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Karen Magee: Swinging Back Towards Sanity

I normally don’t put too much stock in opinion polls.

But, let me be honest with you: I smiled broadly when I heard about the recent Quinnipiac poll on education.

By better than a 2 to 1 margin, New Yorkers say state tests are not an accurate way to measure how well students are learning. And, more than two-thirds of New Yorkers believe that teachers’ jobs shouldn’t depend on how well their students perform on a single standardized test.

Yes, indeed.

The poll makes clear the pendulum is swinging back … back in the direction of sanity in public education policy.

New Yorkers have clearly had enough with a broken system that misuses standardized tests for high-stakes decisions and values testing ahead of teaching and learning. Frankly, that’s something NYSUT – in partnership with parents – has been saying for several years.

New Yorkers also said clearly that they trust and support teachers and – by the way, teachers’ unions – by wide margins over those who have attacked teachers and wrongly blamed them for what are largely societal problems.

In another important signal that the winds of change are blowing, the Board of Regents and Gov. Andrew Cuomo both indicated this month they have heard the sharp criticisms from parents and educators about how the botched implementation of the Common Core and misuse of standardized tests are negatively impacting the classroom.

In fact, just before the Regents’ September meeting, the state education commissioner announced this spring’s standardized tests will be made shorter. That’s terrific news for our students.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is also beginning a review of the Common Core. Meanwhile, the Board of Regents unanimously adopted a resolution directing the commissioner to design a better, fairer teacher evaluation system – one that is more accurate, reliable and transparent.

For his part, the governor said he would appoint a commission to review the state’s implementation of the Common Core. And, he publicly supported making it easier for teachers to appeal evaluations that are skewed by the state’s unreliable and unstable growth model.

After a tumultuous year in public education – with protests, rallies and 220,000 students opting out of standardized tests – these latest developments are, indeed, an encouraging sign. Yet, they also raise necessary questions.

First, is this for real?

Are policymakers truly listening to parents and educators – and the public’s will – and ready to completely overhaul the state’s broken testing and evaluation system?

Have parents and educators truly been heard? Or is this all just political theater? Nobody knows the answer – yet.

Certainly, the acknowledgement – finally! -- that parents’ and teachers’ concerns are valid is fundamental to moving forward.

Without question, the Common Core implementation was rushed and flawed, and without question, state tests and evaluations must not be a ‘gotcha’ system.

We need to get back to what’s most important in public education, and that’s teaching and learning – not testing. And, teachers want a fair and meaningful evaluation system that is aimed at helping them build on their already strong skills.

So, let’s be clear: Whether this month’s comments, resolutions and commissions truly signal a breakthrough will not be determined until meaningful and necessary reforms are made.

Karen Magee, a former elementary and special education teacher in Harrison, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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