NY’s Cuomo Walks Back on Teacher Evaluations Ahead of State of the State Address


As a result of mounting pressure from parents and teachers, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo appears to be taking a step back from his demand that 50% of teachers' annual evaluations rest on student test scores.

Cuomo has begun to make a push for either a reduction or elimination of the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations through changes made to regulation rather than legislation. However, legislative action may be needed in order to accomplish this, rather than just the cooperation of the State Education Department and the state Board of Regents.

The plan would be a complete reversal of his previous position, which he has held since 2011, and put him in renewed favor with the teachers' unions in the state — and it may add to the increasing discontent throughout the state over Common Core, writes Keshia Clukey for Politico New York.

The governor put together a Common Core task force in September to review the standards and make recommendations to Cuomo before his State of the State address set to be given in January. However, that task force was asked to review the standards, curriculum, and testing, not the teacher evaluations. Task force members have said they have no plans to make recommendations concerning the evaluation system.

Department officials said that approval would be needed from the US Department of Education in order to completely remove test scores from the annual evaluations due to the state's buy-in to the federal Race to the Top grant program as well as its waiver from the requirements of federal education statutes.

Administration officials for the governor have not announced Cuomo's position on the teacher evaluations yet.

Cuomo's first teacher evaluation system, set in place in 2011, had 60% of the final rating dependent upon observations. An additional 20% of their score was based on local tests and the final 20% was based on a state-produced "growth score" calculated from each students' improvement on standardized tests throughout the year, with factors such as poverty controlled for.

Teachers received ratings ranging from "ineffective" and "developing" to "effective" and "highly effective." State law allowed those found to be "ineffective" for two consecutive years to be fired.

However, the Legislature enacted a "safety net" in 2014 after a public backlash resulted from the flawed implementation of the Common Core standards and related testing. This gave educators temporary relief from punishments based on low student test scores. In the end, Cuomo vetoed the bill despite having negotiated and introducing it, in effect starting a war between himself and the teachers' union that has been ongoing ever since.

Cuomo's 2015 State of the State address brought into question the effectiveness of the evaluation system, which showed a high majority of teachers in the state as "succeeding" despite an increasing number of students not meeting the new, higher standards.

A new system was agreed upon by Cuomo and lawmakers based on a "matrix" model that combines state test results with observations, with each side counting for half of the total score, or in some cases, one side accounting for more than half. Districts are required to implement the new system for the 2015-16 school year or risk losing state aid.

The push for increased use of testing in evaluations led to a test refusal movement earlier this year in which over 200,000 of New York's 1.2 million students opted out of the annual reading and math tests. Some schools saw as many as 75% of its students refusing to participate, reports, Kate Taylor for The New York Times.

The task force is expected to recommend either the decoupling of test scores from evaluations or to have a moratorium placed on teacher evaluations.

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