By the numbers

92 percent of city teachers earn high marks in newest round of evaluations

As state officials voted to change the way New York teachers are evaluated Monday, they released new data showing that more than 92 percent of city teachers earned an “effective” rating or higher last year.

In New York City, 10.8 percent of teachers earned a top rating of “highly effective” for the 2014-15 school year, up from about 9 percent last year. Most teachers, more than 81 percent, earned an “effective” rating, while 6.5 percent were rated “developing” and 1 percent earned the lowest rating, “ineffective.”

The results skewed higher outside the city, with more than 98 percent of teachers earning an effective or highly effective rating.

This marks the second year that New York City teachers were rated under the new, four-level evaluation system, and the third year for the rest of the state’s teachers. But the evaluations are likely to look different next year, after the Board of Regents approved a plan Monday to create a “transition” evaluation system that avoids using state test results until the 2019-20 school year.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia pointed to the results Monday, emphasizing that few teachers were being penalized by the evaluations. But she acknowledged that the evaluation process, and the repeated changes to it over the last few years, have been difficult for educators.

“We have an evaluation system that is in place that has caused this stress in our teacher force and our administrators and across the state,” Elia said.

Last year’s ratings included three components: classroom observations, which counted for 60 percent of a teacher’s rating; state test scores or other state-chosen learning metrics, which counted for 20 percent, and other student learning metrics chosen by the city, which counted for another 20 percent.

City officials touted the results, noting that teacher ratings were more evenly distributed than the ratings statewide. Education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye attributed that “to efforts made to develop a system that is accurate and rigorous, and which emphasizes the developmental aspects of measuring and improving teacher quality.”

Kaye could not say how many tenured city teachers earned a second ineffective rating this year, allowing the city to start proceedings to remove them from the classroom.

Though the number of teachers receiving the lowest overall ratings has been small, the role of test scores in those evaluations has been under fierce scrutiny for years.

A Long Island teacher sued the state in February over the portion of her evaluation determined by student test scores. That score had fluctuated wildly over three years, which she said illustrated deep flaws in the system. The city and state teachers unions have long derided the complexity of the formulas the state uses to determine those growth scores.

Across the state, anger about the role of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations helped fuel New York’s opt-out movement this spring, which saw 20 percent of eligible students sit out the exams in English and math.

On Monday, Elia said the new rules were necessary to allow teachers’ worries to subside.

“We need to move this agenda,” she said. “The constituent groups are very willing to understand that we need to move forward.”

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Hold Harmless

BREAKING: ‘Pass this bill!’ Tennessee House tells Senate to hold teachers harmless on TNReady test

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
The Tennessee House of Representatives is in its final week of the 2018 legislative session.

Tennessee lawmakers were in a standoff Wednesday on legislation that would yank this year’s standardized test scores from teacher evaluations after days of problems administering the TNReady assessment this spring.

Concerned that last week’s legislation to shield students, teachers, and schools didn’t go far enough, the House unanimously approved an 11th-hour bill to hold teachers harmless from this year’s scores.

The Senate, meanwhile, had yet to take up the measure by early evening, grinding the legislature to a halt.

To make their point, the House was holding the state’s $37.5 billion budget hostage again in the last hours of the 2018 General Assembly, targeted for adjournment on the same day.

Representatives used a similar tactic last week when they waited until an agreement was forged with the Senate and Gov. Bill Haslam before approving the state’s spending plan. This week, they had yet to send the budget to the governor, the last official business before lawmakers can return home to campaign during an election year.

“If you don’t understand — from the school district to the superintendents — that we want our teachers held harmless, then I’m sorry, you’re tone-deaf,” said Rep. Eddie Smith, a Knoxville Republican who led the charge.

“This body wants them held harmless,” he said to applause in the House.

“To my Senate colleagues … ,” he added, “pass this bill!”

Lawmakers have been inundated with phone calls and emails from teachers and parents angry about the most recent bungles with TNReady. The upheaval began last week when technical problems erupted on the online version. At one point, the state Department of Education and its testing company, Questar, blamed some of the glitches on a cyber attack.

TNReady is now in the second of a three-week testing window, with serious problems cropping up during at least four of those days, including on Wednesday when an overnight software upgrade by Questar affected online rosters for high schoolers.

Last week, the legislature voted to reduce the impact of TNReady scores for students, teachers, and schools. However, instead of removing the test results from teacher evaluations, the legislation merely prevented local districts from using the scores for any decisions related to hiring, firing, or compensating teachers.

That bill was carefully drafted as Tennessee sought to keep its school accountability plan in compliance with a federal education law requiring states to include student performance in their teacher evaluation model.

Rep. Eddie Smith of Knoxville stands at the podium of the Tennessee House of Representatives on Wednesday as the chamber’s education leaders press for a bill to hold teachers harmless for this year’s TNReady scores.

This week, the House pushed for a “hold harmless bill similar to a 2016 law passed after the failed switch to computerized testing and the eventual cancellation of most of TNReady that school year.

“If the data does not help [teachers], it’s excluded and their evaluation will be based on the observation or the qualitative portion. That’s exactly what we did in 2015-16,” said Rep. John Forgety, the House education committee chairman who helped to shepherd the 2016 law.

This story will be updated.

time off

Language in contract for Aurora teachers changed conversations about walkouts

Colorado educators rally outside the State Capitol. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school district’s contract with its teachers places a cap so that no more than 30 teachers can take personal leave on any given day. This mundane contract provision took on new importance when hundreds of teachers started requesting leave to attend rallies planned for Friday.

Over the weekend, union leaders, board members, and administrators discussed how this would play out. In the end, Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn canceled classes. As of Monday, when the decision was made, about 1,000 teachers had requested the day off. That’s nearly half the district’s teachers.

A letter to staff, clarifying that the leave policy has not been lifted, sheds new light on the behind-the-scenes discussions.

Bruce Wilcox, the president of the teachers union, said Monday that union leaders started many of the discussions Friday, as they sent out a survey to members asking if they were interested in walking out and asking if they would do it without pay. More than 400 teachers responded over the weekend, and of those who responded about half said they were willing to walk out without pay.

“This has been a fluid situation,” Wilcox said. “As an association we in no way want to violate our contract, but we also recognize that individuals believe this is going to be the biggest statement they can make about education funding in their individual careers. This has kind of reached a critical mass.”

Wilcox said union leadership reached out to board members and found that board members would not support disciplining teachers who violated district leave policies.

Board president Marques Ivey said he could only speak for himself, but confirmed that was his opinion.

“That’s definitely my feeling is that I don’t believe personally that anyone wants to see teachers disciplined,” Ivey said.

Munn’s letter clarifies that neither the administration nor the board have the authority to stop the district’s policy or contract from applying to Friday’s walkouts.

“The board has not taken any kind of formal position on anything related to this matter,” Munn’s letter states. “The board cannot change the leave policy or make a one time exemption for this purpose. If the board were to change policy for the express purpose of facilitating attendance at this event, it would be an act of the district using taxpayer dollars to support a political activity,” which is not allowed.

So, what will happen is that the first 30 Aurora teachers who asked for personal leave on Friday may get it as one of their three special leave days earned during the year. Most other teachers who want to take a day off must do so without pay.

Other districts, including in Jeffco, have similar policies, but without the cap on how many teachers can request leave. In Jeffco, teachers only get two days off per year for personal reasons. Those teachers who have already used their two days and choose to walk out this week will also have to take a day without pay.

Aurora’s cap on the number of teachers taking personal leave was added to the contract between the teachers union and the district in 2014.

“I don’t think the language, when it was put in the contract, was ever seen as something that would be used against someone,” Wilcox said. “Both the district and the association wanted to make sure we didn’t have a situation where a school or the district was impacted negatively.”

Wilcox said he isn’t aware of teachers reaching that cap any other time this year, but mentioned that certain social events such as the Broncos parade after their Super Bowl win in 2016 might have been a case where several teachers were requesting a day off.

Although the union was planning to have teachers stage walk-ins, Wilcox said teachers said they felt that was not enough.

“When you have 200 people saying I believe in this that much, to take a day without pay, that’s pretty significant,” Wilcox said.

Board president Ivey said overall he thinks the situation has been handled as well as it could have.

“There’s no handbook on how to deal with this,” Ivey said. “I believe the district and AEA are doing the best they can. I don’t believe the district is against the very fundamental policies that the teachers are marching for.”