Regents Approve Plan to Evaluate Teachers With Test Scores

The New York State Board of Regents approved a new teacher evaluation system on Monday that relies heavily on student test scores to determine which teachers are most and least effective.

Up to 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation can now be based on how his or her students scored on state exams. An earlier draft of the plan had limited that to 20 percent. But Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed to raise it to 40 because the lower percentage would have forced local school districts to use separate exams in the evaluation that they might not have been able to afford.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner acknowledged that some critics oppose giving so much weight to state exams. He said there's no way to perfect the system to account for the "complexity" of a teacher's performance. "However, less than perfect is better than nothing," he added.

The remaining 60 percent of a teacher's evaluation would be determined by a variety of other measures, including classroom observations and portfolios of student work.

The original plan called for having 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation based on student growth on state exams, and another 20 percent based on a separate assessment to be used by local districts. But some districts worried this would be too expensive. Deputy Commissioner John King, who was closely involved in the evaluation system, said those districts that want to use their own separate exams could still do so, noting several already do. (The board voted earlier in the day to name King the next commissioner because Steiner announced in April that he will be departing at the end of June.)

Several academics urged the board to vote down the evaluation system, saying standardized tests shouldn't be used to measure teacher effectiveness. Regent Kathleen Cashin, a former district school superintendent in Brooklyn, voiced those same concerns in voting against the proposal. She said letting the student scores on state tests count for a total of 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation would "narrow the curriculum," encouraging too much preparation for the tested subjects, math and English Language Arts.

The Obama Administration has been encouraging states to adopt new teacher evaluation systems that are based partly on student test scores. New York's teachers' unions already signed onto the evaluation system in theory to help the state win its $700 million federal Race to the Top grant last year.

But New York State United Teachers, which has 600,000 members, has already threatened a lawsuit over the new evaluations. The union said it would stop collaborating with the state education department for at least the remainder of the school year. Just getting the union to accept an evaluation system that relied on student performance on state exams for 20 percent of the total was a tough sell with members; 40 percent may be considered unacceptable to teachers.

Governor Cuomo has said basing 40 percent of an evaluation on state test scores is closer to what's used in other states.
In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers said little in response to the Regents' vote. Its president, Michael Mulgrew, issued a statement saying the plan could lead schools to focus on test prep "more than real learning."

Local districts have until September to adopt their new teachers evaluations but they have to negotiate them with their unions. Cuomo is offering extra funds to districts as an incentive.

With Scott Waldman of The Albany Times Union