Cuomo, Education Leaders Skeptical on NY Teacher Evals

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Recently released state data shows that the majority of teachers and principals in New York State received high grades for last year’s work, suggesting to top education officials that tougher evaluations are needed.

This year is the first time New York City teachers had received a rating based on a new, rigorous and objective state-imposed system.

According to the data, 9.2% of teachers in NYC were rated highly effective, 82.5% were seen as effective, 7% are developing and 1.2% were rated ineffective.

Teachers outside the city were given even better reviews, partially due to leeway some districts had for setting performance goals.  In all, 58% were rated highly effective.  This was the second year with the new evaluation systems for those schools.

The new system comes in part as an effort by New York to win federal grants.  US Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been pushing for an end to “drive by” evaluations that showed too many high ratings.

Until the new system was used this year, 97% of NYC teachers were rated satisfactory, and only 3% unsatisfactory.

However, supporters of educational improvements say the new ratings are still not strict enough, when the low skills of students across the state are taken into account.  Only 37% of students in the state graduate high school with the skills they need to be successful in their college careers.

“It’s crazy that the majority of teachers across the state were rated highly when the majority of students aren’t being taught to read and do math at grade level,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY, which pushes for steps to boost teacher quality.

According to Karen Magee, president of New York State United Teachers, her members are some of the best teachers in the state.  While the data did support their excellent quality, the evaluations were at times flawed for individual teachers.

She went on to place blame on the rushed rollout of the Common Core standards and the use of test scores too quickly for some of the teachers’ ratings, adding that doing so questioned the validity of the ratings.  A spokesman for the union said the group planned to release their own recommendations for fixing the evaluations in early 2015.

However, a news release showed Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch stating that there is a disconnect between student performance across the state and teacher and principal reviews.  Around 92% of NYC principals and 94% of principals outside the city were rated effective or highly effective this year.

A spokeswoman for Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that “stronger, more competitive teacher evaluation standards will be a priority” for next year’s evaluations.

Teacher evaluations are currently based on three measures.  Classroom practice accounts for 60%, Student-performance measures that have been agreed on through negotiations with local teachers’ unions account for 20%, and the final 20% comes from student growth on exams in grades 4 through 8, or other district goals for student learning.

Some teachers across the state believe the evaluations are unfair, citing flaws in the computer models that try to examine a single teacher’s influence on their students.  They feel that factors outside the classroom, such as poverty, can often play a big part in student learning.