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Cuomo, union still at odds over changes to teacher evals

As state officials hurry to come to new agreement on teacher evaluations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state teachers union are still looking for common ground on how best to account for the new, tougher Common Core standards in teacher ratings.

In a Thursday morning interview on the public radio program “Capitol Pressroom,” Cuomo said he’s willing to lower the stakes for teachers by adjusting teachers’ ratings, and implied that could mean excluding test scores from the calculations altogether.

“It would be illogical to say I see the inaccuracy for students and the potential harm but not for teachers,” Cuomo said. “So can you find a way to do that? That’s what we’re working through on that issue.”

Cuomo, union officials, and state lawmakers are currently in talks to temporarily lower the stakes attached to the state’s new teacher evaluation system, which for some teachers incorporates student scores on state tests. With the legislative session set to end next week, the Assembly and the New York State United Teachers are pushing a “moratorium” on the use of those tests, which since 2013 have been aligned to the Common Core.

Adding to the pressure this week, a senior executive from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an influential voice in education policy, said the organization supports decisions not to use Common Core-based test results on teacher evaluations for two years.

State test scores count for at least 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, though they could count for up to 40 percent in some cases. The remaining 60 percent is based mostly on reviews by the teacher’s principal.

Cuomo said the Assembly’s bill was “overkill” because it would discount all parts of a teacher’s evaluation, including the portion that’s not directly related to the Common Core tests.

“When they say moratorium, they mean the evaluation doesn’t count this year,” Cuomo said.

A spokesperson for the state teachers union said Assembly’s moratorium bill, which NYSUT backs, would preserve the current rating system. But he said teachers who receive two years of “ineffective” ratings based partially on state tests would not face termination, as the law allows.

Other officials who initially opposed the idea of a moratorium have also conceded that they’re open to changes. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said that she would agree with a retroactive two-year moratorium, as long evaluations for the 2014-15 school year count.

“If someone said to me, you’ve generated these evaluation numbers for the first two years, now let’s start at ground zero, I would say that’s not unreasonable,” Tisch said on Thursday.

It remains unclear how student performance would be factored into teacher evaluations for the next two years if Common Core state tests can’t count. The law currently requires 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student learning measures and if state tests can’t count, officials will have to come up with a different measure to take their place.

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