The Test With No Right Answers:

An Assessment Governor Cuomo Should Take Before He Labels More Teachers Ineffective

By Jane Weinkrantz



            Governor Cuomo’s disappointment in the number of ineffective teachers only confirms for us what we already knew: he hates us, he hates our union and he loves the donations that come from private reformers, charters and other special interest groups dedicated to the dismantling of public education in favor of a more profitable system. In a December letter to the Board of Regents, Jim Malatras, Cuomo’s director of state operations, asked “How is the current teacher evaluation system credible when only 1 percent of teachers are rated ineffective?” (“Cuomo Signals Changes For Education Next Year” Kate Taylor, The New York Times, 12/17/14)  In case New York’s teachers missed his contempt, the Governor closed out 2014 by vetoing a bill he proposed, which would have put a two-year moratorium on using grades 3-8 Common Core test results to evaluate teachers. Realistically, this would not have had any impact on the majority of the state’s teachers, but back in June, it gave us a sense that the Governor had heard us just a little bit. After all, Cuomo acknowledged the hasty and flawed roll-out of Common Core tests saying People’s lives are being judged by this instrument, so you want the instrument in the evaluation to be correct (“Cuomo Flip Flops on Safety Net as he Criticizes City Results,” Geoff Decker , 12/17/14) However, now that’s he’s been re-elected without the support of New York’s teachers, Cuomo’s policies have so strongly taken a turn for the spiteful that he actually vetoed his own bill.

            Before the Governor and his pals on the Board of Regents ---who were quick to respond to the Malatras letter with the suggestion that state tests double in their percentage weight of teacher evaluation from 20% to 40%, a condition under which  POB 11th grade English teachers such as myself already work--- make any changes, I’d like to give Andrew Cuomo a little assessment. Here are the rules and they are much more forgiving than the testing conditions New York’s children experience: the Governor can try to look up the answers on his phone.  He is permitted to phone a friend. He can look at Merryl Tisch’s paper. He can text Arne Duncan or John King in Washington. It won’t matter.

This test has no answers. Do your best, Governor.  

  1. Sixteen year old Honoria was always an outstanding and enthusiastic math student. However, in late October of her junior year, Honoria discovered that she was pregnant. She confided her condition to her teacher, Mrs. Ineffective. Honoria continued to attend class and try her best, but lost valuable class time to first trimester nausea and sleepiness, spending much of the period in the bathroom or falling asleep at her desk. Mrs. Ineffective did all she could to help Honoria, working with her after school and permitting her to make up tests and homework long after due dates.  In late April, Honoria developed preeclampsia and was put on bed rest. By the time a tutor was assigned to Honoria, she had missed five weeks of instruction and the Algebra 2/Trigonometry Regents was right around the corner. So was the birth of her baby. Honoria had the baby ten days before the exam, which she was still required to take. Not surprisingly, she failed. What could Mrs. Ineffective have done differently to make sure Honoria passed the test? (Note that  having Mrs. Ineffective selflessly tutor Honoria after school for free while neglecting her own two young children is not the correct answer.)
  1. Bingo is an 8th grader who has lived in Florida for most of his life. His father is a religious leader and his mother was a stay-at-home mother who home-schooled Bingo. However, in February, when Bingo’s father ran off with one of his congregants, Bingo’s mother was forced to move in with her parents in New York. Now working full time for the first time in many years and barely making a living, Bingo’s mom can no longer home-school him. He is enrolled in the middle school in his grandparents’ district and must take the eighth grade science assessment. Bingo has virtually no knowledge of science, believes the earth is 6000 years old and that dinosaurs co-existed with cavemen.  Additionally, Bingo is very distraught because of his parents’ separation, leaving his friends from the home-school softball league, moving to another state and experiencing a crisis of faith because of his father’s adulterous behavior. Mr. Icantteach, Bingo’s science teacher, encourages Bingo to stay for extra help, refers him to online resources and provides him with all the course materials he taught before Bingo’s arrival. However, Bingo shows little comprehension or interest in science. Mr. Icantteach telephones Bingo’s mother to express his concern, but she does not know how to help. He seeks advice from Bingo’s guidance counselor and assistant principal, but they know less about Bingo than he does since they don’t even have a transcript from his previous school. Bingo fails the 8th grade science assessment. What could Mr. Icantteach have done to guarantee that Bingo succeeded on the test?
  1. Daphne Dolores is a 17 year old who has immigrated to New York from Syria by way of a refugee camp in Lebanon. She has not been able to attend school for some time because of the conflict in her country and Lebanon’s prohibition on educating Syrian girls. Daphne Dolores speaks very little English and has tremendous gaps in her education. However, since her chronological age makes her a senior, she is placed in as many classes required for high school graduation as possible and provided with ESL services twice a week in a group for 40 minutes. Daphne Dolores sits for four Regents exams . She has never seen a Scantron before. Daphne Dolores fails all four tests spectacularly, lowering all of her teachers’ APPR scores. Explain in 1-2 paragraphs why this is the fault of the tenure system.
  1. Tuppy is a 16 year old boy who appears to be drug-involved.  His teacher Mrs. Summersoff, does not report her suspicion right away because she does not want to be an alarmist or make false accusations of an innocent child, two things her colleagues have been reprimanded for. However, after careful observation, engaging Tuppy in conversation and conferring with the school social worker, Ms. Summersoff, is certain that Tuppy’s glazed affect and failure in Social Studies are the results of drug abuse.  She shares her concern with Tuppy’s assistant principal who thanks her and asks the security guards to keep an eye on Tuppy. The security guards confirm Mrs. Summersoff’s suspicions. The principal meets with Tuppy, asks him to empty his backpack and finds many prescription pain-killers. Tuppy is suspended, pending a Superintendent’s hearing.  Because he is over 16, the school district is not required to provide Tuppy with a tutor during his suspension. As a cost-cutting measure, they do not. A month later, Tuppy’s family, who are very grateful to Mrs. Summersoff, the security guards, the assistant principal and the principal for their efforts on Tuppy’s behalf and write them all thank-you notes for “saving our son,” sends him to rehab where he receives minimal academic instruction, but excellent addiction treatment. Tuppy remains on Mrs. Summersoff’s roster the entire time; he returns to school clean and with a new and positive outlook just in time to take and fail the U.S. History Regents. Write an argument essay in which you explain how Mrs. Summersoff failed as a teacher with Tuppy, even though he rarely attended class, was high when he did and her actions ultimately helped end his drug addiction.
  1. Roderick is a 4th grader, who, like 15.8 million other American children, lives with food-insecurity. He frequently appears lethargic, uncomfortable, sickly and unable to concentrate.  His teacher, Mr. Pensionhog, often gives Roderick money for lunch or brings in snacks. For a more long-term solution, he also refers Roderick to the school social worker who contacts Roderick’s mother to have her fill out an application for free or reduced price breakfast and lunch.  Unfortunately, Roderick’s family earns $112 per year over the income that would qualify him for reduced price meals. Mr. Pensionhog continues to pay for Roderick’s lunches. He and his colleagues also discreetly take up  collections of groceries for Roderick’s family before the December, February and Spring breaks, so that Roderick will be able to eat when school is not in session. Roderick’s schoolwork improves somewhat as a result of Mr. Pensionhog’s attention and care. However, as the school year draws to a close and Roderick realizes he will not have Mr. Pensionhog to make sure he gets enough to eat in the summer, he begins to act out in class and pay less attention.  Roderick fails all his spring assessments, possibly because he did not learn enough or possibly in an attempt to get left back and stay with Mr. Pensionhog.  Explain how an increased emphasis on grit and rigor might have improved Mr. Pensionhog’s instruction of Roderick.

Governor Cuomo, I’m sure you think five questions should be worth 20 points each, but I’m going to use a convoluted formula to determine the cut scores, so it will take me eight weeks to grade this and ultimately, you will have the sense that the score reflects not your knowledge, but my political agenda. Sound familiar? I thought so.  Good luck!

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