June 2011 Issue
May 21, 2011

Union redoubles push for fair teacher evaluations

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

NYSUT and its local unions will take action to ensure the educational integrity and fairness of teacher evaluations - despite the Board of Regents' adoption of regulations that are inconsistent with the new law, the recommendations of the Regents' own task force, and research on best practice in assessments.

Efforts will include collective bargaining - the law requires that virtually all aspects of the teacher evaluation process be negotiated - and possible legal challenges to the new regulations.

Meanwhile, NYSUT is suspending collaboration with the State Education Department, including participation in and co-sponsorship of SED's June 13-14 District/Union Collaboration at Cornell University, a conference aimed at implementing the evaluation law.

The Regents' 11th-hour changes in the regulations for implementing the law sparked outrage from educators and assessment experts, including open letters of protest from nationally recognized researchers and New York State teachers of the year. NOTE: The letter from the teachers of the year will be available online Monday, May 23.

In what NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi called "a significant setback for reform and innovation in New York state," the Regents voted 14-to-3 May 16 to approve regulations that would permit the option of using student performance on a single state test to account for 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation. NYSUT contends the Regents' action is contrary to the language and intent of the law, which was designed to strengthen instruction, support local autonomy, and model best practice by using multiple measures to assess student learning and teacher effectiveness.

"Collaboration now becomes a victim of Albany bureaucracy, legal debate and political posturing," Iannuzzi said. "New York state was poised to take the lead on a path to a thoughtful and comprehensive evaluation system. Promising procedures developed in partnership with stakeholders and in response to the voice of practitioners have been sidetracked by political expedience and a misguided rush to get it done - instead of getting it done right."

The Regents approved new regulations that, among other changes, would:

  • Allow districts and locals to negotiate as an option the use of student results on a single test for up to 40 percent of a teacher's annual evaluation. In fact, the law enacted last year limits the use of a single state test to 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation and specifies that the remaining student achievement component (another 20 percent of the total evaluation) must be measured by other locally developed and selected assessments.
  • Fast track the timeline for rolling out the new system. The system was supposed to take effect this fall for teachers of math and English language arts in grades 4 to 8, as well as their building principals. Everyone else would be subject to new procedures starting with the 2012-13 school year. But the Regents are now asking districts to "begin the process of rolling this system out … to the extent possible," for all classroom teachers and building principals in the 2011-12 school year.
  • Impose a system placing increased weight on classroom observations and requiring multiple observations, despite the fact the law relegates such matters to collective bargaining.
  • Adjust scoring ranges in what experts say is a misuse of and over-emphasis on standardized testing.

"We will use the collective bargaining process to stand up against what would be a flawed over-reliance on standardized testing that is a disservice to both students and teachers," Iannuzzi said.

Three Regents, from left, Betty Rosa, Roger Tilles and Kathleen Cashin, took a courageous stand and voted against regulations for teacher evaluations. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

The law calls for each teacher and principal to receive an annual professional performance review (APPR) resulting in a single composite effectiveness score and a rating of "highly effective," "effective," "developing" or "ineffective."

The law requires the composite score to be determined as follows: 20 percent student growth on state assessments or a comparable measure of student achievement growth; 20 percent other, locally selected measures of student achievement that are determined to be rigorous and comparable across classrooms; and 60 percent other measures of teacher/principal effectiveness, with virtually all of the law's provisions subject to local collective bargaining.

Evaluations under the new system could eventually play a significant role, depending on collective bargaining, in a wide array of employment decisions, including promotion, retention, tenure determinations, termination and supplemental compensation, which is why it is essential that it be fair, educationally sound and reliable. It will not replace seniority rights.

NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira noted that the evaluation law provides a significant role for local unions to be both strong advocates and partners in strengthening instruction and evaluations.

"The law ensures that collective bargaining is a tool for bringing about collaborative solutions," Neira said. "Our commitment to creating a thoughtful, fair and comprehensive process for APPR remains steadfast, unshaken by political expediency of those who would circumvent best practice in ensuring teacher effectiveness."

Neira said NYSUT will continue its leadership role through collective bargaining at the local level and through NYSUT's Innovation Initiative, which is piloting a research-based teacher evaluation and professional development system in six school districts.

The Innovation Initiative model includes student achievement as one measure, but emphasizes numerous other measures, including intensive observation and feedback; pre- and post-observation conferences with evaluators; and self-reflective study and goal-setting as part of a comprehensive teacher support and evaluation system. The Regents' action ignored many of the findings of its own task force of educators and other stakeholders who spent months collaborating on how best to implement the new law.

The vote also came after the Regents received a letter from nationally recognized education researchers who warned about using standardized tests to evaluate individual teachers given the particular weaknesses of New York's exams.

Citing the concerns voiced by practitioners and researchers, three of the Regents stood strong and voted against the revised regulations.

"I disagree with using the same test twice," said Regent Kathleen Cashin of Brooklyn, noting the state's assessments were created to measure the skills of students, not teachers. She also noted the new system would hold teachers accountable to new standards without providing commensurate training for them to improve. "How can we have an accountability system without the pervasive, deep professional development?" Cashin said. "That's what all the countries exceeding us are doing."

Regent Roger Tilles of Long Island said school districts simply do not have enough funding or resources to implement the system, which will encourage too many to take the easy way out and overuse the state standardized tests.

"Given the high-stakes nature ... this pushes everyone to do well at all costs," Tilles said. "It tempts teachers to teach to a certain type of kid; it lends itself to manipulation." He said this will further narrow the curriculum to focus only on tested subjects.

Regent Betty Rosa of the Bronx agreed that the current tests are not built to reflect growth for students at the high or low end of the spectrum. She cited an eighth-grade teacher with students functioning at a first-, second- or third-grade level.

"The truth of the matter is, even if I work miracles and bring those students from first or second grade all the way up to third- or fourth-grade level, they're going to score at level one and no growth will be shown," she said. Ironically, on the same day the Regents voted to allow the option of weighting standardized tests more heavily, they voted to postpone test development and to get rid of several Regents' exams to close an $8 million deficit in the state's assessment program.

"This setback makes the complex work of implementation more difficult. However, it does not override collective bargaining and our principles. A comprehensive evaluation system must have local flexibility, recognize that teaching is complex and cannot be summarized by a single test score, and must be transparent," Neira said. "We will not be silenced as we, the experts, lead the fight for a fair evaluation system."