Dr. Betty Rosa Prefers to Talk About Assessment
How did she feel when The New York Daily News called her a “test basher” when she was appointed last March as Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents? Betty Rosa laughs. She didn’t take it negatively, she says, understanding that her appointment for much of the media and for many parents and educators was synonymous with doing away with common core learning standards and standardized testing, one of her heartfelt, persistent goals, and associated with the “opt-out” movement that saw 20% of New York’s students not sitting for the tests. So much of the push for standardized testing was “political,” she says, and came at a critical time when states needed money. When she was appointed, she was quoted as having said that if she had been a parent at the time and not on the board, she “would have opted out.”
Instead of talking about testing, Dr. Rosa suggests, she’d “prefer to talk about assessment.” By assessment, she explains, she means,” looking at learning” first, and taking into consideration how and what students learn as demonstrated by “performance” and not just tests. Such a policy would be fairer to all students, she has said, but especially to special needs kids, kids from poor neighborhoods whose families cannot afford test-prep, or those for whom English is not the native language. The 64-year old Dr. Rosa, a former Bronx schools superintendent, is a graduate of Bronx high schools and holds a B.A. in psychology, a masters in bilingual education from Lehman College, as well as a masters of education, and a doctorate in administration, planning and social policy from Harvard. Born in New York City, she grew up the first few years of her life in Puerto Rico.
Testing, Dr. Rosa believes, is still tied to a pen and paper model, while assessment is more akin to judgment, having a bigger “tool box” to use to assure that students acquire and use “critical thinking and creativity.” . “We kill creativity by the third grade by holding kids to a narrow, one-size-fits all education model.” Assessment, she adds, can be “an idea, an opinion” and not just a measurable record of achievement. She is particularly keen on factoring in performance – what students can do. For example, she is an advocate of project-based learning. In the middle school with which she was associated in the past the largely Salvadorian population was put to task building a home, a project that required research, learning about cost analysis and other budgetary matters, mastering graphic design and engaging in demonstration. This kind of applied learning is what she feels is not fully appreciated by the wider education and parental community that still holds to “deficit models” of the past. Deficit models penalize students who don’t make the mark and thus represent a “system that labels kids failures.” As an example, she mentions a young man at the Center for Discovery in Sullivan County, NY an association that provides service to “children and adults with severe disabilities, medical frailties and autism spectrum Disorders.” The young man became a “creative learner” and was able to enter the workforce designing and demonstrating a wheelchair improvement he made, without being held back and not being forced to write up his project. Others did that for him, she adds, and he was able to go on to have a life without being stopped by old way “obstacles.” “We’ve become obsessed by college ready,” but what about “career ready”? Too many four-year colleges are mere extensions of high school, and do not present marketable skills for a diverse population. What about a B.A. in electronics, say, a prime example of applied learning?
What Dr. Rosa would like to see during her tenure as chancellor is “fewer standards but deeper learning.” She’d like learning to be appreciated more as long-term learning. She would “streamline” curricula and “focus on critical and creative thinking.” I want to see a system that values the diversity of student interests” and that creates “opportunities for kids.” #