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NY official: State to establish teacher eval appeals process

Merryl H. Tisch, State Board of Regents chancellor,

Merryl H. Tisch, State Board of Regents chancellor, speaks during a meeting at the State Education Department in Albany on Monday, July 20, 2015. Credit: Hans Pennink

The state will move quickly to establish an appeals panel for teachers wishing to protest aberrations in job ratings tied to student test scores, a top education official said Tuesday.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Regents board, told a radio interviewer that staffers would act "almost immediately" to create an appeals system to deal with complaints over student "growth" scores generated by a computerized formula that has baffled many.

Scores can count for as much as half the evaluations of teachers and principals, under statutory changes approved in April by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators.

"Based on what we're hearing from people all over the state, we are moving to put in place a panel of people who can allow teachers to appeal a rating, which I think is a very appropriate thing to do," Tisch said in an interview broadcast by WCNY, an upstate public broadcasting station.

The chancellor, whose board sets much of the state's school policy, added that details of the appeals plan would be discussed at a Regents meeting Wednesday morning in Albany.

Protests have mounted over the past two years that Albany's annual ratings of teachers and principals are too often subject to fluctuations and inconsistencies that school supervisors find impossible to explain.

The issue is underlined in a much-discussed lawsuit filed by a Great Neck elementary teacher, Sheri Lederman. A hearing in the case was held last month in State Supreme Court, Albany, and plaintiffs expect a ruling by mid-October.

Lederman, whose case came up once again in Tuesday's radio interview, protested that she was harmed in a professional sense by state "growth" scores. Those ratings bounced from "effective" in 2013 to "ineffective" in 2014, then back to "effective" this month.

The fourth-grade teacher's overall evaluations, which combined state scores with other factors including classroom observations, ranged from "effective" to "highly effective."

"We're glad if our lawsuit has at least brought to light the problems inherent in the evaluations process," Lederman said.

The state's evaluation system, first adopted in 2010, based 20 percent of overall ratings on "growth" scores or the equivalent. Another 20 percent was based on assessments chosen by local districts, and 60 percent on classroom observations and related measures.

A Cuomo-inspired change, adopted April 1, expanded the state's role in evaluations while diminishing that of districts. The governor contended at the time that teacher evaluations were "baloney," because results were easily manipulated at the local level.

Under the revamped system, "growth" scores can count for as much as half a teacher's or principal's overall evaluation. Districts can reduce that portion to about a quarter, however, if they opt for use of a second set of test measures approved by Albany.

The other half of evaluations are determined by results of classroom observations conducted both by principals and outside observers.

Many parents contend that the system puts strain on students and teachers alike.

In mid-April, an estimated 240,000 students in grades three through eight statewide were pulled out of state tests in protest -- the biggest boycott in the nation. Long Island as a region generated the largest number of opt-outs, about 78,000 by Newsday's calculations.

In June, the Regents board approved regulations putting the new system into effect by a split vote of 11-6. A second vote is scheduled Wednesday or Thursday to complete approval of the regulations, and both parent groups and teacher unions are pushing for rejection as they did in June.

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