New regents chancellor a critic of heavy emphasis on testing

Betty Rosa, a former Bronx school superintendent and critic of a shift to a stronger emphasis on stu
From left, Regent Andrew Brown, who was elected vice chancellor on Monday, Chancellor-elect Betty Rosa and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
From left, Regent Andrew Brown, who was elected vice chancellor on Monday, Chancellor-elect Betty Rosa and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

Betty Rosa, a former Bronx school superintendent and critic of a shift to a stronger emphasis on student testing and teacher evaluations in education policy, on Monday was elected chancellor by her colleagues on the Board of Regents.

Her ascension to one of the most powerful education positions in the state solidifies a policy and tonal shift away from controversial reforms of the past few years that elevated the importance of annual state tests and resulted in the backlash of a parental opt-out movement that left more than 200,000 students at home during last spring’s tests.

“We must move away from what was the so-called ‘reform’ as people like to call it,” Rosa said earning the sole nomination to the position. “I say welcome the transformers. We must transform the well-being, the health, educational experiences of all the children of the state.”

Rosa, who has served on the board since 2008, was elected with 15 yes votes and two abstentions during the board’s secret ballot Monday. Regent Andrew Brown of Rochester was elected vice chancellor. They replace Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Vice Chancellor Anthony Bottar effective April 1.

Besides being the first Latina elected chancellor, Rosa also brings experience as a Puerto Rican transplant who didn’t speak any English her first day of school in New York, as a special education teacher and as a school principal and superintendent in a low-income district.

In spelling out a vision for her chancellorship, Rosa said the board should focus on meeting students where they are and how they learn best. She said educators need to “align our methods of teaching with our methods of learning” and “make sure practice informs policy, not that policy informs practice.” She also called for the development of “social justice” schools that bridge the achievement gap that leaves many low-income and minority students behind their peers.

“All students are entitled to the same opportunities for academic achievement regardless of background or prior privilege,” she said.

Rosa was endorsed earlier this year for the job by parental opt-out groups and has been lauded by education advocacy groups such as the Alliance for Quality Education, which lobbies for increased state education funding.

Rosa told reporters after the board vote that if she had school-age children and was not a regent, she would opt-out of the state tests slated for next month. But she also tried to strike a unifying tone, pointing out changes to this year’s tests — fewer questions and more teacher input — and a commitment to continue with even more changes in coming years.

“I would like to get to a place where we can figure out where the dissonance exists and how can we get to a better place in terms of tools that really give parents a true meaning of performance of students,” she said. “We have to rebuild that trust. We have to rebuild confidence and a sense that we are in this together.”

The board also plans to develop a teacher evaluation system to revise or replace a law passed last year that uses student test scores as a portion of a teacher’s performance score. That provision has drawn the scorn of teachers who argue that too many other factors go into those student test scores, making it unfair to count them as such an important element of evaluations.

The regents adopted a moratorium this year on using student test scores in teacher evaluation systems but have yet to dive into the process of creating a new system, which may require action from the Legislature to move forward.

Brown, who joined Rosa for a news conference Monday morning, said the moratorium gives the board time to gather input and comments, and come to a consensus on what the board wants from a teacher evaluation system. Regents could then go to lawmakers and the governor “to provide those bodies with what we think matters when it comes to good teachers.”

“There are certain things that we need to have and expect from teachers,” Brown said.

When she was a superintendent, Rosa said, she evaluated teachers based on demonstration lessons, their interaction with staff and whether they would be a good fit with a particular school’s culture, and their endurance and persistence. She also placed value on a teacher’s ability to be “culturally sensitive” and understand challenges students face.

“In many situations we have [teachers] who have great content and great skills, but many times it’s knowing that children have come to school with so many issues, complex issues, and so I look for someone who really understands what it takes,” Rosa said.

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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