Regents to Vote on New Teacher Evaluations

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Under a proposal to be taken up Monday by the Board of Regents, teachers across New York State will be evaluated based partly on how their students perform on state exams.

in a letter Friday to the Regents asking them to change their proposal, Governor Andrew Cuomo urged that student test scores will be given more weight. Originally, the plan called for 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation to come from student growth on state exams. Another 20 percent would be based on locally selected measures, meaning some other assessment.

But Cuomo said up to 40 percent of the total score should be based on "objective student growth measures on state tests," and said that percentage is closer to what's used in other states. He also said it was too restrictive to prevent local districts from using the state exams. Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch agreed with the governor, citing the costs.

"We believe that, having spoken to districts, that the costs of going out and buying another assessment or producing local assessments for many districts is just simply too much," Tisch explained.

The remaining 60 percent of a teacher's evaluation would come from other, more subjective measures. Cuomo urged classroom observations be given the most weight. Instead of counting for half of that 60 percent, they would count for 40 percent.

Other changes to the proposal have been suggested by the Conference of Big 5 School Districts, which includes Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers and New York City. They include changing the appeals process for teachers who get low ratings. The Conference asked the Board to limit the duration of an individual appeal to two hours, and to let the local Superintendent or Chancellor make the final decision. Governor Cuomo didn't touch those suggestions, though, in his letter.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomed the proposed changes when they were announced on Friday. But the city's teachers union simply said it looked forward to hearing more on Monday. New York State United Teachers president Richard Iannuzzi issued a statement calling Chancellor Tisch's decision to accept the governor's changes to the proposal "disturbing."

"The Regents must keep New York's public schools ahead of New York's political posturing," Iannuzzi added.

Teachers unions are in a difficult position because they were forced to accept evaluations based partly on student performance in order for the state to win its $700 million federal Race to the Top grant last year. The Obama Administration supports using student growth to evaluate teachers.

The new evaluations will be more nuanced. Instead of rating teachers "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory," a point system will allow teachers to be rated "ineffective," "developing," "effective" or "highly effective."

Cuomo is pushing for them to start all at once in September, instead of over a two-year period, to quell the debate over ending the so-called "last in-first out" law that requires new teachers to be the first to go during layoffs. Mayor Bloomberg is planning 4,100 teacher layoffs. He unsuccessfully tried to get the legislature to scrap the law, arguing that layoffs should be based solely on merit. The governor said a new evaluation system would ease most of the mayor's concerns by making it easier to reward good teachers and get rid of the bad ones.

But getting local districts to adopt these new evaluation systems by September will be a challenge because they will have to negotiate with their unions. Cuomo is offering a financial incentive in the form of $500 million worth of grants to get districts to act quickly.