June 2011 Issue
May 21, 2011

Where we stand on teacher evaluations

Source: NYSUT United


In a move NYSUT says contradicts state law, the state Board of Regents has adopted regulations that offer districts and locals the option of negotiating the use of student results on standardized state tests to account for 40 percent of teachers' annual evaluation.

This action ignores the recommendations of the Regents' own task force; it ignores best practice documented by nationally recognized researchers; and it contradicts the state's recently passed law on teacher/principal evaluations, which allows 20 percent of an evaluation to be comprised of student growth on standardized tests, but specifies that an additional 20 percent must be comprised of student performance on other locally developed and selected measures.

Fortunately, since the law requires that virtually all aspects of the process for teacher evaluations, including development of improvement plan procedures as well as appeals processes to challenge flawed evaluations, must be negotiated locally through collective bargaining, educators can continue to advocate for educationally sound evaluation procedures. This includes making sure that the other measures of student achievement are truly the product of local decision-making. NYSUT encourages members to share with parents and other community members these points about teacher evaluations.

Talking points

  • The state Board of Regents' decision to allow the option of over-reliance on student standardized tests in evaluations is a significant setback for education reform in New York state. Both the chancellor and the commissioner of education have previously cited flaws in the state's standardized tests, one of many reasons why the law clearly limits their use in evaluations and requires the use of multiple other locally determined measures of student achievement.
  • Parents understand intuitively that double-counting student performance on a single test does a disservice to both students and teachers alike. It defies logic and would promote inappropriate, high-stakes use of a standardized test that was never designed for that purpose.
  • The double-counting option ignores the recommendations of the Regents' own task force calling for rigorous, fair and comprehensive evaluations relying on multiple measures of effectiveness for student learning, which the law says should be locally selected.
  • The Regents' decision also ignores a significant body of research on assessments from nationally respected education researchers - a move that prompted almost a dozen national experts to issue a letter saying why it is wrong to over-rely on standardized testing. (See letter, page 8.)
  • Most troubling, the Regents' action contradicts legislation enacted a year ago. The law says student growth on standardized state tests can account for 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation, with another 20 percent comprised of other measures of student achievement. This approach makes sense and aligns with best practice in testing, since a balance between standardized testing and multiple other measures produces a truer picture of student performance and teacher effectiveness. This is why the law is clear in requiring multiple measures.
  • It is not true that over-reliance on standardized testing is a more rigorous way to evaluate teachers. In fact, it's less rigorous, less comprehensive and more subject to skewing. It is an easy way out of the necessary but challenging work of establishing comprehensive teacher evaluations.
  • This flawed option is contrary to the overarching mission, embraced by teachers throughout a year of collaboration, of developing an evaluation system that works to strengthen classroom practice and instruction. Ironically, the Regents took this stance even as they voted to cut funding for test development and voted to eliminate numerous exams for middle school and high schools.
  • Over-reliance on standardized tests would undermine local decision-making and community autonomy. Districts where high numbers of students live in poverty would be especially disadvantaged, facing pressure to over-use standardize tests rather than commit resources to develop credible and authentic local assessments. n Contrary to myth, teachers and their statewide union have long advocated replacing "drive-by" evaluations with a transparent, comprehensive and rigorous evaluation system that advances high standards for teacher effectiveness. In fact, after winning competitive national grants to support its Innovation Initiative, NYSUT is leading a pilot of labor/management teams in six school districts that are successfully developing rigorous evaluations that advance teacher effectiveness and student learning.
  • NYSUT and its locals will employ collective bargaining to uphold the law and best practice in evaluations. Meanwhile, NYSUT is suspending collaborations with the State Education Department as a result of this breach and will continue to pursue all avenues necessary to remedy this error. NYSUT and its members across New York state continue our commitment to ensuring high standards and quality evaluations of teacher effectiveness, and will continue to speak truth to power against inappropriate use of testing wherever it affects students and educators.
  • NYSUT and its locals have a proven track record of practicing strong advocacy as well as developing strong partnerships to advance public education, and will continue to pursue both avenues to uphold the highest standards of the teaching profession.