After months of bitter dispute, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced that the New York State Education Department and the New York State United Teachers have finally reached an agreement regarding teacher evaluations. The compromise comes on the day the governor had set as a deadline in his January budget address to come up with a system; otherwise Cuomo himself would devise one.
“Today’s agreement puts in place a groundbreaking new statewide teacher evaluation system that will put students first and make New York a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement,” Cuomo said. “This agreement is exactly what is needed to transform our state’s public education system, and I am pleased that by working together and putting the needs of students ahead of politics we were able to reach this agreement.”
According to the governor’s office, details of the plan are as follows:
Teacher performance — 60 points
The majority of the evaluation of each teacher — 60 percent — will be based on “rigorous and nationally recognized measures of teacher performance,” according to a press release from the governor’s office. Most of those points will be based on classroom observations conducted by an administrator or principal; at least one of those observations will be unannounced.
The remaining points will be based on observations by independent trained evaluators, peer classroom observations, student and parent feedback from evaluators and evidence of performance through student portfolios.
Student achievement in state and local assessments — 40 points
The new agreement calls for the remaining portion of the teacher assessments to be based on students’ scores on state and other tests. Twenty percent of the score will be based on state testing; the other 20 will be based on a list of three testing options including state tests, third party assessments/tests approved by the SED and locally developed tests that will be subject to SED review and approval. Under the plan, school districts will also have the option of using state tests to measure up to 40 percent of a teacher’s rating.
This differs from the original plan developed by SED in 2010, which based a much larger percentage of the teachers’ scores on state assessments. That system led the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) to sue to prevent the evaluation system’s implementation, alleging that it was unfair and didn’t accurately represent the work teachers did. That argument was upheld by the New York State Supreme Court, which prevented SED from implementing the evaluation system.
Indeed, the unions have found the new system to be much more fair, and much more representative of the work a teacher does.
“We believe today’s agreement is good for students and fair to teachers,” said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi in a statement. “It includes two principles we believe are essential. First, a child is more than a standardized test score. While there is a place for standardized testing in measuring teacher effectiveness, tests must be used appropriately. Secondly, the purpose of evaluations must be to help all teachers improve and to advance excellence in our profession. This agreement acknowledges those key principles. The settlement also reinforces how important it is for teachers to have a voice in establishing standards of professional effectiveness and in developing evaluations that meet the needs of local communities.”
It also had the stamp of approval from SED.
“The goal is and always has been to help students to give them every opportunity to succeed in college and careers,” said State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. “To make that happen, we need to improve teaching and learning. We owe it to our students to make sure every classroom is led by an effective teacher and every school is led by an effective principal. Today, the governor’s leadership and his commitment to our students has helped us take a strong step toward that goal.”
Local school districts now have one year to come up with their own evaluation plans based on the new rules. If they do so by September of 2012, they will be eligible for incentives in school aid. If they fail to do so by January of 2013, they will be ineligible for increases in school aid.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.