State deal modifies teacher rating system

This is a first grade classroom at Branch This is a first grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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ALBANY -- Teachers who receive a poor evaluation because their students faltered in tests aligned to the new, tougher standards of the Common Core curriculum got a break Thursday in a deal struck by state leaders in Albany.

Under the deal, teachers who receive "ineffective" or "developing" ratings solely because of their students' test performance would be evaluated again, but without the test scores in the mix. The agreement applies to teachers in grades 3-8 where tests have already been aligned to the Common Core and is effective only for this school year and the 2014-15 school year.

Gov. Andrew. M. Cuomo and legislative leaders worked with teachers unions to protect teachers from being unfairly penalized for what critics say was a rushed and uneven rollout of the national curriculum. Some student performance faltered in math and English tests aligned to the higher standards, and classroom progress in the tests counts for about 20 percent of teacher evaluations.

"You don't want to have a negative effect on teachers on an evaluation that is not 100 percent accurate," Cuomo said. "Remember, peoples' lives are being judged by this instrument. So you want the instrument and evaluation to be correct."

Under the plan, which still must be approved by the State Legislature, a teacher who undergoes a second review and is judged effective would receive that new rating. If the teacher is still judged to be ineffective or developing, the teacher would receive special training and could ultimately be fired if he or she doesn't improve.

Parents would be able to see both ratings. State officials expect fewer than 1,000 of the state's 206,000 teachers will be deemed ineffective or developing in grades 3-8. But use of the Common Core test scores in evaluations outraged teachers and their powerful unions.

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A drawback to the deal would be that teachers initially rated ineffective or developing but bumped to "effective" wouldn't automatically get the extra training and resources provided to help failing teachers. However, the system would still provide those teachers with some extra help, the Cuomo administration said.

Teachers rated "effective" or "highly effective" under the evaluations using the Common Core tests wouldn't get any break if their job assessment dropped.

"Everyone recognized that thoughtful adjustments would be needed along the way," state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said "The goal remains the same: Make sure every student in New York is prepared for success in college, career and life," King added.

State officials sought to balance the outrage of some parents and educators about the rollout of the Common Core, and the poor performance of many students who first faced it, against the need to protect federal funding. If the state scrapped the Common Core, New York would likely lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds under the Race to the Top program. The money was awarded to implement instruction reforms, including teacher evaluations.

The state's largest teachers union supported the compromise it helped craft.

"The teacher evaluation model will have taken a step forward to being a fair model for all teachers," said Karen Magee, president of the New York State United Teachers union. "It will be what's best for students. It will improve teacher performance, therefore improving student performance. And that's our goal."

Teachers rated ineffective or developing last year -- the first year Common Core-aligned tests were used -- will not see a change in those ratings.

The State Legislature has already postponed the impact on students who received uncharacteristically poor grades on tests based on the new national standards. Use of those test scores for promoting or graduating students has been delayed.

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