Another bite at teacher evaluations in New York

I’ve commended the deal that New York state struck with its teacher’s union over teacher evaluations . . . maybe prematurely, as it turns out. As today’s Education Week update points out, the “end game” has yet to play out.

Although the grand bargain on teacher evaluations in New York state has saved—for now—the state’s $700 million federal Race to the Top award, the long-term picture for carrying out the evaluation deal has a lot more fine print involved.

The agreement last month between the state education department and the state teachers’ union is only a starting point for the local union representatives and district officials who have to negotiate their own deals and present them to state Commissioner of Education John B. King for final approval by Jan. 17 of next year. Several obstacles remain.

Obstacles include continuing anger – and litigation – over the publication of teacher value-added test scores. This raises a further question of whether school districts will make the new evaluations, which will go well beyond test scores, available to parents. This will probably lead to still another court battle. As Education Week reports:

The state education department has not taken a position on whether the new evaluations should be available to the public, said Tom Dunn, a department spokesman.

But there is at least some sentiment that a court battle over making the evaluations public is a foregone conclusion. “I think there’s going to be quite a battle of litigation over this particular issue for some time to come,” said Cathy Corbo, the president of the 750-member Albany teachers’ union.


Schools and teachers will also need to grapple with developing assessments that evaluate performance in subjects not traditionally tested, such as music, art, and physical education.

Still, it will be interesting to follow what happens in New York, not least because it involved collaboration (albeit a kind of shotgun marriage) between the state and teacher’s unions to establish more rigorous teacher evaluations. Here, as a reminder, is the final grand bargain:

The agreed-upon framework calls for 60 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to consist of “teacher performance” based on classroom observations, portfolios of student work, and other nonquantified measures. That portion of the evaluation must be locally bargained.

The remaining 40 percent has two significant pieces, with 20 percent based on student growth on state tests such as the English/language arts and math exams in grades 4-8, and 20 percent based on student growth and achievement measures that are locally bargained. The locally determined measures must be approved by the state education department and can include third-party tests and district tests. The local measures can also include data from state tests. Those data must be used differently from the state-determined 20 percent of the evaluation.

This strikes me as a great opportunity for teachers to think through what truly excellent assessments would look like, and act on that knowledge. Alas, it also strikes me as a great opportunity to stonewall meaningful change.

The good news is that New York’s reforms are getting a lot of national attention, not least because Governor Cuomo is widely touted as a likely 2016 presidential nominee. We could learn a lot in the process.

Here’s the Education Week link:



One comment

  1. Fred 44


    You are correct, this presents a great opportunity for the stakeholders to come together to improve instruction for students. I am always concerned when I see terms like “stonewall” used. As a leader in my local teachers association I will fight to make sure that the evaluation system is valid and reliable. Establishing that standard may cause some to view me as a person who is “stonewalling”.

    I have been teaching for 25 years, I have experienced more “flavor of the month” programs than I can even remember. It is way past time when it comes to educational reform to slow down, and get it right. Some of the problems we have today are the result of rushing into bad decisions to satisfy the public or politicians desire to see change. NCLB is a prime example of what I am talking about. There is much that is good in NCLB, but some of the policies forced into place by NCLB have hindered us in attempts to reform education. I would suggest that change should be pragmatic, and well thought out, which does not equate to stonewalling.

    The Utah legislature learned this year that better educational policy is created when educators are involved. If Governor Cuomo is truly interested in improving education in his state, he will reach out to educators as the “details” in this legislation are worked out. Utah has put together a plan for evaluation for all school employees (SB 64) that will be rolled out over the next several years as valid and reliable evaluations can be developed and put into place for employees as well as students. It is exciting in Utah and New York to see politicians finally involving teachers in educational policy development.

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