NYSUT and State Board of Regents Reimagine Public Ed.

Thursday, May 23, 2024
 by Levittown United Teachers Elementary Vice President, Donna DiPalo
“Education is at a critical juncture. Our students are experiencing mental health issues, rising absenteeism, and the negatve impacts of excessive social media usage. Our educators are lacking in resources, losing crucial teaching time to focus on high-stakes testing and bearing the burden of staffing shortages. And our state needs a new generation of skilled problem-solvers to fill the jobs of today and meet the challenges of the future.”

The quote above comes from a Task Force Report entitled, More Teaching, Less Testing, published lastNovember by our state teacher’s union, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Albany as part of a NYSUT English Language Arts Committee. At the conference, our committee took a hard look not just at the NYSUT report, but also a report prepared by a Blue-Ribbon Commission created by our state Board of Regents which focused specifically on state graduation measures.

The Board of Regents’ Blue-Ribbon Commission consisted of 69 members which included 31 administrators, 8 teachers (1 welding, 2 special education, 1 theater, 2 math, 1 social studies, and 1 career and technical educator), 7 higher education professors or deans, 4 students from New York City and Long Island, 2 guidance counselors, 2 instructional coaches, 1 Board of Regents trustee and 14 members of other special organizations such as parent and business groups. The NYSUT Task Force consisted of 65 NYSUT educators, 61 teachers, 3 higher education representatives and 1 NYSUT representative.
The two major goals that came out of the Board of Regents’ Blue-Ribbon Commission are to create equity in New York State public education and to ensure that all students in New York State public schools gain the specific knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in their future endeavors. As part of the commission’s work, parent and student advisory meetings were held to discuss credit requirements, assessments, graduation rates, post-secondary career paths and post-secondary college paths. The commission’s report envisions a public school education system in our state that produces students who are critical thinkers, culturally competent, effective communicators, global citizens, and innovative problem solvers. 
4 main priority areas were identified in Board of Regents’ Blue-Ribbon Commission report: 
  • Multiple pathways leading to a high school diploma
  • Assessment flexibility
  • Understanding meaningful life-ready credentials
  • Culturally responsive curriculum, instruction, and assessment
In total, members of the Board of Regents’ commission made 59 total recommendations for changes to our state public school education system. After a vote on each recommendation by the members of the commission, 12 of the 59 recommendations were approved for inclusion in the report to the Board of Regents.
  • Replace the three diploma types with one
  • Include civic responsibility, cultural competence, financial literacy education, fine and performing arts, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics credit, and writing, including writing skills for real-world scenarios in diploma credit requirements
  •  Ensure access to career and technical endorsement with programs such as internships and work based learning
  • Move to a model that organizes credit requirements into larger categories (ex. Math and science into STEM)
  • Reduce and/or modify diploma assessment requirements to allow more options
  • Create state-developed rubrics for performance-based assessments allowed as options
  • Create more specific, tailored graduation requirements to address the unique circumstances of “certain groups” of students (non-compulsory age students, newcomers, and refugees)
  • Provide exemptions from diploma assessment requirements for students with significant cognitive disabilities and major life events and extenuating circumstances (e.g.: medical issues, death, trauma prior to exam)
  • Pursue regulatory changes to allow the discretion to confer high school degrees posthumously
  • Require all NYS teacher prep programs to provide instruction in culturally responsive-sustaining education practices and pedagogy
  • Require that professional development plans include Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education (CRSE)
  • Review and revise New York State learning standards
The final piece of the Board of Regents’ Blue-Ribbon Commission report contains a section entitled, “Portrait of a Graduate.” This section includes a description of high-level skills, knowledge areas, and competencies that reflect successful outcomes of a Pre-School to grade 12 education for school districts in New York State. 
To read the entire Board of Regents Blue-Ribbon Commission report, click the link below:
One of the main goals for reforming public education suggested by NYSUT’s More Teaching, Less Testing task force was to revise the federal testing requirements through proposed legislation entitled, the More Teaching, Less Testing Act. In addition, the NYSUT task force also suggested changes to the flawed grades 3-8 state assessment system, and reimaging high school graduation requirements.
The NYSUT Task Force, broke down specific objectives within each of their three main goals. For revising federal testing requirements:
  • Consider a return to a grade-span testing approach, or employ representative sampling as opposed to current annual testing of every student in grades 3-8 annually
  • Revise the content and structure of the exams
  • Maintain options for pencil and paper tests 
  • Revise test results and scoring practices to have more real-world, instructional use
  • Delink test results to the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) for teachers and principals
  • Allow for additional, non-test based graduation pathways such capstone projects, project based learning, performance based assessments, and dual-enrollment courses
  • Provide opportunities for experiential and skills-based programs 
For reimagining 3-8 testing: 
  • Shift away from hyper-focus on assessing the same subjects
  • Decrease frequency and stakes of exams so teachers aren’t forced to teach to the tests
  • Fix tests that are poorly designed, stressful, and developmentally inappropriate
  • Create testing schedule that provides meaningful feedback to teachers that can inform future instruction within the school year calendar
For reimagining high school graduation requirements:
  • Change from a one-size-fits-all approach to graduation because such an approach no longer works amid the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century 
  • Create multiple pathways for graduation that are not exclusively tied to test scores
  • Increase focus on innovative classrooms with examples of experiential opportunities. Provide students with skills needed for success in the 21st century work force
  • Encourage the Board of Regents to create requirements for graduation that provide a basis for real-world success. 
To read the entire NYSUT More Teaching, Less Testing Task Force report, click on the link below:
The impact on New York State public education of the Board of Regents’ Blue-Ribbon Commission report and the NYSUT Task Force report is already being felt. On our Levittown District website home page, there is a graphic called “Portrait of a Graduate” that is clearly taken from the Board of Regents’ report. Last month, a bill written with the contribution of members of NYSUT, and the New State Education Department was presented to state legislators. The bill would change the APPR law in our state to return teacher evaluations to local control and give local districts the option to decouple state tests scores from teacher evaluations as per the NYSUT Task Force recommendations. In the coming months and years, we can expect more changes to come to public education in New York State based on these reports.
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