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Resolution calling on the State Education Department to address problems with the redesigned NYSAA

Union Resolutions

WHEREAS, the New York State Alternate Assessments (NYSAA) are for students with disabilities that are so severe they cannot be assessed with the state’s standard assessments; and

WHEREAS, the state this year redesigned the NYSAA to align with the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS); and

WHEREAS, because of the poor implementation of CCLS, the New York State Regents adopted a task force report that offers options for other Common Core Assessments, but the report neglected to make any reference to NYSAA; and 

WHEREAS, the revised NYSAA is tied to Common Core standards at each student’s grade level rather than at the student’s instructional or functional level, and in a way that is developmentally inappropriate, unrealistic and meaningless for large numbers of the severely disabled students who take the test; and

WHEREAS, students subject to the NYSAA have disabilities that include Down syndrome, severe emotional disabilities, multiple sensory disorders and limited or no expressive or receptive language, and constitute the majority of the District 75 students in New York City as well as a portion of students in our general education schools; and

WHEREAS, one example of the developmental inappropriateness is the suggestion on the new  NYSAA to offer abridged versions of Shakespeare texts to students with severe cognitive disabilities, some of whom are still struggling to differentiate letter sounds and basic word meanings; and

WHEREAS, administration of the revised NYSAA is in addition unwieldy, with teachers in the 2013-14 year reporting that the assessments consumed up to 80 percent of class time for several months from October through early February; and

WHEREAS, as a result of the excessive testing time, the new NYSAA has become a de facto curriculum that reduces teaching to the administration of tests – from baseline to summative – with minimal time for instruction in between; and

WHEREAS, the NYSAA takes the instructional focus away from the authentic goals set in each special education student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), including goals for functional or life skills essential to the education of students with severe cognitive disabilities; and

WHEREAS, our state affiliate, NYSUT, has rightly protested these tests, noting that the new NYSAA “is not an appropriate measure for this population of students as the assessment does not reflect the instructional programs provided to students with severe cognitive disabilities;” and

WHEREAS, as soon as the NYSAA administration was complete this school year, many teachers in New York City had to immediately give a city assessment, the Formative Assessment System for Teachers (FAST), which is being administered for the new teacher evaluation system and which also takes a great deal of class time; and;

WHEREAS, training and support for teachers administering the new NYSAA has been minimal, particularly for teachers in general education schools; and

WHEREAS, because the assessment comes with no actual questions, teachers must create their own tasks, with little guidance and no flexible item banks or flexible templates to help them; and

WHEREAS, because a teacher might have students from three or four different grades in one class, many teachers have to create NYSAA frameworks for multiple grades with multiple assessments per grade, spending many hours of preparation on work that should instead be spent on authentic teaching and learning; and

WHEREAS, while the flexible questioning on the new NYSAA is appropriate for students whose learning challenges are severe and highly idiosyncratic, the combination of flexible questioning and text-complexity weighting have the potential to make these assessments inappropriate as growth model measures for use in teacher evaluation; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the United Federation of Teachers calls upon the New York State Department of Education to do the following:

  • Convene immediately a group of current special education teachers who administered the NYSAA this year to make recommendations for the state to revise the format and administration of this assessment for the 2014-15 school year;
  • Ask the state to issue explicit guidance as to how teachers should meet IEP goals while spending so much time teaching to this test;
  • Ensure that the NYSAA is revised so that it better accounts for the cognitive and functional level of students;
  • Provide thorough and high-quality training to all teachers of students who take the NYSAA in both District 75 and general education schools;
  • Ensure that the challenges of the NYSAA assessment do not unfairly penalize teachers through the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process; 
  • Remind school districts and BOCES that medical exemptions to the NYSAA under certain circumstances are permissible when documented by a physician.
Union Resolutions