Fred Kowal: On The Release Of Teacher Certification Data

Dec 6, 2014

The New York state Education Department acted irresponsibly last month when it took the unlikely step of publicly releasing college-specific data on the state’s new teacher certification exams.

Why? For starters, these three new tests are a mess. SED hasn’t established that the exams accurately measure teaching effectiveness or student mastery of subject matter. Two of the tests are based on the Common Core, which wasn’t part of the high school or college curricula for 2014 graduates.

It stands to reason that if the tests are a mess, so are the results. What can you conclude from faulty figures and invalid data taken from flawed exams? It says one thing to me: the data should have never been made public.

So why did SED go public with the data? It seems the only explanation is the agenda that Education Commissioner John King continues to promote, which is to close teacher education programs and reduce the number of students pursuing teaching careers in New York. That’s the intended end result.

Even SED’s reason to publicize the data is misguided. In a Nov. 18 memo,  SED contends that it was, and I quote, “obligated” to go public with the data due to a UUP Freedom of Information request for the information.

Let me set the record straight: SED was not compelled under FOIL to make the data public. Its sole obligation is to deliver the data to the requester. To say otherwise is untrue.

UUP is all for transparency, but this data is not ready for prime time. UUP intended to study the information as part of a SED task force created by the Board of Regents in April to review and refine the edTPA student performance assessment.

It was unfair for SED to pin college-specific scores to these tests and imply that the data are conclusive. It is a wrongheaded, and in the end, a destructive depiction of the high quality of our students and our teaching programs.

Education professors who work with student teachers were handcuffed by SED’s rushed, botched implementation of the exams. The 2014 graduates who took the tests had little time to prepare for them. SED made the new tests a requirement well after they completed most of their college courses.

Plus, prep materials for two of the new exams weren’t available until December 2013, a few months before students sat for the tests. It’s unrealistic to think that education professors would be able to integrate the new training in such a short time frame.

Equally dismaying to me are the serious errors in SED’s pass rate data for the exams.

According to SED, the number of test takers significantly exceeds the number of actual students completing teacher education programs. SED can’t account for exactly who took the tests.

Other campuses have reported that SED’s data include student test results for programs that don’t exist at their schools. SED also failed to verify whether test takers completed teacher preparation programs at campuses they reported being enrolled at.

And this is the data that SED is pawning off as legitimate and conclusive.

SED’s process for tracking job placement data from teacher preparation programs is also problematic. That’s because the data only include job placements for graduates in New York public school systems.

Left out are graduates working at private schools and in dozens of teaching-related jobs, in which an education degree is valuable. Among those are graduates with jobs in special education in non-school settings, and corporations that provide testing services and education materials.

To overlook these graduates as successfully employed in their field is like saying that law graduates are only successful if they argue cases in court . Following that logic, you’d have to consider Commissioner King a failure because he’s a graduate of Yale Law School and he’s not working as an attorney.

It is disgraceful that SED would publicly issue such flawed data, all while calling for the need for a more evidence-based and data-driven assessment of students. Releasing invalid data from half-baked teaching certification exams is certainly no way to achieve that goal. 

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.  

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