New York State

John King’s Place in NYS History

I don’t know the man. Never met him, never worked for, near, around, or with him. I’m a non-parental taxpaying New Yorker who works in education.

I do, however, know some folks have really strong opinions about him. I also know he’s up to be our next Secretary of Education. The combination of these two things – strong opinions and the pending nomination – means of flurry of pieces about why he’s not fit for the job or to provide a context about who he is. My SEO game isn’t exactly all that but I want to offer this up to the void in case people are looking for how to frame his term as NYS Commissioner of Education in the big picture of history – specifically New York State’s standards and testing system for students in Grades 3 through 8. The history of our high school exit exams, known as Regents, is its own adventure.

Except for those statements which are opinions, I double-checked the content against memos found on the New York State Department of Education website, Wikipedia (sorry, Mr. Russell – my HS history teacher who hammered the importance of primary documents into my brain), and other people who have been talking tests with me since back in the day. Any inaccuracies are oversights on my part that I’m happy to fix. Please note that I’ve been editing the text periodically as I find new information or catch errors. Finally, there are several different stories one could tell when writing a timeline. Running concurrent to the one I sketched out is one tracing accountability measures (SINI, AMO, etc), creation of cutscores and equating, Regents requirements, and personnel changes. I’ll defer to others for those through lines.


The New York State Department of Education Building in Albany, NY (credits)

It all began back in 1789… and we can skip about 200 years of education in New York State to get us to Goals 2000, etc. etc. and all the things happened in the 80’s on a  national scale that served to kickoff the modern “reform” era. Yadda yadda yadda. We’re on the brink of Y2K. Richard Mills is the Commissioner of Education and has been for four years. He will be Commissioner until 2009. The primary method of communication between Mills and the field is through his representatives in the field, BOCES District Superintendents. S/CND exists as “an operational arm of [NYSED’s] Offices of Curriculum and Assessment” which supports the implementation of Regents, and thus NYSED, policy in the field.


  • NYS students start taking Math and ELA tests in 4th and 8th grade. The tests are published by CTB-McGraw Hill and replace the PEP test in Grades 3, 6, and 9 which had been around in some form since 1966. They also replaced a 5th grade Writing test that had been around for a few years.
  • These tests are aligned to standards adopted in 1996 and are clustered in grade bands (Elementary (K-4), Intermediate (5-8), and Commencement (9-12)).
  • Test scores are used by Mills to identify SURR (Schools Under Registration Review) schools and high performing schools. At this point, there is no federal directive for testing, only the NYS Commissioner’s Regulations Part 100 dictating test policy.
  • NYS tries to get an art performance-based assessment off the ground. The project would remain on the back burner but wouldn’t be forgotten. It was dusted off in 2014 and appears ready for a resurgence with the new graduation requirements.


  • Social Studies tests in 5th and 8th grade are added to the calendar. These were a part of a Goals 2000 project that in part, wanted to bring the thinking students needed for the Regents and AP exams down into the younger grades. (This is when the term DBQ arrived in NYS schools. Long live the Document-Based Question.) Teachers, including Native American History teachers had a role in designing the initial tests.

2001 to 2004:

  • NCLB is passed. Let the work begin.
    • Step 1: Break the standards down so they’re grade-level specific.
    • Step 2: Start to design new tests.
  • Mills continues to use 4th and 8th grade Math and ELA  scores to identify schools.
  • Revised Science tests are added in 4th and 8th grade. Though the Science test previously existed, this new version is heftier. Used by NYS as the third indicator for accountability under NCLB, they include a performance component, multiple choice questions, and some writing.

2005 was a flurry of activity. Field testing for 3-8 tests begins using a process that’s been around since, well, almost the beginning. For reasons that have to do with decisions around printing, NYS does stand-alone field testing. In 2005, this made sense as there were no operational 3-8 tests in which to embed the items. Stand alone field testing has been an albatross of epic proportion in the recent testing era. Finally, these tests served as a transition between the 4th/8th state accountability system and the 3-8 federal accountability system (similar to the tests of 2012).

Meanwhile, NY releases updated Math standards. They include “bands and strands”, a framework not unlike the CCLS content standards and Mathematical Practices. This work includes creating “core curriculum guidance documents” which advise districts on how to attend to the standards in their curriculum but it isn’t full on “print this out and go teach” curriculum. The names of those who did this work appear to be lost to history or escape my googling. The roll out is a small team from NYSED who presented at regional meetings and conferences.

Sample tests are released, giving the field a sense of what to expect with the new 3-8 tests. David Abrams, Assistant Commissioner from the Office for Standards, Assessment and Reporting and Jean Stevens, Assistant Commissioner from the Office of Curriculum & Instructional Support present to S/CDN on the nature of the new tests. Members take that information back to their districts.

2006: NY starts using the 3-8 tests for NCLB purposes. Just like that, thousands of children who had never taken state tests before were suddenly taking them. If “Opt Out” existed, it was highly local and not on any radars that I could find. To be sure, it wasn’t a smooth transition. Every scoring site had a story to tell. My favorite was about the sleep deprived principal who mislabeled a box and accidently sent student answer booklets to be shredded, instead of extra test booklets. The system, though, adjusted. Newspaper editors had something new to talk about that year and kicked off the trend of ranking schools by scores into high gear.

Time between the policy change of NCLB and changes to the tests? Five years.

2007: Still Mills. Still no Opt Out.

2008:  The state starts to prepare for revisions to the ELA standards as the previous work was less about a quality process and more about attending to the mandates of the new federal law. I attended one of the regional forums and tweeted my observations. This was also the time when NY created the New York State Student Information Repository System (SIRS). Those of us who lived through the creation of the Level 0, 1, 2 warehouse were likely among the first who clamored for a system that supported interoperability; a system that would manifest in the form of InBloom (RIP). The vast majority of school districts had (and still have) student management systems that were cobbled together, a node at a time. Getting those systems to work together sometimes meant exporting, converting, importing, and hoping. A staggering amount of time was spent by educators – from commandeered classroom teachers to school secretaries – on verifying that data in the warehouse were accurate. To this day, I am confident there are schools with state report cards from this period that reflect the waving of a white flag rather than accurate data.

2009: NY sets aside standards revision work to collaborate with other states. Mills, the then Governor David Paterson, and the Board of Regents made the decision Common Core was the right move for NYS. Mills retires.

2010: New York State adopts the Common Core Learning Standards. There was a comment period, there were teacher work groups, and additions to the CCSS, mostly in ELA, mostly around choice, creativity, and culture. The inclusion of culture is likely a nod to the standards under discussion in 2008 and 2009. Those literacy standards had been a joint ESL/ELA endeavor with an explicit culture strand and the nature of the culture standards in the CCLS appears to echo that strand.  David M. Steiner is now the Commissioner.  NY, under Steiner, applies and receives the Race to the Top grant.

In 2010, NYSED eliminated several tests from the testing calendar. At the elementary and intermediate level, it was Social Studies 5 and 8 tests that got the honor of fading away into history.

NYS joins the PARCC consortium as a Governing State. This is perhaps an indication that NY will switch away from homegrown tests to a national consortium. It’s also an indication of NYS long-standing desire to be in the room. I mostly assume to keep an eye on Massachusetts. People who were previously not aware of the flow of curriculum adoption in New York State (for good, bad, or indifferent) are increasingly a part of the conversation via social media.

2011: The state tests are still aligned to the sunsetting NYS standards. To support the field around the new standards, the state does something unprecedented – it uses funds from Race to the Top to pull together hundreds of educators from across NYS to provide explicit professional development in the new standards. This. Had. Never. Happened. Before. These forums, known as Network Team Institutes (NTI)  were a mixed bag. Yeah! Hundreds of NYS educators in the same room! Boo! Hundreds of adult learners in the same room! There were kinks, there were bumps, but everything shared is available to the public.

The new Commissioner King gave the opening plenary at one of the sessions. He is the state’s first African-American and first Puerto Rican education commissioner.

To help the field understand how the Common Core tests will be different, they release “Sample Tests.” Despite multiple notes and notations that the items are not what students will see, word begins to spread on social media that 3rd graders will be reading Tolstoy.

2012: NYS administers its first round of Common Core state assessments, working with a new publisher, Pearson. A combination of old standards and new, it was a transition year which meant it was field testing CCLS items for 2013 and items aligned to the older standards. This is similar to the transition year back in 2005.  This quirkiness combined with increased social media usage by parents and teachers, created the perfect storm that resulted in Pineapple-gate; a social media fury around an item that wasn’t a Common Core one, but an operational item from Pearson. NYS had historically quietly loaded technical reports around the state tests on their website without much fanfare. The climate around the 2012 tests brought them to a wider audience and expanded the conversation around test design.

It was also the year that “adapt, adopt, or ignore” became a mantra around the Common Core curriculum that NYS provided through NTI and a new website called EngageNY.  Like NTI, this was unprecedented. Never before in the history of the state had NYS offered or endorsed math or ELA curriculum that included detailed lesson plans and resources. Some districts ignored them and wrote their own. Some took pieces and parts. Some treated them like scripts. Opt Out as a concept begins to pick up steam in NYS suburbs.

2013: The Common Core tests arrive in full technicolor. The field noticed for the first time that NYSED had stopped releasing entire tests, this likely happened in part to allow for cheaper tests that re-used items and to quell the use of old state tests as test prep curriculum pre-2009. At the same time, the teacher evaluation system known as APPR kicked in.

Time between a commitment to the Common Core and the new tests? Four years.

What happened between 2013 and King stepping down as Commissioner in 2015 is skewed by recency bias. Those telling the story of that period are likely a part of the history and remember events from their  perspective. Some watch him at the forums and call him unresponsive. Others see a man keeping his emotions in check. Some of those who sat in the audience to share their opinions with him appear to see a man who “jammed reforms down NYS throat” (a popular phrase at forums) and refused to bend, despite calls to the contrary. Those who have sat on the floor with him in classrooms, report that he gets *it*. He gets how important education is, how hard teachers work, and that school can save a life. Some want to believe he ignores. Other says he listens. He reportedly used an analogy about building a plane in the air and others report he was always willing to talk one on one with teachers in schools he visited.

There are legitimate reasons for why Obama moved to appoint King now. One of them is pending higher education reform. Another is to give King time to create the conditions to ensure some initiatives, like My Brother’s Keeper, endure through the election. Insisting that King isn’t right for the job because of a particular take on events has its pros and cons. It’s difficult to say that he didn’t handle change right when he followed a time frame that had seemingly worked for his predecessors and offered more explicit support to the field than it had ever been offered before.

I offer up this history to share the flow of patterns and to hopefully set King’s tenure in the larger picture of his immediate predecessors.

There’s a lot more I could write about NYS reform  – about schools who didn’t accept a false dichotomy and made school a joyful place during the transition and continue to do so every day. About the need for something like InBloom as data management is messy and hard to get right. About the tensions around adults evaluating the quality of tests based on their gut response to them. That’s neither here nor there. I’ll leave those stories up to future fellow history and assessment nerds.

A note regarding comments: I’ve left comments open as I’ve already learned about three tests I hadn’t discovered in my noodling. I have decided to not publish comments at this time.

My utterly useless ability to remember dates and events related to data and tests – if my memory failed and I got something wrong, please let me know
The NYSED website – the Regents boards minutes and meetings are useful and interesting
EngageNY, which has really upped its game and search engine
This comprehensive timeline in a document by NYSUT (page 24)
This helpful timeline by NYS ASCD

Related posts:
The Pineapple question and item difficulty
A 4-part series on looking at 1 set of standards versus 50 sets

Gender, Uncategorized

But what if I’m wrong…


Earlier this week, I tweeted:


Timothy’s tweet caught my eye for two reasons. First, because of my recent writing on gender , I’ve been primed to look for everyday sexism. (You know that thing where you notice cars with the same make and model as your new car? Same idea.) Second, because of Yvonne Brille. When Brille died, the first line of her obituary in the New York Times was:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children.

Oh… bee tea dubs, Mrs. (her preferred title) Brille:

  • was the only female rocket scientist in the 1940’s
  • received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • invented a propulsion system that helps keep satellites in orbit
  • supported women in math and engineering until her death

Yet, try it on your favorite male scientist or inventor and see how odd it feels. One writer offered up:

It feels awkward to say “this is sexism” when sexism is a big systematic … thing. Some like to say that voting for Hillary because she’s a woman is sexist. (Spoiler: it’s not.) Which means we don’t really have a good handle on what is or isn’t sexist. So while it feels like talking about Nancy Carlsson-Paige as “Matt’s Mom” isn’t *really* sexist, it is a part of a system that defines women by their relationship to men. That mental model is what supported a claim for 100’s of years that women couldn’t own property, or that didn’t need to vote because her husband was voting anyway. In the world of school, dress codes come from that same mental model – girls can’t wear certain clothes because they’re distracting to boys. Let that sit for a bit.

So. I saw it. And I spoke up. A few days later, I noticed a tweet from Timothy in which he included Nancy’s name, instead of Matt’s Mom and I tweeted a quick “thanks.” In a direct message, Timothy shared that the reference was actually a joint idea with Nancy. That part of their podcast is to point out the irony in people asking for Matt Damon’s opinion on education when in fact, it’s his mother who is the education researcher and well-versed in public education. Timothy and I chatted a bit and apparently I wasn’t the first one to raise a flag. Nancy herself did. So did other guests on his podcast.

Is it still an example of everyday sexism? Yes – it frames a highly-qualified, talented woman by her relationship to a man, her son. Is it malicious? No. Was I wrong? I’m going to go with wrong-ish.

Then this morning, I saw this:

As a result of discussions with a variety of people, some of which got a little peevish on my end, especially when I got a hat trick of accounts with white male avatars telling me that “gender is irrelevant.”, I’m undecided if what’s happening here is the same kind of everyday sexism as in the case of Brille or Carlsson-Paige.

So, at this point, these are the claims that I’ve fleshed out:

  1. Yes, it’s sexist because it frames Ms. King’s job against Mr. King’s identity.
  2. No, it’s not sexist because if Mr. King were a Ms., it would still be a conflict for Mr. King to hold a job at a lobbying firm.

I have thoughts on both but am more curious in what others think. The funny thing for me is that in every case, the men who responded focused on the conflict of interest – staying away from the idea of sexism. Two men privately DMed me and mentioned they were hesitant to speak up about sexism in case they were wrong. That to me, speaks to a pattern. But as I shared, I keep seeing Gray Honda Crosstours everywhere I look.


Overconfident Men*


“#Mansplaining**. The Statue” Picture Source

I put down a bunch of words about gender and race over at Identity, Education, and Power and got to join and have lots of really interesting and challenging conversations. I’m hoping they continue in all sorts of spaces.

The upside of writing the piece is that I got to talk to lots of smart women about a matter of life and death we’re not used to talking about.  The downside? It primed me to see patterns. In the piece, I cited a text by Soraya Chemaly about the history of girls outperforming boys in schools that has really stuck with me. The entire text is full of great stuff. Including this quote:

What if we stopped calling it a boy crisis, and started talking about male OVERconfidence?

So while I may feel a certain envy at the confidence and hubris exhibited by a particular man or men when they talk about a topic they may not be well-versed in – that’s on me and my lizard brain and ego. It’s better to look at patterns, as it is with most things related to sociology.

Evidence for the claim 1: Code designed by women rated higher than men’s, but rejected when gender revealed

Evidence for the claim 2: The remarkably different answers men and women give when asked who’s the smartest in the class

Evidence for the claim 3: Why men get all the credit when they work with women

Evidence for the claim 4: Everything tagged “Knowledge and Intelligence” on the Sociological Images blog.

Evidence for the claim 5: The entire book Men Explain Things to Me.

Evidence for the claim 6 (added March, 2016): That this piece on ed tech was given national exposure over anything by Audrey Watters, who has been saying the same thing for YEARS.

So … now what? In my Identity post, I advocate for white female teachers to leverage the power of demographics to transform how race and gender are addressed and taught in schools.  If numbers mean power, then white women hold some degree of power in schools. I think we can bring about massive change, combining cognitive shifts at the individual level with large-scale re-framing of this thing we call “school.”

At the same time, I’m reminded of a rather disconcerting reality: American women did not get the right to vote – the all-male Congress of 1920 had to give it. The men had to progress enough in their own views of women to recognize the right to vote wasn’t gender-specific (or at least fake that awareness because it was more politically savvy.) In so many cases and spheres even today, change will require massive shifts to the mental models held by men.

How do we reconcile these things? How do we bring about change in an arena where we do not hold power or hold very little? How do we change men’s mental models when our formative years were marked by boys hearing girls should demur and defer and girls seeing teachers excuse male classmates’ behaviors under the heading of “boys will be boys”? Just as most white Americans were likely raised to *not* talk about race, I suspect most men were raised not thinking about gender in any real sense. Add in tensions around heteronormative behavior and it appears as if nothing is going to change without some serious recombobulation. And to be clear, it’s #notallmen. There is a marked difference in exchanges with men who aren’t wearing a mantle of confidence or a cape of mentorship.

So how do we help individual men see the patterns in their behaviors? What does it look like to change the system, one mindset at a time?

I honestly don’t know what an individual woman is supposed to do. I know (because I’ve been told) it’s not my job to explain to an individual man when I see the pattern – cause that’s rude and annoying. And hand upon a stack of first-edition feminist lit books, I’m all ears to any man who wants to explain it to me. But be forewarned, if your solution relies on women changing our behavior, I’ll say that’s all well and good – but tell me again how it was that women got the right to vote?



*Below is one of my most favorite pictures ever on Twitter. From the single headphone cord, to the quote, to the framing of the shot – I love it and I want to do everything in my power to get her voice heard and knock down what I can that’s between her and the freedom she’s entitled to and wants. I’m going to use this asterisk as a way to share this picture and to clarify that the pattern of over-confidence, while not limited to white men, is unique in its manifestations among white men. Sociological Images has some great tags that compile texts on how the messages about men of color are different than those sent about white men. There’s also some compelling work from those who study stereotype threat that gets at how few white male archetypes and stereotypes exist.


**Mansplaining is a flawed term, I get that. If the Germans have a better word for it, I’ll start using that word.


Doing Twitter Wrong

I’ve been blocked again. My crime was apparently “being annoying.” Which, well … yeah. I have a perma-crink in my neck from all of the navel gazing and pondering. Some people knit. I tweet.

Being blocked always makes my heart skip a beat. I view blocking as a tool to stop abuse. So when I discovered someone took the steps needed to block my account, I looked over my tweets for offensive, racist, sexist, threatening, violent words – all of those things that violate the whole “be a decent human being” code of conduct, as it were. What I see in my tweets is a severe case of last-worditis. I see repeated patterns of “yeah, but….” I don’t see my words as offensive, racist, sexist, threatening, or aggressive. My hunch is those who blocked me didn’t feel offended, hurt, or worried for their safety.

They do though, I suspect, feel annoyed by my presence in their mentions. I freely recognize that no one is obliged to engage with me, to not block me, or otherwise participate in my ponderings. But still I wonder: why block? Why not mute?

So I have to infer I’m bad at Twitter. Sometimes. I  knowingly hit “Tweet” when I know the words – in the absence of facial and verbal cues – are likely to be read in a way I did not intend them. But I’m working on it.

I no longer “@” someone who isn’t directly a part of the conversation and drag them into an exchange they may not want to be in. I also avoid tagging a third party unless I want to draw a second person’s attention to their account.

If someone in a multi-person conversation hasn’t responded within two tweets, I remove their handle from the thread. If there is a multi-person tweet, I make sure I attach my response to the right person, moving all other names to the end of my tweet.

If I’m getting a sense there’s a misunderstanding – and we follow each other – I’ll use DM to be sure I understand. I try to attend to the backfire effect. I’ll come here to post in longer form if it makes sense.

I’ve become hyperconscious of hashtag etiquette and making sure I use them correctly.

I’m trying to get better but apparently, I’m still bad at Twitter.

I wrote about this once before, got some great feedback and a lesson in sealioning, and then pulled the post down. I was still learning and there’s some language in that post I regret. And to be clear, I regret some tweets I’ve sent. I’ve apologized directly when I could, sent a message to the universe when I couldn’t. In the cases where I have literally no idea why a semi-famous person blocked me because I’ve never sent a tweet to them in my life and only discovered they blocked me when I went to RT a RT, I don’t have imaginary conversations with them while I’m driving. Nope.

The most frustrating part for me is that I know I have a lot to learn from those who block me and vice versa. (Quick shout out those who have tweeted to me “You’re not interested in learning. You just want to be right.” You get to have your own special imaginary conversation with me. Usually when I’m stuck in traffic.)

Being blocked – and knowing it’s because you’re annoying NOT because you were abusive or abrasive or offensive – is an odd thing, in a vaguely reminiscent-of-middle-school way. Part of me wants to start an #UnblockJenn campaign and persuade those who blocked me to engage in discourse until… well, until we talk ourselves out. The other part of me is fairly confident I need a new hobby. While those parts battle it out, I’m going to continue to reflect on what it means to be good at Twitter. What it means to be good at discourse in an asynchronous environment and try to reconcile how educators can model the best and worst between disagreeing adults.




The Tension of Test Prep

One of the lessons I picked up during systems thinking work many years ago was the need to thoughtfully identify leverage points. 9 hours in NYS schools currently cast a long shadow over the other 1250. My hope is we can make the non-testing hours as incredible, meaningful, and engaging as possible.

Yet, as long as annual testing is federal law (and until NY shifts to the portfolio model like NH), we’re going to have to figure out a way to deal with those testing hours in grades 3-8. Angela Stockman got me into infographics which lead to a way for me to organize my thinking around learner-centered test prep in NYS. Hoping it helps some find a way through.

Test Prep



Two divergent stories came together to poke this particular post out of my brain.

First: Watching the “Bernie Bros” story unfold, then twist, then double-back on itself, and watching really smart people I follow do their best to avoid saying “Not all Bernie Sanders Supporters” while simultaneously trying to say it wasn’t really a thing. I’m watching from afar, mostly because I’m in the camp of “Oh god, oh god, anyone but Trump/Cruz” and I live in a really blue county in a really blue state where my blue vote will live only to bring me pleasure.

Second:  a series of Twitter conversations/discourses over the weekend with people who have very strong opinions about public education. So strong that many of them appear to advocate for the end of universal, free, compulsory public education in America. The threads tend to make for some pretty strong cognitive dissonance for me as I really, REALLY struggle with the claim that a society would be better off without a free education system. And make no mistake – I’m not a carte blanche defender of unhealthy schools or structures. I freely recognize there are schools in which the system is making things harder for children, instead of easier. There are schools that unintentionally and unconsciously perpetuate cycles of passive racism. There are students who hate school. I get that.

And yet… I’m an “improve what we’ve got” sort of thinker and do-er.* There are schools that have already gone beyond the archetype of traditional school. Schools like SLA which hosted EduCon this past weekend. There are free public schools where students pick their own course of study, set the behavior code, and defend projects of their own design to demonstrate their readiness for the next adventure. So each time I see a tweet proclaiming how very terrible, very bad, no good the ENTIRE public school system is, I feel compelled to respond with a counter-example. I offer up an example of what to all intents and purposes appears to be school done right, hoping that the conversation will shift from “statement about how bad schools are, aren’t I right, folks?” to “Here’s what’s possible. Let’s elevate this.”

I have to assume those who advocate for free-schooling, un-schooling, home-schooling know that not all public schools are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad places. That they agree the concept of school is no more a monolith than all male Bernie Sanders supporters are cut from the same cloth. Yet, when the threads go on and on about how terrible, horrible and no good teachers are – and those threads are populated by mostly white, mostly male faces… I have a visceral response.

My response usually comes in the form of awkwardly edited tweets in which I attempt to convey an idea that’s THIS     BIG in a space that’s thisbig. While I’m tweeting, though, I’ve often a particular cliche running through my mind: Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Granted, people tweeting out statements about how bad school is aren’t exactly barging into SLA’s classrooms telling the students and teachers they’re wrong. But at the same time, voices carry. Signals are boosted – or they’re lost in the crowd.

It also needs to be said that my claim is never that students couldn’t accomplish the same incredible work on their own, but rather, they’re doing this great work in school. What’s gained by knocking down the system and hoping they arrive at a similar end on their own? I’ll wear my bias right out in the open: I have a hard seeing how eliminating public education will move us forward as a society in any meaningful way.




*I’m still working on, thinking about, reconciling different texts and writings related to the idea of “the Master’s tools” that Audre Lorde writes about.