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New York State United Teachers union files legal challenge of new evaluation regulations

Members of the state Board of Regents meet

Members of the state Board of Regents meet in Albany on Dec. 14, 2015, declaring a four-year moratorium on using students' scores on state tests to penalize teachers who get an "ineffective" job-performance rating. Credit: Hans Pennink

A fight over state-mandated improvement plans for thousands of teachers rated less than effective on the job has landed in a state court, with a 600,000-member union organization contending such plans require collective bargaining.

New York State United Teachers, a statewide union umbrella group, filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging new state regulations that, the union said, would give local school administrators sole authority to design “Teacher Improvement Plans.” The union contends that violates the state’s Taylor Law, which gives bargaining rights to public employees.

The lawsuit, which seeks to block the disputed regulations, was filed in State Supreme Court in Albany.

A controversial state job-evaluation system, first adopted in 2010, requires that teachers who rate below the “effective” mark each year comply with plans spelling out extra training and other steps intended to improve their job performance. About 7,200 teachers statewide, out of a total of 189,300 evaluated in the 2014-15 school year, are subject to the requirement.

The most hotly contested part of the evaluation system ties teachers’ job ratings to the scores of their students on annual state English and math tests.

The state’s Board of Regents, which sets education policy, last month declared a four-year moratorium on using results of state testing to penalize teachers who get an “ineffective” rating. However, that action did not go far enough for many of the evaluation system’s critics, including dissident union members who recently pressed NYSUT’s state leaders to take a tougher stand.

One of those leaders, Catalina Fortino, the state union’s vice president, pledged Tuesday to continue the fight against what she termed “over-testing.”

“Make no mistake, our advocacy on behalf of members will continue until the state’s test-and-punish era is forever swept into the dustbin of history,” Fortino said.

On Jan. 12, the Regents adopted new regulations required to enforce amendments to the education law that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators approved in April. New York State United Teachers, in its lawsuit, is contesting two provisions within the regulations, including the one dealing with improvement plans.

Also under dispute is a provision that, according to the teachers union, would illegally authorize the State Education Department to order changes in evaluation procedures used by local districts, whenever the department found those procedures weren’t working. The union says that infringes on binding legal contracts negotiated with districts.

Education Department spokeswoman Jeanne Beattie said the agency’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

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