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Schools get waivers amid shift away from standardized testing

credit nysut.org

Three quarters of school districts in the state have applied for waivers from the new teacher evaluation rules set out by Governor Cuomo and the legislature in March.

The news comes amidst lots of changes, including  the leadership of the state Board of Regents.

According to the State Education Department, 420 of the state’s over 700 school districts have been granted waivers. That means they can delay implementation of the controversial new teacher and principal evaluation system, which relies more heavily on standardized tests,  for another year. 106 applications for a waiver are still pending.  19 school districts were initially denied waivers but have been asked to resubmit their paperwork and may still get permission for a delay

The actions essentially roll back rules pushed by Governor Cuomo, and approved by the legislature, as part of the state budget in March.

Carl Korn, a spokesman for the teachers union, New York State United Teachers, says the timeline was “unrealistic."

“The process of designing a new evaluation system was complicated and convoluted and involved many moving parts,” said Korn, who said it’s “no surprise," that districts and their teachers unions “simply ran out of time.”

The new teacher evaluations allows districts to develop their own standardized tests, if they want to, to evaluate teachers. Korn says the state education department has not had the time in the past six months to approve those alternative tests.

Tim Kremer, with the New York State School Boards Association, says it’s a turning point in what’s become a battle between schools, teachers, parents and New York’s elected leaders over standardized testing and its effects.

“I think there was some political statement taking place here.” Kremer said. “People are saying ‘Enough of this. We keep changing the rules , then we have to go negotiate.’”

The mass granting of waivers to delay the new teacher rating system comes as political leaders, including President Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan,  are shifting away from an emphasis on standardized testing.  The President and Secretary Duncan said recently they are dialing back on testing, and they admitted that the administration helped contribute to the over-testing of students.

And the Board of Regents Chancellor , Merryl Tisch , announced this week, several months before her term is up, that she won’t be running again. Tisch lead the push toward greater emphasis on standardized testing as well as a fast track to adopt the new Common Core learning standards. At the Regents’ monthly meeting, Tisch addressed critics who said she  botched the roll out of Common core.

“Some people say it was too much at once, some even say it was implemented poorly,” Tisch said.  “I say, we disrupted stagnation, we disrupted complacency, and we tried to imbue the system with urgency.”

Governor Cuomo, who championed the new teacher evaluation system, and who has feuded publicly with teachers and their union, has also taken a step back. He created a new commission to re evaluate Common Core.

“We must fix it and we must fix it now,” Cuomo said in a recorded announcement.

Cuomo also appointed a new deputy secretary for education, a schools superintendent from Westchester who is a Common Core critic.

Korn, with the teachers’ union, says  a widespread boycott of the standardized tests last spring, where 20% of parents opted their children out of the tests, has also fueled  changes.

“The pendulum on standardized testing is clearly swinging back,” said Korn. “Back in the right direction.”

Schools can re apply for the waivers again next year, which could delay the implementation of the new ratings system for teachers as well as principals, for yet another school year.

Before that happens, though,  Governor Cuomo’s commission is due to issue it’s report in December, and the State Education Commissioner is also doing an independent review of Common Core and related issues. So it’s possible that the new rules could be reversed.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.