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‘Double testing’ question debated in teacher evaluation fight

Regent Roger Tilles, seen in Albany on March

Regent Roger Tilles, seen in Albany on March 12, said Monday that voting against legislation to repeal the state's requirement basing teacher job ratings largely on student testing would be "suicide" on Long Island. Credit: Hans Pennink

ALBANY — A drive to repeal New York’s legal requirement basing teacher job ratings largely on students’ state tests scores ignited debate Monday over the question of whether repeal could mean “double testing” for students.

Links between student testing and teachers’ job evaluations are an explosive issue on Long Island, where tens of thousands of students in grades 3-8 boycotted English and math tests in recent weeks.

At Monday’s meeting of the state Board of Regents, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and her staff reiterated a point they have advanced over the past week — that bipartisan repeal legislation recently approved by the Democratic-controlled state Assembly could have the unintended result of generating more tests.

Identical legislation has been introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Alex Trikalinos, executive director of the state’s Office of Educator Quality & Professional Development, said at the meeting that, under the repeal bill, school districts could find themselves in a situation where “students would essentially be double tested.”

Elia, Trikalinos and others outlined provisions of the Assembly bill to the Regents board, which sets education policy. Several board members who support repeal, including the Island’s representative, Roger Tilles, questioned the agency staffers’ analysis of the legislation, as did state teachers union leaders during a later news conference.

“If anything, we should be saying, ‘This moves in the right direction,’ ” Tilles said during the meeting.

The Regent from Great Neck later told a Newsday reporter, “On Long Island, it would be suicide to vote against this bill.”

Betty Rosa, the Regents chancellor and a former New York City school administrator, noted the current evaluation law has created a situation under which teachers in fields not covered by state tests, such as physical education, often find themselves rated on the basis of student achievement in areas that are tested, such as English and math.

“Talk about unintended consequences,” she said.

The Regents have clamped a temporary moratorium on using student “growth” scores from state tests to evaluate teachers and principals. But the legal requirement remains on the books, and will go into effect again during the 2019-20 school year, unless the Regents or Legislature take further action.

The repeal bill would make school districts’ use of state assessments in evaluating teachers and principals optional rather than mandatory, and would allow districts to use alternative exams of their own choosing, provided such tests were approved by the commissioner.

Districts would be required to negotiate the choice of tests with unions representing teachers and principals.

Elia and her aides noted that federal law requires state tests to be administered to students annually, regardless of whether assessments are also used in rating job performance of school employees. Should a large share of the state’s 600-plus school districts choose to use alternative exams, the commissioner and her department would face a massive task in screening such tests.

Leaders of New York State United Teachers, a politically influential statewide union group of more than 600,000 members, later dismissed the idea that double-testing posed a serious risk.

Jolene DiBrango, the group’s executive vice president, told a group of reporters after the Regents meeting that NYSUT was making a concerted push to get the repeal legislation through the Senate.

“We have every confidence in our teachers, that they would not be creating systems that would add additional testing to students,” DiBrango said.

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