Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Re-Education of Merryl Tisch
By:  Marla Kilfoyle

Merryl  Tisch is the Chancellor of the Board of Regents in New York State.  The Board of Regents “ are responsible for the general supervision of all educational activities within the State, presiding over The University and the New York State Education Department”    
Chancellor Tisch has been on the Board of Regents since 1996 and was selected to lead the Board of Regents in 2009.  She has sat on the Board of Regents for close to 20 Years.  “From 1977 to 1984 Chancellor Tisch taught first-graders at New York City’s Ramaz School and the B’nai Jeshurun School. She received a B.A. from Barnard College, an M.A. in Education from New York University, and an Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University.”     

On April 15th Chancellor Tisch agreed to debate Dr. Diane Ravitch on All in With Chris to respond to the historic, and massive, parental test refusal movement that was going in in New York.

The statements made by Chancellor Tisch during that debate were, for lack of a better word, quite perplexing.   Let’s examine a few

  Tisch  claimed

“The intent of the test is to give a snapshot of performance and allow parents to know where their children are at any given point in their educational career as compared to their peers.”

“It is natural for parents to want to know how their kids are doing. And as for the diagnostic nature of these tests and the amount of information that is gleaned from them, school districts report to us all the time that they design curriculum around the results of these tests.”

Parents want a detailed report of how their children did.  One NY parent, who has a child with disabilities, agreed to share their son’s ELA score report with me. Their child received a score of 1 on this test.  Here is what was sent to their home in mid-October (6 months AFTER he took the test) . 

 Score of a 1 says:

 “Students performing at this level are well below proficient in standards for their grade.  They demonstrate limited knowledge, skills, and practices embodied by the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts/Literacy that are considered insufficient for the expectations at this grade.”

Let’s return back to Tisch’s statements and words –

“the amount of information that is gleaned from them”

“diagnostic nature”

Here is what  the test report  statement told these parents about their child:  He is below proficient, he has limited knowledge, skills, and practices.  When the mother looked at the report she said - In what is he limited?  Where are his limits in ELA?  Are his limits in writing, reading, or comprehension?   Does our child have poor spelling or grammar?

Let’s compare the results of the NYS ELA test to one that does give great information and is diagnostic.  Their child is given an exam called the WIAT-III.  It is a clinical report of  his yearly progress.  Here is a sample of his subset breakdown for the WIAT-III in January of 2015 ( his scores are covered to protect his privacy but do show  what is reported  in terms of information) .  An important fact to note  is that the test was administered on 12/17/14 and  the results were given to the parents on 1/5/15. 

The information was given back to the parent and teacher in 19 days!  This assessment  is teacher administered and teacher scored.   It gives grade level reports in the following areas:

Listening Comprehension
Reading Comprehension
Math Problem Solving
Sentence Composition
Word Reading
Essay Composition
Pseudo-word Decoding
Numerical Operations
Oral Expression
Oral Reading Fluency
Math Fluency – Addition
Math Fluency – Subtraction
Math Fluency – Multiplication

What the parents and teacher  were able to do with the early results of this testing was to get him remediation in areas that he was appearing to struggle.  They were able to line up additional speech therapy and extra math support.   Do we see a distinct difference in a test that does have diagnostic value and one that does NOT?

Tisch’s statement that the test reports give parents and district great information to help kids and build curriculum is wrong.   If in fact Tisch thought these tests were so wonderful, why is she suggesting that the top performing districts in New York State be exempt from a teacher evaluation system that uses these same tests to evaluate their teachers? 

Let’s move on to more of  her  statements in that debate.  Tisch  further stated

“Well, I would say that the tests are really a diagnostic tool that is used to inform instruction and curriculum development throughout the state.”

“But the ability to glean information from these tests and use them in very direct ways to inform instruction and curriculum in classrooms is actually really important.”

 For the purpose of this writing 50 NYS elementary teachers were asked if they use the NYS  ELA Exam results to inform their instruction or develop curriculum.  Here is what a sampling of them said:

1.  Of course not, we don’t get the results back until after the children have left and moved onto the next grade.   All we get is a number.  We do not get a detailed report for each child or even an overall report for our class.

2.  I have never used the state test scores to inform my instruction or to develop curriculum.  All we get is a number.  How do you use just a number to help inform instruction?  Where are the kids weak?  Where are the kids strong?

3.  The only thing I have seen my school use the test scores for is to determine Academic Intervention Services.  That is only based on the number.  We do not get a detailed report back as to how the children did to even create a plan for them in AIS.

4.  We get a list of kids who were and were not proficient.  Often times that report is flawed because it will say a child is proficient but they got a 1.  We do not get a detailed report .

Tisch further states in the debate:

“New York State spends $54 billion a year on educating 3.2 million schoolchildren. For $54 billion a year I think New Yorkers deserve a snapshot of how our kids are doing, how our schools are doing, how our systems are doing.”

 NYS  taxpayers should be enraged.  NYS gave Pearson close to  $32 million  to create tests and materials for New York State Schools.    This would be the same tests in which parents do not get a detailed report such as outlined above and in which teachers  report they do not get a detailed report to help the students they have.   Tests that in fact have been failing miserably in many parts of the nation  this year.   In fact, as noted in the attached article, Pearson wins these contracts because it is cheaper not because they are better.  NYS does not want to create exams in-house because it costs more money to pay real educators the wage rate to write them.  So, instead we waste our taxpayer dollars on contracting out for a shoddy product that really doesn’t diagnose how children are doing and is not used by educators to help them.  

Tisch ends the interview with perhaps the greatest insult.  Let’s go back a bit and examine where she, and then New York Education Commissioner John King, dismissed enraged New York parents.
Tisch says in the final minutes of the debate:

“Actually, I would say to our parents that our kids have got caught in the labor dispute between the governor and the teacher’s union.”

Time for the re-education of Merryl Tisch. 

Remember all those angry parents who met you at Town Hall meetings last year?  They are NOT a labor dispute, they are parents who are angry that you still allow chaos and testing abuse in their schools.

 They are parents like Jeanette Deutermann who began this fight in 2013 and who led the largest testing boycott in the nation’s history.  She has lead this fight as a parent that became gravely concerned about how these tests were affecting her son's attitude towards school in negative ways, as she stated in her testimony before members of the New York State Senate.

They are parents like Karen Sprowal who spoke out in advocacy for student privacy. 

They are parents like Lisa Rudley who testified to the New York State Senate at 4:38:08  for the  Autism Action Network and discussed concerns she also had for student privacy, as well as concerns for students with disabilities.

They are parents like Edith Baltazar who question what is going on in her child’s school. 

They are parents who you ignored and marginalized so horrifically that they called for your resignation in May of last year  

So, to set the record straight, Chancellor Tisch, the largest test refusal movement by PARENTS in the nation is NOT a labor dispute.  It happened under your watch.  When will you be accountable to the public?  To set the record straight, the tests you claim are gleaned for amazing information, are a diagnostic tool, and are used to inform instruction in our schools and classrooms is blatant misinformation.  

Time to get educated Chancellor Tisch or


Marla Kilfoyle has been a public school teacher in New York for 28 years.  She is National Board Certified and the mother of a 12 year old boy who attends public school.  She is the General Manager of The Badass Teachers Association and is on the steering committee for New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE).  You can follower her on twitter @marla_kilfoyle 


  1. As a side note, the WIAT-III is published by Pearson Education Inc.

  2. The WIAT-III is published by Pearson Education.

  3. So pearson IS capable of writing a diagnostic test. Why are they giving us "detailed" crap?


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