Teachers Group Mulls Suit Over New State Evaluations

The umbrella group for New York's teachers unions said it's considering a lawsuit over a new evaluation system that puts a heavy emphasis on test scores.

Richard Ianuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, said a lawsuit is "inevitable" and that unions originally agreed to legislation allowing 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation to be based on student test scores — but the results of a vote by the board of Regents on Monday raises that to 40 percent.

"It's over-weighting something that all of the experts and researchers say should never be given the kind of weight that the Regents are asking to do," he said.

Because of the vote, Ianuzzi said NYSUT would neither send a representative to a previously scheduled meeting Tuesday by a state education department task force on the teacher evaluations nor would it cooperate with the state on other matters through the rest of the school year.

The United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City's 75,000 active teachers, has not said whether it wants to sue. The UFT's president, Michael Mulgrew, issued a statement Monday criticizing the Regents vote for putting too much emphasis on test prep over learning.

State education spokesman Jonathan Burman said the new regulations are consistent with legislation the unions agreed to last year, because districts aren't required to make 40 percent of a teacher's grade contingent on student performance on state exams. He said that's only an option.

The original legislation the unions embraced in 2010 called for state exams to count for 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation. Local school districts, from Long Island to Rochester, would use their own assessments for another 20 percent. But when some districts complained that these separate assessments might cost too much money, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch changed the proposal late last week to let local districts use those same state exams for their own share of the evaluation.

Each local district now has until September to negotiate its evaluation system with its unions. This effectively gives the unions veto power because no new teacher evaluation system can go into place if the unions refuse to sit down at the table with their superintendents.

Cuomo has tried to prevent such an impasse by offering districts extra money in exchange for meeting the September deadline.

New York State United Teachers said local districts wouldn't have so much trouble creating and paying for their own separate teacher assessments if they weren't forced to fully implement the teacher evaluation system this coming school year. The original plan was to phase-in the evaluations for all teachers over two years.

Cuomo pushed for a faster timeline after Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on lawmakers to end the so-called last in-first out (LIFO) law requiring new teachers to be the first to go during layoffs. Cuomo argued that a new teacher evaluation system would make it easier for districts to reward good teachers and get rid of their bad ones. But Bloomberg says it's still necessary to get rid of LIFO because he's planning to layoff 4100 teachers in June, before the new evaluations go into effect.