Saturday, May 14, 2011


Teacher Reviews Will Put More Focus on State Tests


May 13, 2011 Responding to criticism from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and others, state education officials on Friday revised their plans for evaluating teachers so that up to 40 percent of their annual reviews could be based on students’ scores on state standardized tests.

A measure passed last year had outlined 20 percent as the standard.

State officials have been developing the details of a new evaluation system for teachers and principals since legislation was passed last year as part of New York’s successful effort to win a $700 million federal grant.

The regulations are expected to be enacted on Monday by the Board of Regents, the state’s education policy-making body.

“These are not perfect tools by any means,” the chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, said. “But that being said, I believe  it is important to have an objective system to evaluate teachers on a professional basis. This is the beginning of such a process.”

After negotiations between state and union officials, the Legislature passed a bill last year that said 60 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on subjective measures like a principal’s observations, a review of student work, or surveys of parents and students; 20 percent on local tests or other assessments; and 20 percent on state tests, potentially rising to 25 percent in subsequent years.

For years, teachers’ unions were bitterly opposed to the use of standardized test scores to measure teacher achievement, and evaluation systems across New York remain inconsistent.

The new system is scheduled to be used in the coming school year for English and math teachers in Grades 4 through 8, and then for all teachers the following year. 

Mr. Cuomo, however, has been critical of the law, particularly since March, when he indicated that a high-quality evaluation system had to be in place before he could support a push by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to end seniority protections in layoffs.

Over the last several weeks, the governor’s office lobbied the Regents to make the evaluation system more objective and more comparable across the state’s roughly 700 school districts.

Ms. Tisch said on Friday that all of the governor’s concerns had been addressed in the new draft of the regulations, which essentially put the law into effect.

The new regulations permit local districts to use state test scores for the local-test portion of the evaluation, meaning that in some districts, the state scores could count for 40 percent of a teacher’s rating. State officials said that because such a change would require the agreement of both a local district and the union in the district, it was within the law.

But Richard C. Iannuzzi, the head of the state union, New York State United Teachers, said in a statement on Friday that he was opposed to the revision, calling it “clearly outside the scope of the legislation.”

The new regulations also make other changes. Before, the bar was set so low that teachers could get a passing rating even if their students utterly bungled their standardized tests. The new version makes that nearly impossible.

The regulations also outline plans to create new state tests by 2012-13, for middle school science and social studies, and ninth- and 10th-grade English, where none exist now.

In subjects in which there is no state testing, it would be up to local districts, with state approval, to determine how to judge their teachers against goals established for student performance.

The governor’s office had also expressed concern that it could take years before the evaluation system was in place across the state, because each district must agree to it individually.

So Mr. Cuomo said on Friday that he planned to offer an incentive: Only those districts that put the evaluation system into effect would be eligible for money from $500 million set aside in the state budget to reward school performance.

In a letter to Ms. Tisch on Friday, Mr. Cuomo wrote, “We must not squander the opportunity to set the right course and make New York a leader in evaluating performance in our education system.” 

Big role of test scores in New York teacher evaluations

By Diana Senechal |Linking and Thinking on Education |

May 14, 2011 -  Last year, the New York State Legislature passed a measure that allowed 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on students’ scores on standardized state tests.

Now student test scores will account for as much as 40 percent of the evaluations, according to an article in today’s New York Times. This means they will count more than any other single measure. The new regulations are expected to be enacted on Monday by the state’s Board of Regents.

This change is likely due to pressure from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who, according to the New York Times, said that a high-quality evaluation system had to be in place before he could support Mayor Bloomberg’s push to end seniority protection in layoffs.

But is this a high-quality evaluation system? It gives a great deal of power to tests that we don’t even have yet (as they are being revised) and to a value-added formula that has turned up many eccentricities, to put it mildly.

It is especially dangerous as a means of determining who should and shouldn’t be laid off. Teachers will be compared with each other by means of measures that haven’t stood the test of time yet (and that leave much to be desired). Principals will have little power to go against value-added ratings, even if they are clearly wrong.

New York State is still reeling from the disclosure that its state tests had gotten easier over the years. It is in the midst of revising its assessments and adopting the Common Core State Standards. The outcome of all of this is uncertain. In the meantime, the value-added formula used in New York City has numerous problems. Andrew Gelman, professor of statistics and political science at Columbia, demonstrates that when teachers are graded on a curve in this manner, a few students (in a large class) doing a little better on a test can bring a teacher from the 7th to the 50th percentile. (See all the comments on his post–they are interesting.)

Why, at this uncertain juncture, would the governor choose to make state test scores such a large part of teacher evaluations? Why the push for something clearly flawed?

Seems not only unwise and reckless, but weird.

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