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State ed officials say they are not lowering teacher standards

Karen DeWitt
WRVO News File Photo
Regents Vice Chancellor Andrew Brown, Chancellor Betty Rosa, and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

The state Board of Regents is taking steps to make it easier for teachers to become certified in New York. But the state education commissioner denies that it’s a lessening of requirements.

Prospective teachers in New York will no longer have to score as high on a qualifying test to obtain teaching certificates now that the Board of Regents has agreed to lower the passing score.

Until now, a score of 41 out of a total of 75 was required on the exam, known as the edTPA, for educative Teacher Performance Assessment. Beginning in January, the passing score will be three points lower, at 38. It will increase to a score of 40 by January 2022. If candidates score just a couple of points below the passing grade, they also can be approved to teach in some special circumstances under a safety net system.

State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia said it’s not a lowering of standards.

“If anybody is saying, ‘You’re dropping standards,’ that’s really not the case,” Elia said.

Elia said other states that have adopted the test also have reduced the passing score.

Jolene DiBrango, vice president with the teachers’ union, New York State United Teachers, said the lower score requirements are fixing problems with the tests, which were created by the Stanford University Center for Assessment, and removing “cumbersome barriers.”

“I don’t believe it’s a lowering of standards,” DiBrango said.

Elia said the tweaking of the teacher certification process is in sharp contrast to a proposal being considered by the State University of New York Board of Trustees charter schools committee. That proposal would significantly alter standards required for teachers at charter schools — in some cases requiring only 30 hours of classroom experience to be qualified to teach.

Elia, as well as Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, have sent their complaints to the SUNY committee, which is holding a public comment period on the proposed changes. She said there is “major concern across the state.”

“If you’re talking about a lowering of standards, I think you clearly need to look at that proposal,” Elia said. “And know that that’s exactly what it is.”

Under state law, both the state Department of Education and SUNY are allowed to oversee the opening and regulation of charter schools. Schools can be authorized by one entity or the other. And SUNY and the state education department do not have to have the same rules and regulations for the charter schools.

DiBrango said the SUNY proposal is a “watering down” of teacher requirements. She said there are already alternative paths in New York to certify teachers with nontraditional backgrounds. And she said the lowered teacher standards could disproportionately affect children of color and those from families dealing with poverty.

“You need multiple tools in your toolbox in order to support those children and provide a full education to them,” DiBrango said. “If you don’t have the proper training, you’re sending people into those classrooms who are simply not good enough to be in front of those kids.”

Charter schools have said they are suffering from a teacher shortage and need different rules to recruit teachers. The SUNY committee will take up the proposal on Oct. 11.

Susie Miller Carello, executive director of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, responded to Elia's remarks and took a shot at the education department’s track record.

“We welcome all substantive comments on the draft regulations,” Carello said. “Commissioner Elia’s department’s own data indicates that 100 percent of teachers in Buffalo and Rochester have a valid teaching certificate, yet 18 percent of students in Buffalo and only 8 percent of students in Rochester score at or above grade level.”

“Given that data, I wonder why the state education department is not asking itself why certification does not necessarily result in great teaching? Meanwhile, SUNY-authorized charter schools get 70 percent, 80 percent and even 90 percent of students up to grade level.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.