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Schools leader: Change in evaluation law may mean more tests

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, at conference on LI, tells teachers that Assembly-passed legislation could have “unintended consequences.”

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia addresses teachers at

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia addresses teachers at a conference Thursday at the Tilles Center at LIU Post in Brookville. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A push to rescind New York’s controversial teacher-evaluation law appears to have gained some momentum, but the state’s top school official cautioned Thursday against “unintended consequences” — including the potential for more testing.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told a conference of Long Island schoolteachers and administrators that she has concerns about what might happen if fresh legislation is pushed through without thoughtful consideration.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen legislatively, but I can tell you we want an evaluation system that works for you,” Elia told about 90 educators gathered for training at LIU Post in Brookville. “I don’t want unintended consequences to come out of the legislation.”

The teacher-evaluation system, as originally designed, drew heavily on student scores from standardized state tests.

Legislation adopted this week by the state Assembly would make use of such tests optional instead of mandatory.

The measure also would require school districts to negotiate with unions representing teachers and principals in selecting any assessments used to rate job performance in the future, and would allow use of alternative exams not produced by the state.

Elia told a Newsday reporter that she was concerned by the possibility that exams might proliferate under the new legislation.

“Is it going to lead to more testing?” the commissioner said. “Surely, we don’t want that.”

The state Senate’s Republican majority last week joined the Assembly’s Democratic majority to push for decoupling the tests from the teacher evaluations. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also says he hopes to pass a law based on the proposals by the end of the session on June 20.

Roger Tilles, who represents Long Island on the state Board of Regents, told Thursday’s conference that a senior senator had told him a vote on the legislation could come in “a week or so.”

Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, said the administration would like to resolve the issue during the current legislative session, but that “it depends on the overall political environment.”

The state first moved to rate teachers on the basis of students’ test scores in 2010, under a law backed by then-Gov. David A. Paterson. In 2012 and again in 2015, Cuomo pushed through strengthened versions of the evaluations law.

During those years, test-boycott movements organized by parents and educators erupted across the state, with the biggest protests occurring on Long Island.

Test opponents, among their criticisms, contended that the concept of using students’ scores in a way that might harm the careers of teachers put too much pressure on students and teachers alike.

In response, the Regents in December 2015 imposed a four-year moratorium on using scores in job-performance ratings. The Regents’ action followed recommendations from a state-level advisory panel appointed by Cuomo.

Under the moratorium’s rules, teachers and principals still receive annual state data regarding students “growth” in test scores on an advisory basis.

With Michael Gormley

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