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Conflict could exclude this year's tests from tenure decisions

A schedule conflict could mean that students’ scores on this year’s state standardized tests may not play a role in whether their teachers get tenure. Nevertheless, if the city does use the scores, it could land in court with the union on the other side.

Citing a loophole in state law, Mayor Bloomberg ordered the city’s Department of Education last week to begin using students’ test scores in tenure decisions this year. But the results of this year’s state math and English tests will not be available until after the deadline for submitting tenure decisions has passed.

The state changed its timeline for administering math and English exams this year, pushing both exams to the spring. Previously, they were given in January and March. Though principals have to make decisions about whether to grant teachers tenure by May 1, this year’s tests will not even finish going through the scoring process until weeks after that deadline.

This schedule conflict could leave principals to make tenure decisions using two years of test scores rather than three, and those could be two easier years. Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch has said that this year’s tests will be “less predictable” than in previous years.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education, Ann Forte, said officials were still discussing how student test scores would be used in tenure decisions and did not know whether this year’s test scores could be used.

Of the approximately 7,500 teachers who will be eligible for tenure this year, the majority will be unaffected by the schedule conflict as only students in grades three through eight take the state’s annual math and English exams.

A spokesman for the teachers union, which vigorously opposes the use of test scores in tenure decisions, agreed it’s unlikely that test scores will be used to judge teachers this year, but vowed to fight the city in court if scores are used.

Even if the city extends the deadline for principals to make tenure decisions, teachers have to receive performance reviews, which include tenure decisions, by the end of the school year in June. If this year’s standardized test scores are published over the summer, as they typically are, and principals decide to reverse certain tenure decisions in light of those scores, the union would likely challenge those reversals in court, the official said.

The principal of M.S. 324, Janet Heller, said not having the results of the most recent state tests would not affect how she makes tenure decisions this year, as she assesses teachers throughout the year based on how they respond to students’ scores on interim tests.

“I don’t wait until the end of the year to determine a teacher’s effectiveness. By then it would be too late,” she said.

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