As pressure mounts for lawmakers to decide how to adjust the state’s teacher evaluation system, the president of New York State United Teachers ratcheted up her rhetoric, saying the union wants changes that go beyond the use of test scores.
“NYSUT’s goal is to do an overhaul of the entire APPR,” Karen Magee told Chalkbeat, referring to the state’s evaluation law. “This is the first step towards doing so.”
Magee wouldn’t comment on the negotiations, which are centered on the role that tougher, Common Core-aligned state tests will play in teacher evaluations this year and next year. But she said the union was still in talks with the governor’s office about removing the scores and that she remained “guardedly optimistic” that a deal would get done.
Magee, a self-described “militant,” took over NYSUT in April when she unseated sitting union chief Richard Iannuzzi in an election that was framed as a repudiation of the union’s recent cooperation with the state on issues including changes to teacher evaluations.
Since students first took the new tests last year, which sent proficiency rates plummeting, teachers have protested that the assessments aren’t accurate measurements of student growth, especially while teachers are still becoming familiar with the standards. They have also raised other concerns with how the evaluations measure student learning, since thousands of teachers’ evaluations will be based partially on test results for students and subjects they didn’t teach.
“There’s a hundred ways that we need to go to make this right,” Magee said, adding that the principal observation process was also a concern. “The way we’re doing it right now is broken.”
The union leader’s comments come just a day before the legislative session is scheduled to end, and pressure is mounting for officials to come to a deal. NYSUT, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate have all said that making changes to teacher evaluations are a top legislative priority.
Magee was more measured last Friday, when she said that “stopping evaluations would be completely overkill.” The union’s issues, she said then, were only with the component of a teacher’s evaluation based on the new state tests. Those tests mostly affect the evaluations of elementary and middle school teachers, though high school English teachers will be rated on Common Core-aligned Regents exams this year.
On Wednesday, Magee said she hadn’t ruled out including high school teachers’ evaluations in a final deal, and that a number of issues remained on the table.
“We’re looking to remove anything that would jeopardize a teacher’s career,” Magee said.
Over the last two days, though, officials have raised concerns that what Magee is proposing could mean New York lose federal Race to the Top funding. On Tuesday, a federal education official said New York could lose $292 million if it approves a teacher evaluation bill supported by NYSUT and the Assembly that would remove test scores from teacher evaluations.
State Education Commissioner John King and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have also said the threat of funding cuts was a concern, according to Capital New York. But Magee and the bill’s sponsor, Catherine Nolan, both said they aren’t taking those warnings seriously.
“The Race to the Top funding is not a concern,” Magee said, adding that New York could apply for a “temporary waiver” from the U.S. Department of Education. (On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the department said that was not an option.)
At a press conference on Wednesday, Cuomo said that he wouldn’t sign any legislation that put Race to the Top funding at risk. The governor, who has repeatedly cited teacher evaluations as a signature achievement of his administration, is hoping this year’s legislation will be a final fix before implementation is complete.
“We’re implementing a system that should have been implemented years ago,” Cuomo said.
Others doubted that the U.S. Department of Education’s threats were serious.
“Plenty of other [Race to the Top-funded] states have hit the pause button on teacher evaluation consequences and I haven’t seen similar threats,” said Mike Petrilli, executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “I think they are trying to help their friend John King.”
On Wednesday, Ohio’s legislature passed a “safe harbor” bill that would delay using Common Core tests on teacher and school evaluations for one year. Ohio won $400 million in Race to the Top funds.