Testimony submitted to the City Council Committee on Education
The United Federation of Teachers wishes to thank Chair Mark Treyger for the opportunity to share our views on testing and alternative measures of performance. On behalf of the 200,000 members of the UFT, we support providing a variety of methods for students to demonstrate mastery of a subject, including tests. Further, we commend your committee for taking the time to review this issue, which affects the future of each student in our classrooms.
As educators, we need to assess where our students are in their knowledge and skills so we can help them to move forward and learn. Testing, including the Regents examinations, is key to that process. It is critical, however, that we keep the stakes of testing reasonable. High stakes testing distorts the learning process by overemphasizing one of its elements.
The UFT has also worked to explore and foster alternative measures for testing student mastery and we support expanding access to alternative assessment methods. There’s an equity problem when not all students are being offered the opportunity to demonstrate mastery in a way that is not a Regents exam.
PROSE — which stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence — is an Education Department-UFT contractual program that offers certain New York City schools the ability to alter some of the most basic parameters by which they function. This includes flexibilities that allow them to support their efforts to assess student performance in ways that are beyond standardized tests.
For example, when the PROSE initiative launched, a number of schools from the New York Performance Standards Consortium joined the program. Consortium schools are high schools which have received a waiver from the State Education Department allowing their students to graduate without taking the Regents, with the exception of the English test. Instead, these schools use performance-based assessment tasks. These tasks can include having students make presentations on a given subject before a panel or pursuing project-based learning, which allows students to demonstrate mastery by completing projects on their subjects, much like a doctoral thesis.
The results of the Consortium’s methods are promising. Consortium schools have a lower dropout rate than that of regular New York City public schools, according to the Consortium’s report, “Redefining Assessment.” Four- and six-year graduation rates for all categories of students are higher than for the rest of the city. Graduation rates are roughly 50 percent greater for English language learners and students with disabilities. Eighteen months after students graduate from Consortium high schools, they have an 83 percent college enrollment rate — 24 points higher than the rest of the city. The college enrollment rate for “minority males” is more than double the national average.
Harvest Collegiate High School, for example, is both a PROSE and Consortium school with performance based assessments that are more rigorous than standardized tests, according to Math Teacher John McCrann. The school’s 2018 4-year graduation rate was 11 percentage points higher than the citywide average, and its college readiness index was 21 percentage points higher than the citywide average.
Despite these encouraging trends, there are currently only 38 Consortium schools in the city. PROSE has allowed these schools to adjust their schedules and practices to support effective use of performance based assessment tasks (PBATs)—an evaluation method that allows students to do a minimum of PBATs in four subjects (ELA, SS, Math, and Science) and their performance is evaluated according to a rubric created by the Performance Standards Consortium. We need to think of ways to give more students the opportunity to benefit from these kinds of schools.
The state has also created new pathways to graduation. State regulations approved in 2015 and 2016 recognize students’ interests in the Arts, Biliteracy, Career and Technical Education, Career Development and Occupational Studies, Humanities, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics by allowing an approved pathway to meet the students’ graduation requirements. Under this model, students must take and pass four required Regents Exams or department-approved alternative assessments in English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. They must also complete a comparably rigorous pathway to meet the fifth assessment requirement for graduation. Recent data published by the State Education Department on the June graduation rate for the 2014 student cohort shows that 11,200 students across the state earned a diploma through one of these new pathways, an increase of 13 percent over the prior year.
Career and technical education — or CTE — high schools have been another notable success. CTE schools enable students to earn academic and technical credentials at the same time, opening multiple pathways to success. When they graduate, CTE students are equally prepared to pursue a four-year college degree or to immediately enter the world of work. For many students, being able to work part-time in their field while in college allows them to support themselves as they pursue a four-year degree that would have otherwise been out of their financial reach. In 2018, the graduation rate in city schools running CTE programs was 83 percent — beating New York City public schools’ all-time high graduation rate of 76 percent that year.
The current system of testing and testing alternatives is a patchwork of city and state policies, which would benefit from a thorough and comprehensive evaluation with the goal of improving equity in education. Far too few students have access to opportunities like Consortium schools and CTE. High-achieving students can use their scores in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs and SAT II tests to supersede certain Regents exams, but what about other students? To ensure equity across the state, we need to increase and access to alternative measures of student performance.
Critically, educators must be a vital part of that process. It is the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.