Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York’s teachers union are working toward an agreement to keep student scores on Common Core-aligned tests from counting toward a teacher’s evaluation.
But the two sides are still divided over which evaluation years will include those scores, and how long into the future to discount them. There is also disagreement over what, if anything, should replace the part of a teacher’s rating that was based on test scores.
Those issues are on the table as they negotiate a union-backed bill to change the state’s teacher evaluation law, New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee said in a radio interview on Friday. Magee said she was “guardedly optimistic” that a deal would be reached before the legislative session ends next Thursday.
Addressing teacher evaluations is one of the few issues that both Democrats and Republicans seem eager to keep alive as that deadline approaches.
Magee said that the union and officials have found common ground on some of concerns that teachers have been raising for more than a year about the implementation of the evaluations. (For New York City teachers, this has been the first year working under the new evaluation system, but it’s the second year for the rest of the state’s teachers.)
Their debate has centered around whether new, tougher state English and math tests, which have been in place for the last two years, have been a fair way to measure how much students have learned. NYSUT is arguing that scores from the initial years of tests shouldn’t be used because their rollout was mishandled by the State Education Department—one part of a generally rocky transition to the Common Core learning standards.
“We’re saying that the tests are severely flawed, that they be deemed invalid and be tossed out,” Magee said.
Under the current law, tests count for 20 of 100 points that make up a teacher evaluation; they count for another 20 points in many districts. The remaining points are based largely on principal observations.
Magee said the union is focusing only on the points of the rating that are affected by the new tests. And she agreed with Cuomo that throwing out a teacher’s entire evaluation would be “overkill.”
Cuomo hasn’t publicly stated what role, exactly, the Common Core-aligned tests should play in evaluations. But he said that the law should be tweaked for teachers because of “flaws with the way Common Core was being implemented.”
But there is still some disagreement over when the test scores should matter again in teacher evaluations. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said on Thursday that they should count no later than the 2014-15 school year, while NYSUT’s bill, which has passed in the Assembly, would give teachers an additional year without worrying how student scores would affect their evaluations.
Another issue is what, exactly, would replace state test scores if that part of evaluations is discounted.
The NYSUT bill would give teachers a rating based solely on a principal’s observations in some cases. That goes against the state’s Race to the Top promise to measure teachers based on some measure of student learning. An alternative proposal that was being discussed, a union official said, wouldn’t change a teachers’ rating, but would ensure they couldn’t be fired based on multiple years of poor student performance on the Common Core tests.
If the bill passes, the changes won’t affect the majority of teachers in New York. Only about 20 percent of the state’s teachers work in state-tested grades and subjects, though other teachers—whose schools opted for evaluations that reflect schoolwide test score averages—could see changes as well.
The number of teachers that the changes would protect against termination, though, is likely to be small. The state hasn’t released a breakdown of ratings for the 2012-13 school year, but just 6 percent of teachers were rated “ineffective” on that part of their evaluation a year earlier.