One thing hasn't been made very clear to educators and parents who are upset about the new teacher evaluation system approved this week by the state Board of Regents: It includes tremendous protections for teachers, both from hiccups in their students' test scores and from unfairly negative evaluations from classroom observations.

The new system is often described as basing 50 percent of evaluations on test results. What it actually does is set up two totally separate categories in each evaluation. One is classroom observation. The other is student learning objectives, which means state tests in third- through eighth-grade math and English, as well as other subjects with mandated standardized exams.

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The rating categories are highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective. To be judged ineffective overall, a teacher has to do horribly on one category and poorly on the other. To be fired based on the evaluations, a teacher would have to do horribly in at least one area and poorly on the other for each of two years in a row.

Teachers who are judged highly effective or effective in either portion of their evaluation would not be in danger of being fired based on the evaluations. Is this really so scary or unfair? It's a system that says teachers who do poorly by every measure, not just standardized tests, for two years running, can lose their jobs. No, it's reasonable.

This system says if you're good on both measures, you're good. If you're bad on both, you're bad. And if the two conflict, the conclusion is unclear and you will not be penalized. This system should not be a cause for panic among teachers or parents. The panic is being created by teachers unions committed to protecting tenure.

Under this system, competent and committed teachers are protected. A stand against these evaluations is a stand to protect only teachers who are consistently and provably terrible, an ignoble goal that can only hurt children.

Chart explaining New York's teacher evaluation system