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Commission on test scores and tenure may never materialize

As the lure of federal stimulus money puts new pressure on states to use test scores in tenure decisions, a New York commission that was supposed to study that very issue is making its absence felt.

Last spring, in return for passing legislation that put a two-year hold on allowing principals to use students’ test scores in teacher evaluations, state, city, and teachers union officials agreed to establish a commission to study the matter. Though the state Senate passed a bill to create the commission, no Assembly member ever introduced the bill, allowing it to die just as the 2008 session came to a close. In the wake of the bill’s demise, state and union officials have pointed to each other when asked whom to blame for the Assembly’s inaction.

With the law distancing student data from tenure evaluations set to expire on July 1, 2010, some believe the legislature will let the law sunset without creating the commission.

Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said he has been lobbying lawmakers to study how to integrate student test scores into tenure decisions.

“The teachers unions are very close with the Assembly, and they did not want this [the commission] to happen,” Kremer said, adding that he did not believe the legislature would create the commission before the law expires. “We just have not been able to get any traction on this,” he said.

In May of this year, state Senator Suzi Oppenheimer introduced a bill that would create a commission, but in the chaos of the June 8 coup in the Senate, the bill was never voted on.

“We’re coming back into session in September and Senator Oppenheimer has a bill out there and this could get advanced,” said Curtis Ellis, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.

According to the NY Post’s coverage of the commission’s nonexistence, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan never introduced the bill to create the commission last year because she was getting hip surgery. “I was out with my hip replacement,” she told reporters. “I feel so bad to say that — I’m not trying to cop out.” The Post suggested that Nolan was beholden to the powerful teachers union and purposely let the bill languish. In the ensuing year, she did not introduce a bill to create the commission.

Former United Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten, said the commission was never created because New York City education officials lost interest. “This adminstration — the city administration — lost interest in the committee,” she said. “They lost interest as soon as they lost the immediate right to assess teachers based upon tests that were given in January.”

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