NY Regents: Stop the madness
It’s “back to school” for the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department that it oversees. But will it also be “back to court”? Primed by the Race to the Top pump, Empire State legislators passed a bill last year ordering districts to base 20 percent of their teacher evaluations on student growth measured by state tests. They also stipulated that another 20 percent of the evals be based on “other locally selected measures of student achievement.” But the Regents got a little greedy. In May, they voted to merge the “locally selected” with the state assessment, effectively making 40 percent of the teacher evaluation dependent on state test scores. New York’s teacher union was predictably miffed—and took the matter to court. Flash forward to last week, when a state judge in Albany ruled against the Regents: New York cannot mandate that state test scores be used for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Upon hearing the news, State Education Commissioner John King, Jr. sounded off that the state would appeal the decision. Hold on, there, King. We are in the infancy of teacher-evaluation reform. When it comes down to the details, we’ve got little more than educated guesses as to what will work best under which circumstances. Yes, tying 40 percent of an evaluation to test scores might make it easier to dump a teacher who gets terrible results. But it might also create unhealthy pressure for all educators in the state to teach narrowly to the test. Maybe 20 percent would strike a better balance—and still allow administrators to move bad teachers out of the classroom. We don’t really know as yet, nor does anybody else. So Regents (and NYDOE officials), be mindful: Your newfangled evaluation system is going to be miles more rigorous than what virtually all your districts have today, regardless of whether one-fifth or two-fifths of the ratings comes down to test scores. Call off the lawyers, and get down to work.
|Click to listen to commentary on testing and teacher evaluation in NY from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
“Teacher Test Overhaul Struck Down,” by Jacob Gershman, Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2011.“NY Court: Teacher Evals Can’t Focus on Test Scores,” by Staff, Associated Press, August 24, 2011.
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