Who Is In Charge

Cuomo defends using Common Core tests to judge teachers but not students

Students’ Common Core test results shouldn’t go on their permanent records, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Common Core panel recommended on Monday. But the panel did not object to allowing the scores to factor into teachers’ annual ratings — something Cuomo is passionate about making sure happens.

Susan Arbetter, the host of the “Capitol Pressroom” radio show, asked Cuomo about the tension this morning.

“If the implementation is so flawed that students have to be protected against invalid and unreliable test results, how can the same invalid and unreliable results be used against teachers?” Arbetter asked.

“No one is saying that these results are invalid and unreliable,” Cuomo responded. The issue of teacher evaluation — which he said “teachers writ large” had resisted — is “divorced from the issue of students,” Cuomo said.

He offered an unusual argument for keeping the scores off of students’ records, saying that the state’s Common Core rollout, which he said had been “really done incredibly poorly,” would put students at a “competitive disadvantage” against students from other states in college admissions.

So far, the state has issued Common Core tests only in grades three through eight. Common Core-aligned tests will be administered in some high school subjects this year, although the passing standard will not be raised for several years. State test scores play little to no role in admissions at competitive colleges and universities, which tend to focus on students’ grades, course selections, and scores on exams such as the SAT instead.

Arbetter — whose show is sponsored by the state teachers union, which has criticized the state’s Common Core and teacher evaluation implementation — also asked whether it would be unfair to compare students from districts that invested more in preparing for the transition to the new standards against cash-strapped districts that administered the new tests with less preparation.

“You could say that is an unfair comparison,” Cuomo said. But he said it is fair to use the test results to compare teachers in the same building or district because their preparation for the new standards was likely to be similar.

The state’s calculation of “growth scores” that must be used in evaluations for teachers whose students take the state tests does not compare teachers only to colleagues in their district and school. Instead, the calculation effectively compares teachers to other teachers with similar students, regardless of where in the state they work.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.