Most LI teacher evaluation plans due to expire soon
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More than 90 percent of teacher evaluation plans that Long Island school districts rushed to complete by a state deadline already are nearing expiration, a lapse that some educators and analysts fear will weaken expectations for teachers' performance.
All but 10 of the plans covering the 124 public school districts will terminate June 30 because they are only one-year agreements, a Newsday review found. That's less than six months after the Jan. 17 deadline that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set for evaluation plans' approval by the state Department of Education.
Under state law, expired plans must be renegotiated in each district with unions representing school principals and teachers.
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Cuomo has declared the creation of evaluation plans in nearly 700 districts statewide "a great success" despite the plans' short duration.
However, New York City's school system -- the state's largest with 1.1 million students -- still has no plan in place. The governor has threatened to impose a plan by June if Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city's teacher union cannot settle their differences.
On the Island, in contrast, most school officials predict that the next round of negotiations will go smoothly. Many of those officials acknowledge, though, that the need to renegotiate carries a risk that union leaders will threaten to withhold their signatures unless they win concessions on evaluations or other issues.
It has happened before. In December and January, disputes between districts and unions representing administrators or teachers delayed approval of evaluation plans in Elmont, Hempstead, Montauk and Shoreham-Wading River.
Plan goes to 2015
Moving to avoid such a scenario, South Huntington settled on a plan that does not expire until 2015.
One South Shore school superintendent told a Newsday reporter that he already faces pressure to revise his district's plan, which expires in June.
"My union representative came to me the other day and said, 'We've got a list of things we want to change,' " recalled the schools chief, who asked that he not be identified. "These are the people being evaluated, and they want to change the evaluations."
Many school administrators worry that they won't have time to renegotiate plans in time to meet the state's next deadline. Cuomo has proposed a Sept. 1 target; some lawmakers want to set January as the deadline.
Some education analysts fear that standards could slip as plans are renegotiated.
"If the criteria is going to be changing from year to year, you're not going to be able to show any improvement or lack of improvement," said B. Jason Brooks, research director at the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, a conservative Albany-area think tank. "That really limits your ability to tell if a teacher is improving or needs to be dismissed."
New York State's elected officials and union leaders initially agreed to create a new system for evaluating teachers in 2010, then tightened the rules in February 2012. Their agreement was key to winning $700 million in federal Race to the Top school-improvement money.
The system provides that up to 40 percent of teachers' job ratings depend on whether students show improvement on standardized tests. The other 60 percent is based on more subjective measures such as classroom observations.
Ratings fall in four categories: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective.Teachers rated less than effective are given improvement plans. Teachers rated ineffective for two consecutive years can be fired.
The new rules represent a breakthrough, because the state previously banned use of students' test scores in judging teachers. Some school officials and analysts have concluded, however, that other aspects of the system are too weak.
Too early to judge impact
Case in point: Many district plans contain language to the effect that teachers will be deemed effective if 40 percent to 50 percent of their students meet local academic targets.
Brooks, of the school reform foundation, said that bar is set too low. "Under no circumstances should a teacher with nearly half the students failing to meet academic performance goals be considered effective at their job," he said.
Statewide, the impact of the evaluations system cannot yet be judged. The state Education Department has not publicly released results, even though it sent initial ratings for teachers in grades 4-8 to local districts last summer.
Legally, the department is barred from publicizing names and rankings of individual teachers. It is required, however, within limits, to release numerical data, such as numbers of teachers falling in each of the four ratings categories.
Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. declined to provide a release date when Newsday asked earlier this month.
Bloomberg refused to sign on in January, saying he could not accept a union proposal for a plan that would expire in 2015. The mayor contended that such a provision would "essentially sabotage" the entire agreement, because it would not allow time to weed out teachers who received two consecutive years of "ineffective" ratings.
The State Education Department has rejected this argument, as have school attorneys on Long Island. They say the law allowing teachers with poor evaluations to be fired remains in effect, even when district plans expire.
New York State United Teachers, a union umbrella group, defends the concept of single-year evaluation plans. Union representatives said that, with stakes so high for teachers, plans need to be re-evaluated and tweaked when flaws are reported.
"This is a very huge undertaking and a very new way to look at what happens in the classroom," said Dick Iannuzzi, NYSUT's president and a former Central Islip teacher. "So the need to make midcourse corrections is a very important component."
Many of the Island's school officials agree, especially in districts where labor-management relations run smoothly.
"I have no expectation that this [renegotiation] is going to be a big deal," said Hank Grishman, the Jericho schools chief and a former president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "Let's sit down and negotiate and shake hands for another year."
District leaders with multiyear plans in place note, however, that their approach has some advantages. Such districts do not face the financial penalties the state has threatened to impose on districts without plans.
"To think we were going to spend the better part of a year putting a plan together and then having it last for less than a year just wouldn't be appropriate," said John Lorentz, the superintendent in Farmingdale, where the evaluation plan expires in 2014.Other Island districts with multi-year plans in place are Copiague, Oyster Bay-East Norwich, Plainview-Old Bethpage, Riverhead, Rocky Point, Shelter Island, Syosset and Valley Stream 30.