Senate leader hits pause on teacher eval bill

Legislator: Process could take months
John J. Flanagan, the New York State Senate majority leader, is seen in May.
John J. Flanagan, the New York State Senate majority leader, is seen in May.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Tuesday pressed pause on a bill that would give schools more leeway in teacher evaluations.

The legislation, which was passed overwhelmingly by the Assembly last week and has garnered bipartisan support from dozens of senators, would make the use of student scores on state tests optional in teacher and principal evaluations.

Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, cited concerns from state officials and administrators, including Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who have argued the bill could result in more student testing, as the method for evaluating teachers would have to be worked out in negotiations between school districts and teachers.

Since districts will still be required to administer state math and English tests to students in grades three through eight, if districts chose to use an alternative assessment for teacher evaluations, students could have to sit through yet another exam, Elia and the groups have warned.

“The last thing we want to do is to make a mistake that rolls back the progress that has been won on behalf of the students of our state,” Flanagan said in a prepared statement.

The state School Boards Association and the State Council of School Superintendents have both called for caution in considering the consequences of the bill. They have also raised concerns the bill gives more power over teacher evaluations to local teachers unions.

Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, was one of two Republican senators who introduced the bill in the Senate. Last week, after Elia started voicing concerns with the “unintended consequences” of the legislation, Tedisco said severing the link between state tests and teacher evaluations, which has fueled the state’s massive opt-out movement, was long overdue.

“We have to get this done,” he said Friday. “Parents are sending a message.”

Tedisco joined a bipartisan press conference Tuesday at the Capitol, where lawmakers pressed for the bill’s passage in the Senate.

For now, Flanagan doesn’t appear ready to bring the bill up for a vote. In his Tuesday statement, Flanagan promised “extensive review of this legislation,” adding that lawmakers will act after discussions over the “coming weeks and months” with interested parties.

Supporters of the slowdown argue it’s better to take the time to get changes to a hot-button issue right.

“We think if we took time, we can do this better,” said Bob Lowry, of the State Council of School Superintendents, who referenced previous legislative attempts to change the evaluation process that raised only more headaches for both educators and politicians. “Shouldn’t we be attentive to the possibility of unintended consequences? Maybe there is a lesson there that we should take time to do this well.”

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