Teaching Profession

New York Takes Final Step to Separate State Test Scores From Teacher Evaluations

By Sarah Schwartz — January 24, 2019 3 min read
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After several years of controversy and backlash, student state test scores could soon no longer be a mandatory part of teacher evaluations in New York.

The state legislature passed a bill on Wednesday that would make the use of state test scores in these evaluations optional, leaving the decision about what assessments to use up to districts and making it subject to collective bargaining. The bill now heads to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk.

If passed, this law would be the final step in a yearslong process of walking back the mandate for state test-based teacher evaluations.

The Empire state isn’t alone in its recent resistance to test-driven measures of teacher effectiveness.

Over the past few years, a small group of states have been stepping away from this particular metric. Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oklahoma have all reversed rules that required student-growth measures to be included in the evaluation process. In New York, though, assessments won’t be removed from the performance review process entirely—about 40-50 percent of evaluations are tied to student growth measures, which include other tests.

In 2015, Governor Cuomo approved a budget deal that required the state to create a new teacher-evaluation system—one that had to include students’ state test scores, as well as teacher observations. The unions responded with fierce pushback, and many parents decided to opt-out their children from the test that spring. (New York was one of many states that had been implementing these test data-driven evaluations at the time, in response to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. The competitive program, which began in 2009, offered incentives to states that included student-performance data in their teacher-assessment systems.)

Later that year, the New York Board of Regents, which oversees education in the state and presides over the education department, voted to delay the implementation of the new evaluation system. A panel created by the governor to advise New York’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards had suggested the waiting period. Until the state had fully phased in the new standards, the panel argued, teachers shouldn’t face consequences for students’ scores.

As a result, the state placed a moratorium on including these test scores in teacher evaluations until the 2019-20 school year. Districts had some flexibility in designing evaluation systems, which could include local assessments.

Because teachers in New York had been working under the Board of Regents’ moratorium through the end of this past school year, the bill likely won’t bring about dramatic changes to their assessment processes.

And before this legislation passed the state Senate and Assembly, the Board of Regents had been planning on extending the suspension period for another year, Chalkbeat reported. The extra time would have allowed the board to revise the teacher-evaluation system, T. Andrew Brown, a vice chancellor of the Board of Regents, told Chalkbeat.

In passing the bill, the legislature headed off any decision by the board.

“While we applaud the Regents for hearing the voices of teachers and parents, and we look forward to working with them, as legislators, today we are doing what we are charged to do to make the necessary changes in state law that are long overdue,” Sen. Shelley Mayer, a Democrat and the chair of the New York State Senate Committee on Education, said on Wednesday.

“With this bill, we finally begin to acknowledge that children and the learning process cannot be captured in a single test and that the results of those tests were not and could not be accurate measures of a teacher’s performance,” she said.

The New York state teachers’ union applauded the bill.

“Now, we have consensus on the need to fix this system,” said New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta, in a statement Wednesday. “We look forward to making sure this bill is signed into law immediately, and we will continue to advocate for a meaningful assessment system for New York students that will measure student progress more accurately and address the concerns raised by teachers and parents alike.”

But critics of the bill have said that it doesn’t go far enough to eliminate testing from evaluations. Some measure of student performance will still be used as part of teacher assessment, and districts could choose to use state tests.

“This absolutely doesn’t remove standardized testing from the evaluation system,” Jeanette Deutermann, the chief organizer of Long Island Opt Out, a parent and educator network, told Newsday.

Clarification: This post has been updated to clarify what components are required in New York teacher evaluations.

Image: Getty

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