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Lawmakers seek delay on teacher certification test

Teachers in Long Island classrooms, such as this

Teachers in Long Island classrooms, such as this one in a May 1, 2013 photo, are evaluated by a system using student test scores, classroom observations and factors such as contacts with parents. Credit: Heather Walsh

ALBANY -- Graduates from teaching colleges are passing a new certification test aligned to the Common Core at a lower rate than in past years, prompting a new call to delay using the higher standards for another evaluation.

So far 84 percent of the 3,884 graduates this year have passed the certification test, compared with a 98 percent passing rate in past years before the evaluation was aligned to the Common Core, according to the state Education Department.

The proposal by some state lawmakers for a two-year moratorium on the test -- known as the edTPA -- comes after the state already delayed use of Common Core tests for promotion of students and in the evaluation of current teachers.

Some legislators and those in higher education, however, say this year's graduates -- who don't yet have the protection of powerful teachers unions or angry parents calling legislators -- have unfairly been left out.

"We've taken a step to make sure the children aren't going to be adversely affected by testing and we have taken some steps on assessing teachers, but we haven't protected incoming teachers," said Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale).

In a letter to state schools Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch this week, Paulin said the test subjects prospective teachers to a double standard.

"We don't want to discourage people coming into the field. You can't train them in one direction and test them in another," Paulin, a member of the Assembly Education Committee, said in an interview.

"It makes sense," said state Sen. George Latimer (D-Port Chester). "If you have a teacher who is studying and on the verge of completing their studies, but hadn't been taught under the discipline of the Common Core, that freeze should apply to them, too."

"There are students caught in the transition," said Peter S. Brouwer, dean of the School of Education at the State University at Potsdam. "What's happening in higher education in these tests is very similar to what's happening in K-12th grade in Common Core."

Brouwer said Thursday that he's receiving reports that the numbers are lower, with just 70 percent of graduates passing the new test.

Paulin said no one knows if the graduates who failed are simply unprepared to meet the state standard or were unfairly tested. "We don't know . . . if we are losing potentially fabulous teachers," she said.

The new certification test begun this year nationwide is intended to be more challenging to quickly improve instruction and help students narrow an "achievement gap" with students in other countries.

Still, the state Education Department said New Yorkers are outperforming the national passing rate of 67 percent.

The department also has included a "safety net." It allows a graduate who fails the new test to take the old test this year. The new test won't be mandatory until June 2015. Several educators at teaching colleges had sought the delay.

"With the achievement gap in mind, it is imperative to have teachers who are adequately prepared to close those gaps from the first day," said state Deputy Education Commissioner John D'Agati in a letter to Paulin. "We've raised the bar for our teacher candidates, and we've given them the support and resources they need to clear that bar."

He said the new test is more rigorous and better evaluates a graduate's "readiness to lead an actual classroom."

With John Hildebrand

State & Region