Regents leader cites testing, evaluation 'quagmire' in saying she will step down
Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, one of New York's top education policymakers and an ardent supporter of the Common Core national academic standards, said Monday she will step down in March to help free the state from a "quagmire" of unpopular testing and teacher evaluation requirements.
Tisch, 60, of Manhattan, who has headed the 17-member Board of Regents for the past seven years, confirmed what colleagues had speculated about for months -- that she would not seek to retain the chancellor's job or be re-elected to the board. Her five-year term ends April 1.
"At the heart of successful reform is the ability to admit mistakes and make adjustments," Tisch said as she met first with fellow Regents in Albany to announce her planned departure and then with reporters. "Let's show the state a way out of the quagmire."
Her move came just two days after President Barack Obama and top aides announced a series of steps to reduce emphasis on standardized testing.
A Regent for nearly 20 years and a member of one of New York's most prominent philanthropic families, Tisch became best-known on Long Island in 2013 as a defender of increasingly unpopular education reforms. She and then-Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. were confronted by angry parents and teachers at a series of tumultuous public forums. At times, they were shouted down.
The state's most unpopular move, one encouraged by federal authorities, was to link student scores on challenging new tests to teachers' job evaluations. In April, more than 200,000 students statewide in grades three through eight, including more than 70,000 on the Island, were pulled out of state English and math exams by their parents -- the largest such boycott in the nation.
The grassroots revolt against testing -- or the opt-out movement, as it is known -- has built steadily since the 2012-13 school year, coinciding with the expansion of Common Core-based curriculums in New York's 700-plus school districts.
In recent months, Tisch and other state education officials attempted to quiet public unrest -- for example, by switching test-production companies and announcing that next spring's exams would be shorter.
Panel to suggest changes
Monday, after announcing her personal plans, the chancellor joined other Regents in a unanimous agreement to set up an advisory group to recommend changes in teacher evaluations and related requirements.
That panel's work is expected to be submitted to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators in December.
The governor, who has taken heat for his support of testing and teacher evaluations, described Tisch as "an extraordinary citizen."
"This is a woman who gave her time and energy to public service," Cuomo said. "She did not have to do this. It's very difficult. . . . So I thank her very much for her service."
On the Island, parents in the test-boycott movement vowed to continue encouraging others to join them as long as the state continues using student test scores to rate teachers' performance.
"I do not think that Tisch's resignation will calm parents," said Diane Venezia Livingston, a Port Washington lawyer who has removed her three children from state tests. "It's the state policy that's the problem, not the person implementing it."
Tisch's announcement spurred talk over who might replace her, with speculation focused on two veteran Regents -- Lester Young of Brooklyn, a former community school superintendent and youth-development administrator in New York City, and Roger Tilles of Great Neck, a former Long Island University board chairman and founding member of the Association for a Better Long Island.
Tilles said Monday he is not actively seeking the chancellor's post. Young, asked about the possibility, told Newsday: "You're way ahead of me."
Regents and other state officials face daunting challenges in meeting the demands of irate parents and educators while complying with federal regulations.
The U.S. Education Department's policies require New York and most other states to base teachers' job ratings, in part, on how well their students perform on standardized tests. The federal agency began imposing this requirement in 2012, in exchange for granting states waivers from other burdensome rules stipulated by the No Child Left Behind law, passed during former President George W. Bush's administration.
Federal rules, however, allow states wide latitude over how much weight to give student test scores in evaluating teachers. New York chose to require all school districts to base as much as half of evaluation results on test scores. Massachusetts, in contrast, leaves the decision on weighting up to local districts.
Whether the Obama administration's call over the weekend for new limits on testing will have a significant impact on New York State and the Island remains in doubt.
Among a dozen proposals put forth by the administration, the one that drew the most attention nationally was a recommendation that schools spend no more than 2 percent of their time on standardized testing.
As federal officials themselves noted, New York State since 2014 has limited that time to just 1 percent on state tests, with another 1 percent restriction on time devoted to standardized tests that are chosen by local districts.
Obama's top school official, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has announced he will step down in December. His designated replacement is King, the former New York State commissioner, now Duncan's deputy.
With Yancey Roy