Students take notes during a lecture on May 1, 2013.

Students take notes during a lecture on May 1, 2013. Credit: Heather Walsh

The state's education commissioner Wednesday reassured teachers that a sharp decline in student passage rates will not affect their job performance ratings.

Educators on Long Island and elsewhere have voiced concerns that their students' performance on new, tougher tests could adversely affect their evaluations and jobs. A statewide evaluation system adopted in 2011 uses state test scores to calculate 20 percent of teachers' ratings.

But state officials said the drop in student scores leaves all teachers in about the same position they were in last year, relatively speaking, because they are ranked against their peers across the state.

This year's job rankings "will not identify a larger proportion of teachers and principals at lower rating categories," Commissioner John B. King Jr. stated in a memo sent to districts.

The state Education Department issued initial state ratings for teachers in grades three through eight last fall, but results have not been made public. A second set of ratings, which are generated through a complex mathematical formula, is due to be delivered to local school districts later this month.

Two years of poor ratings can result in eventual job loss.

To underline the point that the drop in scores will not affect teachers, the department Wednesday unveiled its latest rating statistics. Using 2013 test scores, 16.7 percent of teachers statewide were rated less than effective on the job. Figures for 2012 were virtually the same, with 16.1 percent of teachers rated less than effective.

However, there is one possible hitch. Many local districts are using state test results in calculating another 20 percent of teachers' rankings.

Unlike state rankings, which are based on relative comparisons, some district rankings have been based on set criteria, local educators said. A district, for example, might stipulate that teachers will be rated "effective" if their students master at least 75 percent of assigned lessons.

Thus, the latest plunge in student scores could skew local teacher ratings, unless districts adjust their criteria to take account of the change. This seems only fair, experts have said, because the statewide decline in scores is because of an upgrade in the state's own testing system, rather than to a general deterioration in teachers' work.

King's memo said the department is developing a system to allow districts to make fair comparisons between 2012 and 2013 test scores in judging teachers' performance. Meanwhile, he advised districts that "each measure of educator effectiveness should be used judiciously when employment decisions are made."

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