LI administrators doubt merits of new state data

Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School

Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, in one of her classrooms. (July 25, 2011) (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

Long Island school administrators cast doubt on the merit and usefulness of data released Tuesday by the state Department of Education on teacher and principal performance.

Some veteran educators questioned the timing of the announcement about job evaluations, saying it was politically motivated. Districts had earlier received their own results.

Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, said it was state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.'s way to push back against the teachers union and its opposition to elements of the system, which for the first time links student achievement to educator ratings.


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"It's a made-up metric," she said. "It's not objective. I find it repugnant that the evaluation of professional educators can be used as a political football."

In Suffolk's large Middle Country school district, 88 percent of the 650 teachers were rated "highly effective" and 12 percent were rated "effective," Superintendent Roberta Gerold said.

None placed in the lower two categories: "developing" or "ineffective."

"But what does that tell us at the district?" Gerold said. "It really doesn't tell us anything because the process is so new."

She said the evaluation system has at least one merit: It focuses a great deal more attention on the quality of instruction, helping educators identify weak points.

But it isn't a good way to assess an individual teacher, she said.

"I don't think the vast majority of this process was of value," she said, adding that "a clumsy rollout" of the system "got in the way of the good that's there."

John Bierwirth, Herricks' superintendent since 2001, said his district had an effective system in place for ridding itself of substandard teachers long before the new evaluation system was instituted.

"Most of the time that I've been here, we let a quarter to a third go within the first year," he said of new teachers who don't meet the district's standards. "I think that's pretty significant. I don't find most of this very useful -- in a lot of cases, it's a huge distraction."

Sean C. Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School in East Williston, said the ratings don't always match a teacher's or principal's abilities as observed by their peers and bosses.

Many factors, including poverty, can influence a child's grades, he said; their classroom teacher is only one variable.

"To say that a student's gain or loss is all on the shoulders of a teacher is wrong," he said.

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