Slow start for state teacher evaluation push

A file photo of a teacher in a

A file photo of a teacher in a classroom. (June 16, 2006) (Credit: Getty Images)

New York State's push for more-rigorous teacher evaluations is off to a slow start, with an announcement Monday that just over half of Long Island's school districts -- and less than a quarter statewide -- submitted evaluation plans by Albany's initial deadline.

On the Island, 65 districts out of 128, or 51 percent, turned in plans by the target of noon Monday, the state Department of Education announced. Statewide, 164 districts out of 715, or 23 percent, met the deadline.

Figures include local districts as well as regional Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, better known as BOCES; there are three such districts on Long Island. The Island's total includes the Little Flower district, a special district in Wading River that serves students with emotional disabilities.

Under the state's new teacher-evaluation law, districts that do not have workable plans in place by Jan. 17 face the loss of increases in state financial aid totaling millions of dollars. The earlier July 2 deadline was set to ensure the Education Department would have ample time to approve local plans, which run dozens of pages.Many districts that submitted plans already have posted them on their websites. Under law, all plans must be posted once they are approved by the state.

Three Island districts -- Deer Park, Fire Island and Freeport -- submitted plans early and were listed last week on a special website established by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office to track statewide progress. Dozens more districts in Nassau and Suffolk were included in yesterdayMonday's list released by the Education Department.

State school officials acknowledged that districts' timeliness in submitting plans could be affected by difficulties in negotiating details with local unions, whose approval is required under law. Plans cover such sensitive issues as the sort of professional assistance that will be provided to teachers who are rated "ineffective" and face possible dismissal if they do not improve.

"This is a sea change in education," Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said in a statement.

"It's like trying to fly an airplane while the wings are still being screwed on," said Carl Korn, spokesman for the statewide New York State United Teachers union. He added that his organization was "very pleased with the progress that's being made so far."

Matthew Wing, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, stressed the importance of the Jan. 17 deadline in a separate statement issued later Monday.

Many local school administrators have complained that the law pressures them, in effect, to grant teacher unions raises they can ill afford or risk loss of state aid. Local administrators also have said that conflicting state directives on how to draft evaluation plans have further slowed the process.

State authorities and union representatives first agreed on procedures for teacher evaluations in 2010, then tightened those rules in February under prodding from Cuomo, who contended the original plan was too weak.

"This has resulted in school districts jumping through hoops to come up with plans that may or may not be effective," said Alan Groveman, the Connetquot schools chief and immediate past president of the Suffolk County Association of School Superintendents.

Standardized state tests will be used as one means of evaluating teachers' effectiveness in improving the performance of many students. But in areas where such tests are not used -- such as art, music and physical education, and in many specialized elective courses -- districts will have to come up with their own new assessments to track students' progress and teachers' effectiveness.

"People are asking, 'How do we measure this?' " said Lydia Begley, associate superintendent for educational services at Nassau BOCES. "Do we use a test or something else? And if it's a test, it can't be designed by the teacher and it can't be scored by the teacher. It has to be designed and scored by someone else."

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