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Regents give districts choice of tougher teacher evaluation

Introducing a new option for how to change teacher evaluation, the Board of Regents voted today to allow districts and unions to increase the weight of student test scores on those evaluations to 40 percent.

According to the law passed last summer, which changed how teachers in New York State are evaluated and introduced their students’ test scores as an element for consideration, state tests would count for 20 out of 100 points. Another 20 points would come from local assessments, which school districts could devise on their own. Yet the set of regulations approved in a vote this evening will allow school districts, with the approval of teachers unions, to count students’ progress on state tests for 40 points of a teacher’s evaluation score.

The board voted 14 to 3 to approve the regulations. Regents Betty Rosa, Roger Tilles, and the board’s newest member Kathleen Cashin, voted against the proposal.

The increased emphasis on students’ progress on standardized tests turned up in the final draft of regulations after Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped into the discussions last week. In a letter to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, the governor said he believed that students’ scores on the annual math and reading tests should carry more weight in the evaluation of their teachers. Mayor Bloomberg agreed, saying that an earlier draft of the regulations did not place enough importance on the tests.

Yesterday, a group of 10 prominent education researchers sent the Regents a letter asking them not to place more weight on value-added scores, which measure students’ progress on tests against that of similar types of students.

Before the vote today, New York State Education Department Commissioner David Steiner did not endorse the idea of basing 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on test scores, but he said that districts should have the option of doing so.

“We are not saying that a local district must adopt 40 points on its state tests,” he said. “Should it so choose, we are not going to veto that choice from the state.”

Steiner said the state did not want to be in the position of saying: “You can determine something, but not this. We’re going to give you some district autonomy, but you’re not allowed to choose, even if you so wish, to use a measure that happens to be a state test.”

Tilles, who voted against the regulations, said giving districts the choice of using state tests as their local assessment portion was a false choice because many can’t afford to do otherwise. Tilles represents Long Island school districts.

“You are giving the districts a choice of spending a tremendous amount of money or taking the state tests,” he said. “That’s really what’s happening. The choice of developing a local test…is a very expensive choice.”

In districts such as New York City, where schools are bracing for another round of budget cuts, this choice could put teachers unions in an uncomfortable position. Opposed to the idea of using the state tests for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, they will have to argue that the city should spend money on the creation of local assessments while teachers are experiencing cuts in their classrooms.

Cashin, a former New York City network leader who is known for quietly challenging the Bloomberg administration, said she was concerned that a greater reliance on the state tests would increase the already-heavy emphasis schools place on math and reading.

“Even 20 percent [reliance on test scores] — and I know that’s lower than a lot of states — even that narrows the curriculum because people teach prep,” Cashin said. “You know this is occurring.”

Steiner countered that the new evaluation system would actually increase the standing of subjects such as art and history, which are rarely tested, because it will force the state — and districts that choose to — to develop ways of testing them.

The state teachers union has opposed the regulations and hinted that it will consider taking legal action. In a statement, New York City teachers union President Michael Mulgrew said that while the United Federation of Teachers supported using test scores for 20 percent of an evaluation, 40 percent was too much.

“While the UFT has supported some role for standardized test results in teacher evaluations, we also know that the more weight put on standardized tests for children or teachers, the more school systems will focus on test prep rather than real learning,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

How Regents voted:

Phillips yes
Young yes
Cofield yes
Bennett yes
Jackson yes
Tallon yes
Chapey yes
Tisch yes
Bendit yes
Cottrell yes
Bottar yes
Norwood yes
Dawson yes
Cea yes

Rosa. no
Tilles no
Cashin no

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