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Teachers union, state disagree over teacher evaluations

Teachers union, state disagree over teacher evaluations

New system expected to be rolled out by fall 2019
Teachers union, state disagree over teacher evaluations
Photographer: Shutterstock

State officials and the state’s largest teachers union don’t see eye to eye on the best way to move forward with teacher and school leader evaluations.

State officials are asking educators what they want in a teacher evaluation system — an issue that has sparked contentious political fights in recent years — as they look to roll out a new system by fall 2019.

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But the state’s biggest teachers union, New York State United Teachers, said state officials should scrap the 18-month planning process all together and empower local school districts to develop their own evaluation plans.

“The teachers we represent believe the time to fix [teacher evaluations] is this year,” NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango said during a Board of Regents meeting Monday. “We’ve been talking about this for years; we feel like teachers have made really clearly how they feel about the system, and we feel like we need to restore it to local control with no state mandates.”

DiBrango said NYSUT thought a teacher survey released this month was poorly designed and the union was not recommending teachers participate in it, though she said teachers were free to do so if they wanted.

The state Education Department is hoping that, by using information gleaned from surveys, focus groups and public hearings, it can avert the controversy that accompanied its previous attempt to rework its teacher evaluation system.

The union’s posture complicates that goal as state officials seek feedback from teachers.

The Education Department is putting together a pair of work groups tasked with developing recommendations by spring 2019 for how the performance of teachers and school principals should be measured.

“It was clear we don’t have an ideal system and we needed to get feedback,” state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Monday at the Regents meeting.

She said the proposed timeline, which envisions having a new system in place by the start of the 2019-20 school year, may need to be extended. If a new system isn’t in place by the start of that school year, state officials may have to extend a moratorium on using student test scores as part of teacher evaluations. (In 2015, the state approved changes that linked student test scores to teacher evaluation scores, a change teachers fiercely opposed and one that helped fuel the statewide parent opt-out movement.)

“The word on the top of the list for all of us is the issue of trust,” Chancellor Betty Rosa said. “Engaging in this work, the trust factor is critical. ... We can't afford any hiccups.”

Elia said gathering input from educators may take longer than the time allotted by Monday's proposal.

“If there is a need for more time to listen more carefully to feedback and comments coming, we certainly want to be in a position where we can make those decisions,” Elia said.

Moreover, the recommended changes could require action from the state Legislature, which would again bring politics into the issue. Elia told the Board of Regents she didn’t know whether legislation would be needed, but that it was possible.

“I think that’s the big issue right now; we don’t know what will come out, but it’s possible it will require some other [legislative] changes,” Elia said.

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