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New state data paves way for final teacher and principal ratings

Emolior Academy Principal Derick Spaulding, speaking with Chancellor Carmen Fariña, is among 1,000 city principals whose evaluations will be based on student growth score data, which the state sent to districts on Friday.
Emolior Academy Principal Derick Spaulding, speaking with Chancellor Carmen Fariña, is among 1,000 city principals whose evaluations will be based on student growth score data, which the state sent to districts on Friday.
Geoff Decker

The State Education Department sent final test-score data to school districts on Friday, meaning the city has what it needs to calculate performance ratings for teachers and principals for the first time using its new evaluation system.

Friday’s delivery included “growth scores” for teachers in fourth through eighth grades and principals of elementary and middle schools. The scores, based on student performance on the state English and math tests, are designed to calculate how much students learn in a year while controlling for differences in demographics and past performance.

The city is now charged with combining those scores with scores from observations and other exams for that 14 percent of the city’s teaching force and for about 1,000 elementary and middle-school principals. Ratings for the rest of the city’s teachers and principals are calculated solely by the city.

The late-summer process is new for New York City, which implemented its evaluation system for the first time last school year. It’s also coming at a time of transition for the city’s teacher evaluation office, which sources say has lost several top officials in recent weeks and was folded into another office amid the turnover.

The growth scores range from zero to 20 points and will count for 20 percent of afinal evaluation rating. Teachers and principals who receive fewer than two points will be rated “ineffective,” though they won’t face any negative consequences if they score higher on the evaluation’s other portions, like the classroom observations, thanks to state legislation passed this June.

For teachers and principals who receive low overall ratings this year, the city will have 10 days from Sept. 4 to create “improvement plans” for the upcoming school year. The district has until Oct. 17 to verify data and report final evaluation scores back to the state.

Elementary and middle school staff members can’t yet see their state-created “growth scores,” but the city must send final ratings to teachers and principals by Sept. 2. (Districts will have to wait until Aug. 28 to receive test data for high school principals.)

Though state test results count for just one-fifth of a rating, their use in evaluating teachers are the most controversial part of New York state’s evaluation law, which was passed in 2010 in order to improve the state’s chances of winning federal Race to the Top grants. The law allows districts to use evaluation ratings in making decisions about employment or giving teachers tenure, and two straight “ineffective” ratings could lead to a teacher’s firing.

Though teachers unions originally agreed to implement the new evaluations, they have increasingly criticized the role of testing, arguing that the scores aren’t an accurate portrayal of teacher quality—especially as the state tests have also changed to reflect the Common Core learning standards.

Political pressure has also gotten to the Obama administration, whose Race to the Top program encouraged many states to overhaul their evaluation laws to include student test scores. The U.S. Department of Education had pushed back against changes to New York’s evaluation system just months ago, but Secretary Arne Duncan announced a reversal on Thursday, saying states could delay the use of test results for a year as they continued to roll out the Common Core.

Though evaluations now have lower stakes in New York, the data could still be fodder for the ongoing debate over teacher quality. Last year, 92 percent of teachers statewide — excluding New York City — were rated in top two categories, effective or highly effective. Just 1 percent of teachers were rated ineffective.

Former news anchor Campbell Brown, who heads one of two parent groups suing to overturn state tenure laws, has said the low percentage of teachers rated “ineffective” in the 2013 demonstrates that the current evaluation system can’t effectively identify and remove weak teachers.

As the city calculates evaluation scores for 2013-14, the state is still dragging its feet in releasing a breakdown of even older teacher evaluation results, from the 2012-13 school year. State law bars the release of ratings by name, but it requires the department to disclose other evaluation data. Department officials plan to break down the evaluation ratings along several categories, including by school, grade, district wealth, student need and district spending, though they have been slowed by concerns over privacy.

“We anticipate a public release very soon,” state spokesman Dennis Tompkins said.

The remaining 80 percent are made up of 60 points based on classroom observations and 20 points based on other student tests.

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