December 2010 Issue
November 19, 2010

Teacher evaluation: Task force tackles implementation of new state law

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

As the state fleshes out details of the new statewide teacher evaluation system, NYSUT is making sure practitioners are involved every step of the way.

NYSUT members have a strong presence on the Regents Task Force on Teacher and Principal Effectiveness, which is working under a tight time frame to help define a new system that is scheduled to be phased in starting next September.

The new process, signed into law by the governor June 1, calls for educators to be rated in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.

The law requires a locally negotiated evaluation system that is based on multiple measures, including student test scores, and expands professional development. It will be up to the State Education Department and the Regents to set regulations governing the new process. Then it will be up to local unions to negotiate specific details to meet local needs.

The Regents Task Force, which will issue regulatory recommendations in the coming months, has a membership of one-third teachers, one-third principals and one-third other stakeholders, including superintendents and school board representatives.

"The task force will give practitioners a strong voice in defining student growth, multiple measures, the role of environmental factors in student learning and key elements of a fair evaluation system," NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said.

"We've asked a lot of tough questions at the first few meetings," said Karen Rock, an ELA/special education teacher at Plattsburgh Middle School. "They're hearing our voices and I get the impression that they're listening."

Rock also participates in NYSUT's Innovation Initiative, a statewide project including five labor-management teams working together to create and pilot a comprehensive teacher evaluation model. The Innovation Initiative work is helping practitioners on the task force raise numerous questions and concerns, including: 

How should student growth scores be shared if a student has more than one teacher in a given year (due to co-teaching, student transfers or leaves of absence)? How will teachers of students with disabilities and English language learners be measured? How will the change in state assessments affect the timing and ability to measure growth?

The task force is tackling a wide range of complex implementation issues, including what kind of locally selected measures can be used in evaluations; what criteria should the 60 percent non-student achievement part of the evaluation be based on; how to assess student learning and growth for non-tested subjects; and the definition of student growth. Other questions include how evaluators will be trained, how professional development will be offered and sustained, how Teacher Improvement Plans will work and how to take a building-level accountability system down to the teacher level.

Educators also raised concerns that state budget cuts have forced SED to back off on Academic Intervention Service mandates.

Rather than simply reviewing plans on paper, teachers asked for and won direct discussions with representatives of the Center for Assessment, an SED vendor providing technical assistance on developing a student testing growth model.

Teachers continue to make the case that the final regulations preserve local autonomy and flexibility in negotiating specifics.

Teachers on the task force have also offered valuable reality checks. When SED presented New York City's teacher evaluation program as a working model, UFT VP Aminda Gentile made it clear that it's a pilot being used on a small scale and not without concerns.

Aside from ensuring practitioners are on the Regents Task Force, NYSUT leaders are seeking field input through NYSUT Board work groups to help frame policy questions. In addition, NYSUT leaders are listening to concerns raised at Election District and regional informational meetings.

NYSUT officers recently discussed the evaluation law with union leaders from around the state on NYSUT's Policy Council.

Syracuse TA President Kevin Ahern said he is pleased about the professional development and support aspects of the new law. "The Teacher Improvement Plan and appeals process give us an opportunity to negotiate things at the local level that will help our members and relieve nagging doubt," Ahern said.

Ithaca TA's Susan Mittler said members need to be involved and informed about the new process.

"We want to make sure we have member engagement," Neira said. "We are committed to keeping you informed and making this a two-way process."