Editorial: Cuomo’s proposals take high-stakes testing too far

Governor Cuomo giving his State of the State address the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany Jan. 21. (Credit: Courtesy Flickr photo)
Governor Cuomo giving his State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany Jan. 21. (Credit: Courtesy Flickr photo)

The rushed rollout of the Common Core State Standards under Gov. Andrew Cuomo during the 2012-13 school year set off alarm bells in school hallways and living rooms across the state. All of a sudden, teachers and parents in New York were being told that well over half of the student population had failed to make the grade based on the new Common Core-aligned math and ELA state assessments. 

Educators had no time, training or quality materials that would have helped them or their students prepare for the new, more rigorous standards. At the same time, teachers were being told they would be graded as professionals based on the results of scores from these flawed — and really, still experimental — assessments.

This was a quintessential example of big government at its worst, straight from the textbooks of Political Science 101, with faraway bureaucrats executing a grand plan and showing no ability to admit mistakes or make real adjustments to address concerns that arose after its execution. The most serious concern about the scheme is the emphasis it puts on test scores — what has become known as high-stakes testing — and the negative effects this might have on teaching methods, local control over school curricula and students’ abilities to pursue electives and be enriched by the public school experience.

The political result of this rollout was a vote of no-confidence by the state teachers union against former education commissioner John King. The unions also refused to endorse the governor for re-election last year. And understandably so. Mr. Cuomo distanced himself from Common Core during election season, even saying during a debate that he “had nothing to do with Common Core” and arguing that he had been working to roll the standards back.

Now, after the election, he’s doubling down on state assessments and, somewhat ironically, using fuzzy math to do it.

Under his reform plan, Mr. Cuomo is suggesting that 50 percent of teacher assessments be based on student test scores instead of the current 20 percent. Those teachers whose students can’t make the grade should be labeled “developing” or “ineffective.” When it comes to tenure, he wants to require five consecutive years of above-standard scores. His reasoning is that even though large majorities of students are failing the new assessments, less than 1 percent of teachers are getting bad grades.

In Mr. Cuomo’s mind, teachers in wealthy Jericho are simply better at what they do than, say, a resource room teacher in poorer Wyandanch. Thus, the educators working in these low-income districts should be scrutinized and punished when their students test poorly. Of course, this flies in the face of common sense, as do many of the state education department’s convictions about testing.

Legitimate concerns have been raised that teachers in poorer school districts would be unjustly punished by the new policy.

While Mr. Cuomo has made some improvements in teacher accountability — for example, even tenured teachers must now be observed regularly — his latest reform plan has more to do with his fight with the teachers unions than with any real concern about the well-being of children.

Lawmakers should not support him.