Adult Education

Regents extend "safety net" for new teacher certification test after union lobbying

Aspiring New York State teachers won’t have to pass a new, tougher certification test this year or next year, thanks to a Board of Regents vote on Tuesday that resulted from last-minute negotiations with the state teachers union.

The “safety net” deal means that teacher candidates in graduate schools of education will have to pass the new, video-based assessment starting in the 2015-2016 academic year. Until then, candidates who fail the assessment, called the edTPA, can get certified if they pass an easier paper-based exam, according to the new guidelines.

The delay came in response to pressure from New York State United Teachers, which represents education professors in the city and state university systems. State lawmakers also proposed legislation to force the delay if Regents did not pass one on its own.

State officials have recently revised teacher certification standards as one of many initiatives to improve teacher training. The reforms, tied to federal Race to the Top grants, came in response to widespread criticism that colleges of education were focused too much on education theory and not enough on preparing teachers for the realities of the job.

One change was the introduction of the edTPA, an exam with a focus on practical skills like classroom management that was developed by Stanford researcher Linda Darling-Hammond and now being used in dozens of states. This year was the first time candidates were required to record themselves teaching as part of the assessment process.

But the state teachers union argued that candidates had trouble getting permission to record video in schools, making it hard to collect the large volume of video evidence needed for edTPA. Another issue was that some education schools weren’t making changes to their own curriculum to prepare students for the skills that edTPA measured.

NYSUT also said that New York state has moved faster than other states to implement the new exams, and lobbied Regents to slow down their plans until candidates are better prepared.

The delay is a concession for State Education Commissioner John King, who pointed out on Tuesday that Regents had already delayed implementing edTPA by a year. He had favored a more stringent “safety net” proposal that would have still required failing teachers to pass the new assessment. King’s proposal was to allow teachers who failed edTPA to get an “initial certification” that would expire within two years.

King’s also wanted any proposal only to affect this year’s graduate students, but the union convinced him to extend it to next year’s cohort as well.

King’s acquiescence to the final proposal could also be seen as a gesture of goodwill from the commissioner, who earlier this month received a symbolic vote of no confidence by the NYSUT board. The union now has new leadership, and King said he wanted to get their relationship off on the right foot.

“We certainly want to make sure that we are listening to feedback from stakeholders,” King said. “In particular, we want to make sure that we move forward productively with our partners … at NYSUT, and they expressed a desire for us to try to modify the safety net.”

Of the 3,000 candidates who took the edTPA this year, 18 percent failed, according to the state education department. Just 2 percent failed the paper-based exam that edTPA will eventually replace.

Union officials praised the changes, which include the creation of a task force to monitor edTPA as more candidates take it to determine if further changes are needed.

“This agreement protects students in teacher education programs who followed the rules, successfully completed their teacher preparation programs and feared having their future plans derailed,” said Catalina Fortino, a NYSUT vice president.

But deans in charge of some education programs said delaying edTPA went too far. Deborah Shanley, dean of the Brooklyn College School of Education, said that of all the new certification requirements, her students had the least amount of trouble with the edTPA. Most of them, she said, were struggling to pass the Academic Literacy Skills Test, a reading and writing exam.

“The video performance assessment was one thing that I found the most comprehensive,” said Shanley.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.