Obama’s testing plan: A real change or more of the same?

On October 24, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education released their Testing Action Plan as a response to the increasing concern of parents, teachers, and students that standardized testing is, in their words, “unnecessary,” consumes “too much instructional time” and creates “undue stress for educators and students.” On first reading, Obama and Duncan seem to be saying that they want to decrease both the amount to time spent on testing and the high-stakes nature of tests in evaluating students, teachers, and schools. However, a closer reading suggests that they are only calling for the federal government to provide “clear assistance…for how to thoughtfully approach testing and assessment,” that is, more federal control. So, the actual goal is more of the same, implemented more carefully so as to blunt resistance.

The rest of the action plan’s goals are worded to suggest more than they deliver. For example, they assert that “no standardized test should be given solely for educator evaluation,” which makes it acceptable, as in New York, to use the Common Core exam to count as 50% of teachers’ evaluations and to determine whether a school is failing and should be placed in receivership.

It seems that the federal Testing Action Plan, like Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force, is not meant to respond to the concerns of parents that led to 220,000 students opting out of the Common Core exams in April 2015 but, rather, to convince the media that they are going to fine tune it to make it more palatable to the public. However, what is needed is not fine-tuning but a decrease in standardized testing. The Council of the Great City Schools reported earlier this month that students in their 66 membership districts take, from pre-K to grade 12, an average of 112 standardized tests, most of which are required under NCLB and Race to the Top.

In sum, the Obama administration, outgoing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and incoming secretary John King — who single-handedly made high-stakes testing the single most important educational issue in New York — want to do more of the same, only sell it better.


The Department of Education press release:



Response by the NYS Allies for Public Education



A smart and snarky response from Peter Green, a teacher



Anthony Cody (co-founder of the Network for Public Education): Obama (Again) blasts all the tests his administration has sponsored



Council of the Great City Schools



East First Day Celebrated on Social Media

There was great energy around the first day of East. Teachers, school leaders, scholars, and others in the East community took to Twitter to share the excitement.

Some love from our friends in the media:

Last Thursday, East educators went out into the community to connect with students and families.

Critical Literacy and Social Action

larsonOne of the classes I enjoy teaching the most is Literacy Learning as Social Practice. A key reason is the final assignment. Students do a critical literacy project where they identify a social issue or problem they are interested in investigating, research that problem, and then develop a social action that addresses that problem. For critical literacy, the action taken is a crucial step. Finally, they connect what they do to practice. Students experience this process as learners so they can think deeply about how they can take these practices to their own classroom.

Several years ago, we developed a website to show all our projects (https://sites.google.com/site/schoolsnotfactories/home). The idea was to construct a space where like-minded teachers can go to find ideas about literacy activities that have authentic audiences and purposes. The projects are incredible. Students have examined graffiti, the needs of refugees, poverty, inequitable access to higher education, among many other projects. Each time the course is offered, the site is updated. Join us in changing the world!

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Meuwissen Testifies on edTPA: Research and Implementation

Testimony by Kevin W. Meuwissen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching and Curriculum, Warner School of Education, University of Rochester

Rochester, New York

New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Higher Education and Education; Joint Hearing on New Statewide Teacher and School Building Leader Certification Requirements

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hamilton Hearing Room, Legislative Office Building

Albany, New York

We at the Warner School of Education acknowledge the importance of teacher education and certification to high-quality K-12 teaching. And we agree with Darling-Hammond’s claim in her 2010 Center for American Progress report that performance assessments like edTPA surpass paper-pencil certification exams as measures of contextualized, enacted teaching practice, and as tools for delineating the complexities of teaching. However, we also find that New York’s implementation of edTPA, up to the present, does not realize the potential benefits of a movement toward more authentic assessment and evaluation. While we support the Regents’ decision to provide teaching candidates who fail edTPA this year with an alternative pathway to certification until 2015, more extensive piloting and support is necessary to reduce problems with edTPA implementation and provide schools of education and their teaching candidates with valuable benchmarks to better prepare for the assessment. Even under this proposed timeframe, New York’s edTPA implementation schedule remains uniquely short in comparison to schedules in some other states.

Four questions frame this testimony. First, what does scholarship tell us about the use of performance assessments for teacher certification? Second, how does New York State’s implementation of edTPA align with what we know from that scholarship? Third, what are the consequences of New York’s edTPA implementation for candidates and teacher educators? And fourth, what policy recommendations are warranted in light of the responses to these questions? 

What does scholarship tell us about the use of performance assessments of teaching for certification?

On the first question, evidence pertaining to outcomes of performance-based certification assessments is scant because such assessments are relatively new. Much of that evidence comes from research on a program that served as a model for
: the Performance Assessment for California Teachers (PACT). Darling-Hammond, Newton, and Wei explain that performance assessments like the PACT hold promise as predictors of teaching effectiveness and opportunities for candidates to develop their planning, instruction, assessment, and reflective practices. For example, Bunch and colleagues studied eight elementary teaching candidates’ experiences with the PACT and found that completing the assessment helped cultivate a focus on the challenges of teaching linguistically diverse learners in multicultural contexts. Yet research bears out dilemmas of PACT implementation as well. Okhremtchouk and others determined that most teachers and administrators in their candidates’ internship schools were unfamiliar with the PACT, its aims, and its requirements; and further, constraints in some schools significantly impeded candidates’ capacities and efforts to complete the assessment.

Research by Lit and Lotan, Peck and McDonald, and Peck, Gallucci, and Sloan explores the effects of PACT implementation on teacher education programs. Their studies suggest that performance assessment of candidates can encourage collaborative, longitudinal program review via analyses of benchmark evidence – specifically, complete candidate work samples, not just summative scores – but that such review also requires the negotiation of many complex factors. That negotiation includes: (1) discussing divergent perspectives on the assessment, its purposes, and its consequences; (2) maintaining important local values and priorities, like teacher research and community involvement, while meeting external certification demands; (3) interpreting the assessment’s language; (4) deciding how, if at all, to integrate the assessment across the program or into coursework; (5) developing tools and strategies for focusing candidates on continuous professional growth despite the summative nature and technological complexity of the assessment; and (6) including numerous faculty members and other institutional stakeholders in those activities. 

How does New York State’s implementation of edTPA align with what we know from that scholarship? 

There are clear implications of these studies for enacting edTPA. A performance assessment for certification can benefit teaching candidates and teacher educators under two conditions: (1) there must be time for teacher education programs, internship schools, and candidates to work systematically and collaboratively to plan for implementation and address procedural and technical challenges thereof; and (2) comprehensive benchmarks and transparent evaluation criteria must be available to teacher educators as tools for analysis and decision making within their programs. Unfortunately, New York’s implementation of edTPA has met neither condition. As Cochran-Smith, Piazza, and Power indicate, New York’s teacher educators have sparse access to stratified edTPA benchmarks for their own research and development, even currently. And the subcontracting of evaluation to a corporate entity likely will limit teacher educators’ access to edTPA portfolio materials moving forward.

Also questionable is the State Education Department’s decision to set the edTPA’s cut score at 41 for secondary certification candidates after two years of piloting and field testing. By contrast, the State of Washington set its passing standard at 35 after five years of piloting and field testing. Commissioner King has not explained how New York’s cut score was determined, though he has indicated that he expects a higher rate of failure on certification exams than in the past because of it. This fusion of opaqueness and rapid implementation leaves many teacher educators deeply skeptical that the State Education Department and Board of Regents have an interest in providing opportunities and resources to strengthen their programs via the assessment. That alternative credentialing programs like Teach For America are held to looser standards corroborates this skepticism. It is worth noting that 15 states are in some degree of edTPA development and implementation. Of those states, New York is the only one with a timeline of fewer than five years from introduction to consequential use.

What are the consequences of New York’s edTPA implementation for teaching candidates and teacher educators?

The following examples demonstrate how edTPA’s hasty implementation negatively impacted candidates and teacher educators at the Warner School of Education this year. Before April 2014, edTPA guidelines prohibited teacher educators and candidates’ peers from “suggesting changes to be made in an edTPA draft” and “offering formal feedback” on video clips that might be selected for submission. In our program, candidates generally complete edTPA via innovative instructional units they design for and enact within their clinical field experiences. This places teacher educators and candidates in the tenuous position of formatively analyzing and discussing instructional artifacts, including video, as part of their course experiences, yet also trying to adhere to the edTPA’s support restrictions. Earlier this month, the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) released substantially revised guidelines that better enable authentic feedback on teaching products that candidates also might select for edTPA. While this is a commendable modification, it is one that should happen during piloting and benchmarking, not in the first year of consequential use.

Another dilemma stems from some K-12 schools’ requirement that candidates use EngageNY modules, which are intended to align with state Common Core tests but are still in development, during their student teaching placements. One elementary candidate remarked:

These modules are very teacher-centered, with a lot of whole-class instruction. And to think that the political details of the War of 1812 are meaningful and developmentally appropriate to second graders is ridiculous. So edTPA is mandated by the state. But if I want to do well on it, and teach in ways that I know are beneficial for my kids, I have to find ways to teach outside of the EngageNY modules, which also come from the state.

In a similar vein, a secondary English language arts candidate indicated:

I’m teaching a creative writing unit, which limits what I can submit for edTPA. The rubrics prioritize Common Core standards, like comprehending and constructing meaning from complex text features, which means that if I try to submit lessons and video about teaching kids to peer edit, for example, they’re not going to fit the rubric criteria very well.

These candidates’ comments succinctly and effectively illustrate edTPA’s entanglement with other state policy levers that also have been rushed to implementation. We must take into consideration that edTPA was executed concurrently with two other new certification exams, alongside K-12 curriculum mandates and high-stakes tests that have altered the landscapes of placement schools dramatically. Keeping in mind that a stated goal of edTPA is to strengthen teaching across the state, it also is important to imagine the unintended consequences of its implementation on young people considering a teaching career. Their numbers have declined in recent years, and we can only expect that situation to worsen if edTPA is perceived to be an unfair assessment for which it is difficult to prepare.

What policy recommendations are warranted in light of the responses to these questions? 

Donald Campbell coined an aphorism that the more far-reaching an evaluation tool is for decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures, and the more apt it will be to distort the processes it is intended to monitor. New York State’s enactment of edTPA thus far has corrupted the purposes and conceivable benefits of performance assessment for state certification. The Regents’ safety net policy, adopted on April 29, is a positive step, but likely will not eliminate the challenges identified in this testimony. It may provide teacher education institutions, candidates, and K-12 schools with an opportunity to allay them, but only if those institutions have access to comprehensive, high-quality benchmarking data. We recommend that the New York State Department of Education provide those data, including completed portfolios and scoring rubrics from the current year, to institutions with certification programs and grant those institutions time to learn from them and productively manage the practical dilemmas of edTPA in their candidates’ interests.

We also recommend that the Department be held accountable for increasing the effectiveness and transparency of its policy rationales and decisions. Again, California’s PACT offers a lesson for consideration. Wei and Pecheone describe in great depth a scoring protocol that involves extensive training and calibration, double-score verification by local and external raters, and a complex auditing system, with interventions for institutions that produce unreliable results. In New York, not only is edTPA scoring conducted by the Pearson Corporation and removed from the local context completely, it is described vaguely with language like “evaluators are monitored throughout the scoring process.” Given edTPA’s implementation challenges thus far, including a frantic search for proficient raters in the midst of consequential use, skepticism among candidates and teacher educators about the integrity of the evaluation process seems justifiable. More transparent and accountable policymaking by the State Education Department could alleviate some of that skepticism. Research by Cohen and Hill suggests that when policy reforms are not accompanied by intellectual, political, and fiscal collaboration among state agencies and the professional stakeholders implementing them, those reforms tend to fail. The State Education Department and Board of Regents should take that research into consideration.

Finally, we suggest that policymakers consider a more permanent solution for candidates who have successfully completed their teacher education programs and other state certification exams, but not edTPA. A transitional certification option already exists for those who enter the field through alternative credentialing programs like Teach For America. It seems fair and reasonable that candidates prepared via accredited programs have the same opportunity to demonstrate successful practice and maintain their certification as those who are not. 

Respectfully submitted, 

Dr. Kevin W. Meuwissen

Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching and Curriculum

Warner School of Education, University of Rochester


Link to written testimony with complete references and list of other signatories


The Attack on Public Education in the US as a Cautionary Tale for New Zealand and Australia

Public education is under attack in the US and other countries around the world. I am just concluding a two-month trip to New Zealand and Australia speaking and meeting with the heads of national teachers’ unions in both countries, and speaking at four universities. This will be the first of several blogs.

The impetus for the trip began simply enough. I was invited to present a keynote speech to the primary school teachers’ and principals’ union (New Zealand Educational Institute- NZEI) conference in Wellington, New Zealand. New Zealand educators have a long proud tradition of professional independence in which curriculum and assessments are created at the local level. But with the recent election of the neoliberal National party, the government has turned to supporting charter schools, promoting the idea that teachers should be paid based on their students’ achievement, and other top-down reforms.

The union leaders were clear regarding their goals for the conference: to educate themselves about the high-stakes testing and privatization movement in other countries, remind themselves what good teaching encompasses, and organize to defend public schools and teachers. Other keynote speakers included: Martin Thrupp (University of Waikato, NZ) who recently completed a three-year study on the effect of the new standards on schools primary schools in New Zealand; Bob Lingard (University of Queensland, AU) who has studied globalization and education; David Berliner (University of Arizona) who has a new book 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools; Meg Maguire (Institute of Education, London) who has researched and written about urban schools and education policy; Barbara Comer (Queensland University of Technology, AU) who researches and writes about literacy education, social justice, teachers’ work, and practitioner education; and Margie Hohepa (University of Waikato, NZ), expert in Maori medium education.

For this and my subsequent major talks on the trip, I focused on the rise of high-stakes testing, the push to privatize public schooling through charter schools and handing over standards, curriculum development and assessment over to private corporations such as Pearson, and the shift in education decision making at the local level by school boards, administrators and teachers to unelected and unaccountable individuals and organizations at the state, national, and federal levels. I began by warning that we are in danger of losing public schools in many cities in the US noting, however, that schools will still be largely funded out of public taxes but schools and education policy will be privately controlled by individuals such as Bill Gates, corporations such as Pearson, and organizations such as Teach for America. I described the rise and misuse of standardized testing in the New York, as first students needed to pass five Regents exams to graduate from high school, then No Child Left Behind added testing requirements for grades 3-8, and finally Race to the Top added more tests plus requiring that test scores be used to evaluate individual teachers.

I closed my talk by describing the rising resistance in New York, as teachers, parents, administrators, students, and the public push back against the private takeover of the public schools. Commissioner King has met determined criticism during his “listening tour.” Teachers’ and administrators’ unions have called for a two-year moratorium on the Common Core curriculum and assessments. Perhaps thousands of students and families are planning to boycott the next round of tests. My closing comments urged the teachers and administrators to form an alliance with parents, students, and the public to resist the government’s efforts to implement high-stakes standardized testing and open more charter schools.

In my next blog I will describe some of the Ministry of Education plans in New Zealand and Australia (which was my next stop) and rising resistance from unions and universities.

My talk and those of the other NZEI keynoters are on the NZEI website at

Mine is also posted below and on youtube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW4vZGsLiL4.

How Athletics and Education are Mutually Exclusive

I love this time of year. This is the time of year where the snow begins to melt and the sun starts to shine, when it is no longer dark outside at 5pm, and when my utility bills starts to creep down to an affordable price. Additionally, last Thursday’s commencement of the Division I NCAA Basketball Tournament began what is the best four weeks to be a sports fan each year. Over the course of the next 30 days March Madness will ensue, the Major League Baseball season will start, as will the NHL playoffs, in a normal year NFL free agency would be in full swing, and my once again relevant New York Knicks will begin their journey in the NBA playoffs. While we as a nation prepare to spend countless hours in-front of the television idolizing our sports icons, we must also be aware of the effect the multi-billion dollar enterprise of American sports has on our nations youth, particularly in poor urban areas.

As Jonathan Kozol illustrates throughout his book Savage Inequalities (1991), youth growing up in poor urban areas are often told their only way to a better life is through athletics. Children are told that if they practice hard enough, they will earn a scholarship to college and shortly after be paid millions of dollars to play professionally. For any youth, specifically for one from lesser means, this dream is a difficult one to let go. Yet, the reality is that very few high school athletes get the opportunity to play in college, and even fewer move on to play professionally. Let us take basketball for example. According to the NCAA, 3.1 percent of student-athletes on their high school basketball team go on to play at any level of college; and only 1.2% of student-athletes on their college basketball team go on to play in the NBA. This means that only 0.03% (3 in 10,000) of student-athletes on their high school basketball team will go on to play in the NBA(1). Even if they make it into the NBA, most will not have sustained careers. In 1999, the average career length of an NBA player fewer than 5 years(2). Even when a student earns an athletic scholarship, it is unlikely to cover the expenses of college. In 2008, the average athletic scholarship was less than $11,000 a year(3). The truth is that a college freshman is 22 times more likely to be the recipient of an academic scholarship than he or she is to have been awarded an athletic scholarship. Despite the fact that we often tell kids that their best way to a sound education and a better life is through athletics, this is not the case for the overwhelming majority.

What is even more troubling than the message we send our youth about the possibilities of athletics, is the disconnect between athletics and education within schools. When schools face budget cuts, physical education, recess, and inter-school athletics are often times among the first programs cut(5). For example, South Carolina just proposed a 15% cut to state funds for physical education in school(6). Additionally, according to the American Heart Association, only 71 percent of elementary schools nationally have recess for students in K-5, a number that is drastically lower in urban areas (28% in the city of Rochester)(7). This is troubling not only because of the health and educational benefits youth reap from physical activity, but because of the message it sends to youth about the lack of association between school and athletics. The message that we are sending to our kids, specifically in urban areas, is that athletics and academics are mutually exclusive. Our priorities are broken. We are telling our students that athletics have no place in school, but that athletics are the only way to success. Given this contradiction, why should we expect many of our students to value education? If we are telling our urban youth the only way to a better life is through athletics, but we are not providing the opportunity for athletics at school, can we really expect them to value school?

Work Cited

1) http://www.ncaa.org/wps/portal/ncaahome?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/ncaa/NCAA/Academics+and+Athletes/Education+and+Research/Probability+of+Competing/Methodology+-+Prob+of+Competing

2) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,990035,00.html?promoid=googlep%29

3) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/sports/10scholarships.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

4) http://www.pitchengine.com/pathwaycommunications/8-facts-about-college-athletics-and-scholarships–what-every-high-school-athlete-needs-to-know/81212/

5) http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,176168,00.html

6) http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9LV731O0.htm

7) http://www.democratandchronicle.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011103120316

Looking Ahead

It’s hard to believe that the semester is quickly coming to an end, bringing to a close my final semester of classes here at Warner. With only a thesis paper standing between me and graduation I have begun to think about my future as well as my past.

I had always thought I would graduate from undergraduate school and find a job, start my career, and I would be on with my life. But just a few short months after graduation I found myself here at Warner with my head buried back in the books, continuing my education.

At this time, however, I know for certain that I will be looking for a job in the upcoming months. I have already begun searching and am very excited about the next stage in my life. I feel like I have gained so much knowledge from my six years here at the University of Rochester, and I am now ready to turn that knowledge into experience.

For a kid who started out not knowing how far he could go, I feel very proud of my accomplishments and what I have achieved thus far. I have met so many people, gained an incredible amount of social and academic capital, and feel like a more complete individual.

I do not know what the future holds for me, and I have not shut the door on returning to school to pursue my doctoral degree. But for right now I am looking forward to putting all that I have learned into practice.

Safe travels, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving everyone.