CAPITOL — State lawmakers took major steps this week to prohibit the use of student scores on annual state tests in teacher evaluations, potentially lifting a cloud that has fueled teacher fury and testing anxiety in recent years.
Lawmakers from both parties and in both chambers backed legislation that would eliminate from law a mandate that student scores on state tests be used in teacher and principal evaluations, setting the stage for districts and teachers to negotiate their evaluation systems district-by-district.
The testing-evaluation link was enshrined in law in 2015 and sparked outrage from teachers and ignited the state’s massive opt-out movements as parents refused to have their kids take the tests. The Board of Regents issued a moratorium on the use of test scores in evaluations until 2019, but many were still seeking a legislative fix as the moratorium neared an end.
Democratic leaders in the Assembly on Thursday announced legislation to remove the testing requirement and instructed Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to develop rules for alternative assessments that could be selected by districts as part of an evaluation process.
Republican senators followed suit on Friday, introducing matching legislation in that chamber.
“Kids learn differently and every kid tests differently,” said state Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, who on Friday co-sponsored the Senate version of legislation that was introduced in the Assembly on Thursday. “You cannot use [standardized tests] as the Holy Grail for evaluating kids or teachers.”
Tedisco said he has long railed against the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers. He introduced legislation when he was in the Assembly that would have limited student test scores to just 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation – legislation he has also pushed in the Senate.
Teacher union leaders across the state voiced support for the legislation but also cautioned that there remained work to be done to develop evaluation systems teachers felt fairly measure their performance.
“I definitely feel like this is a movement in the right direction,” Schenectady teachers union President Juliet Benaquisto said Friday.
She said she still had concerns about the way teachers are labeled under the law but that she looked forward to a chance to work out an evaluation system at the district level.
“It needs to be to me more than just a singular performance on a test by our students and observation in isolation,” Benaquisto said of teacher evaluations. “There is so much more that goes into how a teacher performs their job.”