After months of bitter dispute, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced that the New York State Education Department (SED) and the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) 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 classroom evaluations will make up about 40 percent of that sixty,” said Stanley Finkle, assistant superintendent for instruction for the North Syracuse Central School District. Finkle said North Syracuse has actually been working with NYSUT to pilot its version of the new evaluation system since 2011. North Syracuse is one of five districts statewide to test the system, along with Albany, Hempstead, Marlboro and Plattsburgh, as well as the state of Rhode Island. Those districts were part of the team that helped to develop the teaching standards that would be prioritized as part of the new evaluations statewide.
“We’re ahead of a lot of the others because of that project,” Finkle said.
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. 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. They also have the option of breaking it up so that only twenty percent of the score will be based on state testing; the other 20 can be based either third party assessments/tests approved by the SED, such as IOWA or TerraNova tests, and locally developed tests that will be subject to SED review and approval.
“In the next few weeks, the state is going to be developing these student learning objectives, or SLOs, where teachers will decide on targeted growth for all of their students,” Finkle said. “So, for example, for a first grade class, in reading, the whole class will have to gain so many levels during the year, and they’ll develop a test to monitor that, and they’ve got to do that for each one of their classes. And the whole class has to show growth. That’s probably where we’re going in North Syracuse.”
The rating system
Teachers who receive a rating of 0 to 64 are considered “ineffective.” Those rated 65 to 74 are considered “developing.” Teachers in those categories will receive assistance and support to improve their performance. If they continue to receive ineffective ratings, they can be removed from the classroom. Those who receive ratings of 75 to 90 are considered “effective,” and teachers rated 91 to 100 are considered “highly effective.”
According to the agreement, all evaluations must be completed by Sept. 1. All local evaluation plans are subject to review and approval by the SED commissioner. He has the authority to “require corrective action, including the use of independent evaluators, when districts evaluate their teachers positively regardless of students’ academic progress.”
Teachers can appeal their evaluations, but appeals must be conducted in a timely fashion. Districts can terminate teachers and administrators hired on a probationary basis and deny tenure while an appeal is pending.
The plan presented Feb. 16 differs significantly 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 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 SED 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.
The trouble with this new system, Finkle said, will be fitting in all of these evaluations.
“It’s definitely going to be a stretch,” he said. “We have to do two evaluations a year for every single teacher in the school. For each elementary school, you figure we’ve got 60 teachers, and we’ve got to do it twice. Each evaluation we do takes five hours. That’s on top of everything else you do as a principal, and many don’t have additional staff. It’s going to be a huge issue for all districts to do around 120 observations in a year, and we’re only here 180 days.”
Then there are the logistical issues of fitting in all of the student testing and deciding how teachers should be graded.
“How do you manage that?” Finkle said. “How do you make the judgment call on the teacher? That’s going to be huge for everybody, and we’ve had very little guidance from State Ed.”
But Finkle said there was a bright side.
“It’s going to change the strategic way we look at teaching and learning,” he said. “That’s the positive. If this is done right, we’ll see huge gains in student achievement and the quality of teaching, no question.”
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.