New York Teachers Wary of Proposed Changes to Evaluations

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After the rough rollout of new teacher evaluations in New York state, teachers are concerned that proposed fixes to the system may not help.

New York education leaders say they are behind amending the state mandated teacher evaluation system to address anomalies and inconsistencies that have appeared since it was first implemented two years ago. Governor Andrew Cuomo has touted his accomplishments on evaluations and wants to continue to make changes during the upcoming legislative session, writes Jessica Bakeman of Capital New York.

As of yet, there are no specific proposals for amendments, neither from Cuomo, lawmakers, or the Board of Regents, but education leaders have offered suggestions they think would be prudent. Some of the changes can be accomplished by legislation, while others could require the Board of Regents to direct districts to negotiate changes locally. Each district has a separate, state-approved plan, and quite a few have made important changes after the first round of evaluations.

Teachers can be be rated as “ineffective”, “developing”, “effective”, or “highly effective”. A teacher who receives two consecutive “ineffective” ratings could be terminated. The three components of the evaluations are divided into a 60% segment based on classroom observations, 20% is made up of student performance on local tests, and 20% comes from state tests or other measures.

In September, Cuomo announced that the system needed to be refined. Already, he could see that changes might need to be on the local level in districts where most teachers were rated “highly effective.”

“The task force is looking at ways to ensure that teacher development and professional development become more predominant in evaluations and the task force is also looking at the possibility of reducing the over-reliance on standardized testing,” New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) spokesman Carl Korn said. “Another item the task force is looking at is anomalies in ways that teachers of special education students, English language learners and some of the highest achieving students in the state are evaluated.”

Teachers are on the move out of schools. There seem to be three reasons: many staff members are reaching retirement age, new testing standards, and cash-outs on pensions, says the Press & Sun-Bulletin’s Joseph Spector. New York State United Teachers attributed the retirements to new testing standards, tougher teacher evaluations to leaving the workforce.

“The over-reliance on standardized testing and the attacks on teachers and other public employees are certainly part of it, but so is an improving economy and a wish to move on to the next phase of their lives,” said union spokesman Carl Korn.

New York State Education Commissioner John King said this week that the teacher observation portion of the teacher evaluation process would be a “central issue” for discussion in the Legislature as the state is making attempts to strengthen the evaluation process, writes Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy for The Journal News. King himself observed classrooms at Putnam Valley Elementary School, saying it was important to have more than one measure to assure that observations would include evidence of student engagement and learning. He added that it was necessary to to have multiple measures so observations would include evidence of student learning, and suggested tools such as student feedback to broaden the evaluations.

“There are districts around the state that are piloting the use of surveys and asking for feedback from students and parents about teacher performance,” he said. “As the evaluation system progresses, it will continue to evolve over time.”

The state Education Department says that currently, the Little Falls school district in Upstate’s Herkimer County and some schools in New York City utilize student feedback.

The current evaluation process may also invite tampering. The Journal News broke a story in September about school administrators adjusting classroom observation scores to prevent “effective” teachers from receiving lowered ratings. The Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents released a statement that explained that the state formula forces school districts to inflate classroom-observation rates to ensure that teachers do not get poor overall evaluations.

King remains optimistic. When King visited Putnam Valley Elementary School this week to see his work in support of Common Core in action, he said:

“I have seen students who are thoughtfully reading challenging text, who are discussing with their classmates and teachers evidence in those texts to support their ideas,” he said. “All the kinds of skills students need to develop when they graduate from high school.”