A four-year moratorium on use of student scores on Common Core state tests to evaluate job performances by teachers and principals gained quick and overwhelming preliminary approval Monday from the state Board of Regents.
Under the new “emergency regulation,” educators still would get annual “growth” scores from Albany based on results of state tests given during the moratorium, but the scores would be advisory. They would not be used to decide which teachers and principals will be assigned improvement plans or fired.
The Regents committee on P-12 education passed the new regulation in a 15-1 vote, with the only “no” cast by Chancellor Merryl Tisch.
Its approval by the full 17-member board is scheduled Tuesday and is virtually assured. But because of the accelerated nature of the regulation, final passage will be scheduled at the board’s February meeting.
The proposal to clamp a four-year hold on using student “growth” scores on Common Core tests in evaluating teachers was advanced just last Thursday by an advisory task force appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The vote — an abrupt about-face in policies pushed by Cuomo and the Regents in recent years — was the latest in a series of state responses to rising public opposition against Albany’s direction on school curricula, testing and educator evaluations.
It came after a cascade of dissent from parents and teachers, steadily growing since tests aligned with the Common Core academic standards were introduced into classrooms in the 2012-13 school year and since the state toughened its evaluation laws, with an increasing amount of educators’ job ratings linked to student performance on exams.
“This is the highest level of state policymakers heeding the call of angry suburban voters,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. “Suburbanites are the swing vote in any close election or on any issue, and when it comes to something that really riles them, attention must be paid.”
Last spring, Long Island emerged as the epicenter of a test-boycott movement that involved more than 200,000 students in grades three through eight — about 20 percent of students statewide eligible to take the exams. It was the largest such revolt in the nation.
Proponents of Monday’s speedy Regents action said it was necessary because of the turmoil caused by the evaluation system. Opponents, however, warned that continued public ire could result in more than 400,000 students opting out of state tests in English language arts and math in April.
The regulation approved by a Regents committee would postpone until at least the 2019-20 school year any use of standardized state English and math scores in penalizing students, teachers or principals.
Until now, teachers and principals faced the possibility — albeit a small one — of losing their jobs if they were rated “ineffective” two years in a row.
New figures released Monday by the State Education Department showed that 96.2 percent of teachers evaluated during the 2014-15 school year were rated “highly effective” or “effective.” Those deemed “developing” were 3.2 percent and 0.6 percent were rated “ineffective.” The findings were similar to those for the previous school year.
Under a complex four-year transition the Regents approved Monday, many teachers in grades 3-8 would continue to receive state-assigned “growth” scores, but only on an advisory basis.
Those teachers and others also would receive new “transition scores” calculated by the state, based on information provided by local school districts. Such ratings would be based on results of classroom observations and tests selected locally by school districts.
“We need to move this agenda,” Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said at the Regents committee’s meeting. “We all need to work together to bring improvement to our schools.”
Elia, who became the Education Department’s chief in July, reports to the Regents. She served on the governor’s 15-member task force.
Tisch said she opposed the move to “decouple” students’ test scores from teachers’ job ratings on grounds that it might detract from state efforts to improve instruction in low-performing school districts. The chancellor, an ardent supporter of higher academic standards, recently announced she will step down in April when her current term expires.
Elia told reporters after the Regents meeting that teachers still would be held accountable in their jobs on the basis of the “transition” ratings.
Some parent leaders of the boycott movement had welcomed last week’s task force recommendations, but the Regents’ action drew a cooler reception.
Parent groups want Cuomo and state lawmakers to repeal the tough teacher-evaluation law passed last spring, which bases up to about half of teachers ratings on student test results. The governor, on the other hand, wants to limit any changes in the evaluation system to regulations, which are the purview of the Regents.
“It’s trying to confuse people, but it doesn’t substantially change anything, ” said Diane Venezia Livingston, a mother of three and founder of Port Washington Advocacy for Public Education, a group that opposes tying test scores to teacher evaluations.
“So the ‘Great Opt-Out of 2016’ is on,” added Livingston. “We’re looking for double the opt-out numbers until they repeal the actual law.”
New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teacher union, simply referred to the Regents action as a “first step.” A spokesman said the group expects the board and the Education Department “to make policy changes that restore the joy of teaching and learning to our classrooms.”
The door was opened to delay or repeal New York State’s evaluation law by action at the federal level, after Congress passed and President Barack Obama last week signed into law a major overhaul of national school policy.
The new “All Students Succeed Act” blocks the federal government from requiring New York and other states to use standardized test scores in judging teachers’ performance. That tossed responsibility for evaluations back to the states.
The revised federal statute, however, continues to require that at least 95 percent of students in all states and local school districts participate in annual standardized testing. Under law, states failing to enforce that requirement risk loss of federal financial aid — a rule that many school administrators view as a threat to New York.