New York Court Sides with Union in Teacher Evaluation Dispute

By Sean Cavanagh — August 25, 2011 2 min read
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The difficult business of devising a method to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores is on display in New York, where a judge ruled this week that the state Board of Regents overstepped the boundaries set by a new law, in crafting such a system.

Albany County Supreme Court Justice Michael Lynch, ruled that the board had gone too far in some of its specifications for how teachers would be judged based on growth in student achievement.

At issue are regulations adopted earlier this year by the Board of Regents, and whether they conflicted with a 2010 law approved by the state legislature, which created the basis for a new evaluation system.

That law undergirded New York’s application in the federal Race to the Top competition; the state ultimately walked away with a $700 million award.

The law called for 40 percent of a teacher’s annual review to be based on student achievement. The first 20 percent was to be based on student growth data, as measured by state tests, or comparable measures for subjects that aren’t assessed by the state.

The dispute centers on the second 20 percent. The regulations approved by the Board of Regents allowed districts to use state test results for that portion of the evaluation, too. The union sued, noting that the law required that the second 20 percent be based on locally selected measures of achievement.

The judge agreed, ruling that the same student growth measures could not be used for all 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Data from the state assessments could be used in the second 20 percent if it was used as a “distinctly different measure of student achievement,” he ruled, as long as the measure is developed locally through collective bargaining.

The judge also said that the state’s scoring system could not allow teachers to be deemed ineffective based on test scores alone, rather than other parts of the evaluation process. The state commissioner of education must create a system in which the non-test score parts of the evaluation “have a meaningful impact” in the educator’s overall score, even in cases of poor student achievement, Lynch concluded.

The New York State Education Department has said it will appeal the decision.

State commissioner of education John B. King, Jr., said the court upheld provisions requiring the timely appeals of teacher evaluation. Doing so will help districts “avoid having to pay ineffective teachers during lengthy appeals processes,” the department said in a statement.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.