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97% of LI educators rated 'effective' or 'highly effective'

Ninety-seven percent of Long Island's public school teachers

Ninety-seven percent of Long Island's public school teachers and principals rated "highly effective" or "effective" and fewer than 1 percent scored "ineffective" in the first-ever region-wide job evaluation results released by the state Department of Education. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Ninety-seven percent of Long Island's public school teachers and principals rated "highly effective" or "effective" and fewer than 1 percent scored "ineffective" in the first-ever regionwide job evaluation results released Thursday by the state Education Department.

Only four-tenths of 1 percent of educators in Nassau and Suffolk counties were deemed "ineffective" in results for the 2012-13 school year -- a figure that was even lower than the statewide average of 1 percent.

Moreover, 86 of the region's 124 districts had no teachers or principals appraised as "ineffective." Figures covered a total of 33,200 educators Islandwide.

Many veteran school officials and others on the Island said they were struck by the low percentages of subpar ratings, but acknowledged that the state faced enormous pressure from unionized teachers and others opposed to the new evaluation system, which for the first time linked educators' performance to student test scores.

"I think they're being very liberal on their marking, because of all the backlash on teacher evaluation," said Stephen B. Witt of Woodmere, immediate past board president of Nassau BOCES. "The atmosphere today is such that they have to come out with something that looks pretty good -- you've got elections coming up."

State education officials defended the ratings.

"Today's release of evaluation data will enable New Yorkers to see, for the first time, the results of their schools' teacher and principal evaluations," Dennis Tompkins, the department's chief spokesman, said in a prepared statement.

"The goal of the evaluation process has always been to improve teaching and learning by targeting professional development where it is most needed in order to improve student outcomes," Tompkins added.

Some national experts noted that efforts by New York and other states to add rigor to teacher job assessments are in the initial stages, and more time is needed to judge their effectiveness.

Those experts cite evidence suggesting that statewide evaluations already are having some impact -- for example, in encouraging districts to act more carefully in granting teachers job tenure.

"Evaluations are definitely worth doing," said Jim Hull, senior analyst at the Center for Public Education, an affiliate of the National School Boards Association. "Are they perfect? No. But just because you don't like the results after one or two years doesn't mean they're a failure."

Highlights from results released Thursday:

Islandwide, 56.7 percent of teachers and principals received "highly effective" ratings, meaning their job performance went well beyond normal expectations. The statewide figure was 51 percent.

Another 40.6 percent on the Island were "effective," compared with 44 percent statewide.

Only 2.2 percent in the region rated "developing," or less than fully effective. That was less than half the state average of 5 percent.

Islandwide, 0.4 percent scored "ineffective." The statewide figure was 1 percent.

For more than two years, classroom teachers and their union representatives have complained that the new evaluations were being rushed into place, in response to pressure from business leaders, testing companies and federal education officials. The new system uses students' progress on state tests as a key measure of teacher effectiveness, in contrast with a previous state policy that banned use of test scores.

Moreover, many school administrators -- superintendents and principals, especially -- have asserted the state Education Department was slipshod in its rollout of the new system, known as Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR. Technical difficulties with the system prompted complaints that the evaluation initiative was a vast waste of time.

"Any statewide data that comes to us like these results are suspect," said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country schools and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.

In Middle Country, 100 percent of teachers and principals scored either "highly effective" or "effective."

Melissa McMullen, a sixth-grade teacher at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Port Jefferson Station, said she found the ratings useless as an educational tool.

"It doesn't tell us anything about effective teaching and learning," said McMullan, who said she received an "effective" rating. "We're wasting taxpayer dollars on a meaningless system."

In districts with low test scores, more educators' ratings tended to be lower than the Island average. Ten percent of Roosevelt's educators scored "ineffective," and Hempstead's figure was 9 percent.

Reginald Stroughn, who served as executive principal of Hempstead High School through June, said, however, that the new evaluation system was not essential for determining whether teachers are effective.

"I personally believe that any good principal can walk into the classroom and tell if a teacher is good," Stroughn said.

The state's push for stricter teacher evaluations -- an initiative encouraged by President Barack Obama's administration, and ultimately rewarded with federal Race to the Top financial incentives -- started in 2010 on a relatively upbeat note.

In May of that year, state school officials and union leaders announced agreement on a plan that, for the first time, required job ratings to be based partly on students' test scores. The plan gained support both from a statewide umbrella group, New York State United Teachers, whose 600,000 members include school staffers on Long Island, and the United Federation of Teachers, which represents 200,000 workers in New York City.

The new system created four types of ratings: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective. This replaced a long-standing arrangement that had simply deemed teachers either satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Under state law, the Education Department can publicly release only statistical data on educators' ratings to protect individuals' privacy. Parents may request scores of their children's teachers.

Money was a key ingredient behind the changes. The country was in the throes of an economic downturn, and New York's agreement to tighten its monitoring of teacher performance helped the state win nearly $700 million in federal incentives.

That award -- one of the largest of its type in the nation -- cheered both state officials and union representatives whose cooperation helped make it possible. NYSUT's then-president, Richard Iannuzzi, a former Central Islip teacher, described the planned changes in evaluations as steps toward "real reforms that will help ensure a quality teacher at the front of every classroom."

From the beginning, however, the state Education Department faced tight deadlines for putting changes in place. Teachers in grades 4-8 were to get their first evaluations by July 2011; all others, two years later. In contrast, earlier state efforts to upgrade educational standards had required as much as a decade to complete.

Cracks soon appeared in the new system. In April 2013, the department administered a battery of revised tests to students in elementary and middle schools, based on more rigorous Common Core academic standards, which were to be used in evaluating teachers.

At the time, fewer than 20 percent of the curriculum guides promised by the state to help teachers and students prepare for the tests had been delivered. The entire set of curriculum guides was not completed until 10 months later.

By fall 2013, teacher unions were calling for a three-year moratorium in using state test scores for evaluations. NYSUT's Iannuzzi declared that the state's implementation plan had been "ill-conceived from Day One."

Within a few months, Iannuzzi was out of office -- removed by union delegates disgruntled by the teacher-rating system. He was replaced as state union president by Karen Magee, who had headed a union local in Westchester County.

In June, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers struck a new deal with teachers union leaders. Under the new arrangement, which remains in effect for two years, teachers who receive "developing" or "ineffective" ratings solely because of their students' test performance will be evaluated a second time, but without test scores in the mix.

The agreement applies to teachers in grades 3-8 where state test scores are included in ratings, and is effective through the 2014-15 school year.

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