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LI teachers question use of test scores

Biology teacher Jennifer Sullivan in her classroom at

Biology teacher Jennifer Sullivan in her classroom at South Side High School. (Feb. 16, 2012) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Long Island teachers interviewed Thursday said they're profoundly unsettled by a state-level agreement to base up to 40 percent of their annual job ratings on student test scores.

The key question, teachers said, is whether any formula based on standardized tests can take full account of what they face in classrooms every day.

Jennifer Sullivan, 28, who has taught "Living Environment" biology courses in Rockville Centre the past five years, noted that some of her students are pulled out of the classroom regularly for required speech therapy or other extra help.

"Now I'm going to be graded based on a student's score, when the students haven't always been in class all the time," Sullivan said. "This is going to be another 'No Child Left Behind.' We're going to have teachers left behind."

Pete McNally, 45, who teaches eighth-grade technology in Lynbrook, said he agrees with other educators that no one can put a numerical measurement on inspiration. "I think when most people think back to their teachers, they think, 'How did that person make me feel?' " said McNally, a 10-year classroom veteran who is studying to become an administrator. "Now it's all about test scores, and I feel bad for the students today."

School district officials have their own reasons for apprehension. A prime concern, they said, is how to win local unions' agreement on details of teacher evaluations in the months ahead without making concessions on salaries and benefits that financially pressed districts can ill afford.

Alan Groveman, superintendent of Connetquot schools, said he must review the details of Thursday's pact in Albany before making a final judgment on what it holds for his district. "But requiring districts to submit agreements [on evaluations] or risk loss of state aid puts us between a rock and a hard place," he said.

State officials said their plan using stricter guidelines to evaluate all classroom teachers and their principals within the next two years will recognize educators who do superior work, while providing extra help to those who fall short. Those authorities add that unions, like management, have a stake in making evaluations work, because to do otherwise risks loss of state financial aid.

The upgraded evaluation system gets its start this spring after students in grades 3-8 take state reading and math tests that will be used in their teachers' ratings. Ultimately, the new evaluations will cover an estimated 35,000 school professionals on the Island and 250,000 statewide.

"This is not about firing teachers," state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said. "It's about ensuring a rigorous system of performance management that will help all teachers."

Thursday's agreement updates and clarifies a 2010 state law that called for at least 20 percent of a teacher's job rating to be based on students' growth on standardized state tests. Now, school districts will have the option of doubling that percentage, depending on what they negotiate with teacher unions. Sixty percent of ratings will be based on subjective criteria, with at least 31 percent coming from classroom observations. Teachers rated ineffective two years in a row risk loss of their jobs.

Districts that don't obtain state approval of their evaluation plans by January could lose next year's state-aid increases. The agreement settles a lawsuit between the state and the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers union that had threatened to derail the drive for improved evaluations.

"What's good is that this is finally resolved, and we can go about doing what we need to do in our locals to get it behind us," said Jeff Rozran, president of Syosset's 700-member teachers' union and a member of NYSUT's state board.

 

TEACHER EVAL DEAL

 

Highlights of a new plan for evaluating New York school teachers:

60% of an instructor's rating will be based on classroom observations and student and parent feedback.

20% will be based on students' scores on state standardized tests.

20% on students' scores on one of three testing options: using a third-party-developed test or a locally developed test, or simply doubling the value of the state standardized tests. School boards and local unions will have to negotiate what test to use.

A teacher rated "ineffective" on both testing components will be deemed ineffective regardless of his/her score observation-based rating. State officials, however, had wanted a teacher to be deemed ineffective if a teacher had failed either testing component.

An ineffective rating for two consecutive years could lead to termination proceedings against a teacher.

The state Education Department must review all local agreements.

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