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Left, Mark Cannizzaro, a top official with the city's  Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.

Left, Mark Cannizzaro, a top official with the city’s Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.

Geoff Decker

At ‘evalapalooza,’ officials urged to limit use of tests, give districts breathing room

The State Education Department’s nine-hour summit designed to collect feedback on New York’s next teacher evaluation system is over, but the work is only beginning for the state’s education policymakers.

“I gave my mom a call and told her I won’t be seeing her this weekend,” said the department’s senior deputy commissioner, Ken Wagner, who moderated the event. “I got work to do, man.”

None of the groups representing teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards who testified Thursday seemed thrilled with the evaluation system they will soon be charged with implementing, and a few called for changes that would not comply with state law. But between coffee breaks, panelists at what Twitter quickly dubbed #evalapalooza offered dozens of recommendations for how state education officials should finalize the evaluation system.

Here are a few of the suggestions that emerged:

Keep percentage of state test scores “as low as possible”

The state teachers union said one way to reduce the role of state test scores is to use a second set of assessments — and then give them significantly more weight than the state tests. In the state union’s ideal scenario, state tests would then count for “no more than 20 percent” of the portion of a teacher’s rating based on student performance, or just about 10 percent of a teacher’s overall rating.

City teachers union president Michael Mulgrew wouldn’t say if his union supported that proposal. He will have to negotiate those terms with city officials.

Change New York’s growth model

Seven top education researchers disagreed during a lengthy discussion about whether the state’s “growth model” method for measuring student learning is valid and fair. Harvard economist Thomas Kane argued that it was, but could be improved by using a teacher’s growth data from previous years, as opposed to just one year.

Neil O’Brien, superintendent of the Port Byron Central School District, made a similar point earlier in the day, suggesting that student growth for English and math teachers in fourth through eighth grade should be measured using multiple years of testing data.

Let districts decide on their observation process

The new state law requires that teachers receive at least two observations, one from a school supervisor and one from an independent evaluator. But giving districts whatever flexibility remains to devise their own observation systems was a popular recommendation among the groups who testified.

The state teachers union, for instance, said that the number of observations should be decided in local negotiations, but said none should last less than 20 minutes long. The statewide school boards association, on the other hand, said there should be no time constraints for observations, but that tenured teachers should be required to receive fewer than non-tenured teachers.

Keep — or kill — “schoolwide measures”

Bedford Schools Superintendent Jere Hochman said the state should continue to allow “schoolwide measures” of student learning, which rate all of a school’s teachers on student performance on one test — including teachers who don’t teach the test subject or even the same students.

The United Federation of Teachers wants to eliminate that measure, but Hochman, who said his schools use English test scores to rate teachers, said “literacy is the basis of everything that we do and we believe that every single adult in the building is responsible” for that teaching.