching HS English for 30 years and each year I hope that this will be the year that each of my students achieves an A in my course. It has never happened. Until we can eliminate emotional illness, learning disabilities, poverty, and other sources of family strife, this is unrealistic.
I am dismayed by the changes made to the current HS Regents exams and the proposed Common Core Regents exams. Labeling 70% of our elementary students as failing is atrocious. BUT, preventing students from earning a HS diploma is shameful. This spring, the cut scores were raised on the Comprehensive English Regents. This shift resulted in failing grades for a number of students who would have passed the exam a year earlier. Simultaneously, the questions were more difficult and the readings were more complex than on previous exams. This shift was unannounced and therefore unfairly penalized hundreds of children and also prevented many of them from earning a diploma. In addition, the US History and Global Studies readings have also increased in difficulty. I might not object if the tests were more difficult in Social Studies content, but the tests are more difficult in reading complexity. The result is that students who have passed the English Regents or RCTs are failing the US History and/or Global Studies Regents or RCTs because they do not read well enough – not because they don’t understand Social Studies concepts. One of the first things I learned in my education courses is to determine what it is I am trying to assess and then to create a question that assess the appropriate learning. My students are weak in vocabulary and reading comprehension – yet they have all passed the Regents and/or RCTs in HS English. Why must their score on the US History exams be based on their documented disability in reading?
The newest proposed version of the English Comprehensive Regents will be given in June of 2014. John King proudly announced that this exam is modeled after the AP exam in English Language and Composition. Really? The AP test is our new benchmark for college and career readiness? The AP test is the bar for our graduation requirements? Why? I used to believe in the integrity of the Regents exams. I no longer believe that the NY State exams are valuable, worthwhile, or educationally appropriate. The new Common Core curriculum – along with the modules and activities crafted by Odell Learning (promised – but not delivered) – is not a curricular improvement. None of this is best practice. None of it relies on current research. None of it has been field tested. None of it is proven. It is all snake oil. I am ashamed to be part of this sham. Commissioner King is not only overseeing this disaster; he is proud of the fact that 70% of our students will be labeled failures.
I am no longer interested in “building a plane in mid-air.” I want to teach children. I want to expose them to fiction. I want them to be creative and engaged. I want them to fall in love with learning (preferably through literature) the way that I love learning. I, however, do not love this new way of learning (and teaching.) I do not love watching kids cry. I do not love hearing them as they call themselves stupid after failing a Regents for the third time. I will not love making the phone calls later today that inform children and parents that they have failed a Regents – again.
Susan Murphy Oneonta, NY

No comments: