The New York State United Teachers union and science teachers are contending that a state education department policy unfairly penalizes teachers for students' failure to meet minimum laboratory requirements for science Regents exams, and are calling for an end to the rule.
State education officials, meanwhile, claim the union and teachers have misinterpreted the policy.
If a student doesn't qualify to sit for a science Regents due to the student's own failure to complete the 1,200 minutes of state-mandated laboratory experience with satisfactory lab reports, the student would receive a zero score, according to Brian Vorwald, president of the Science Teachers Association of New York State.
That score, according to Vorwald, would be factored into a teacher's rating under the new teacher evaluation system.
"It is unconscionable for teachers to bear the responsibility of ensuring that all of their students meet the laboratory requirement," said Vorwald in a May 30 letter addressed to state education Commissioner John B. King Jr. "Teachers can provide all of the support necessary for their students to meet the lab requirement, but cannot guarantee that all students will take ownership for their own academic responsibility."
But state education department spokesman Dennis Tompkins said Sunday that the state's guidance on the issue "has been consistent for more than two years" and, "unfortunately, inaccurate information is generating unnecessary anxiety among science teachers."
"Science teachers are required to make every effort to ensure that their students complete the required lab minutes necessary to sit for the Regents exams," he said in a statement, "but if a student is unable to sit for a Regents exam for reasons beyond a teacher's control, the student's performance would not count toward the teacher's evaluation.
"The determination of whether or not a student's inability to meet the lab hours requirement was a result of legitimate extenuating circumstances outside of the control of the teacher is made on a local level by the teacher's supervisors. This approach protects teachers and eliminates the incentive to game the evaluation system."
The issue came to the forefront about two weeks ago after an inquiry by NYSUT, said union president Richard Iannuzzi, adding that the education department "has insulted every science teacher by once again applying a 'one size fits all' approach to teaching and learning."
Jason Horowitz, an 11th-grade chemistry teacher at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, said teachers usually give students opportunities before and after school, and during lunch periods, to make up lab work.
"This is a new way of evaluating us and . . . being that the state seems to be making changes of how they're doing things as they're implementing, it is kind of nerve-racking," said Horowitz, who is also vice president of STANYS.
"The students' scores are part of what determines the final rating [for teachers]," he said. "And having the zero scores included could mean the difference between someone being rated effective and not [effective]."