Teaching Profession

In New York, Teacher-Evaluation Problems Mount

By Stephen Sawchuk — January 27, 2016 2 min read
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It hasn’t been such a good week for New York and its seemingly endless saga (five years and counting) over how it evaluates teachers.

First came the news that one of the state’s contractors, the American Institutes of Research, bungled about 250 scores it calculated for the student-achievement portion of some teachers’ rating. In a state with some 200,000 teachers (about 40,000 of which receive these growth scores based on state test results, The New York Times reports), this is a miniscule number of scores. But in a sense that isn’t really the point: These systems seem likely to live or die on whether the scores are seen as reliable. So far, teachers are deeply suspicious, and the state teachers’ unions are pouncing on any screw-ups. In addition, the error could fuel the opt-out movement’s argument that student test scores aren’t a fair measure for judging teachers or students.

On top of that, New York State United Teachers on Jan. 26 filed a lawsuit saying that regulations governing teacher evaluation introduced last September run afoul of state labor laws. This time the union isn’t contesting the mechanics of evaluation, but the collective-bargaining implications of the evaluation system. It alleges that the state Board of Regents’ new regulations impermissibly allow district superintendents to impose and dictate the terms of improvement plans for teachers with low ratings, rather than through collective bargaining, And NYSUT also charges that the regulations give the state the power to unilaterally change local evaluation plans if they don’t show enough differentiation among teachers, even though those plans have to be bargained.

Is this lawsuit looking a gift horse in the mouth? Maybe: NYSUT was generally a fan of a newer set of regulations, from January, suspending the state test-score portion of teacher evaluation for four years. (Other local measures of achievement are still required.) That change was made in the wake of massive opt-outs on state tests and what critics said was a too-quick rollout of new tests aligned to the harder Common Core State Standards.

Photo: New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, left, talks with Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, at a December meeting in Albany. —Mike Groll/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.