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State may miss teacher evaluation deadline


. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The state Education Department may miss its goal for review and approval of teacher and principal evaluation plans for some of the 715 public school districts statewide, top officials said Monday.

The department is in the process of hiring more people to help review the draft applications by January, and plans to use federal Race To The Top funds to pay them.

"Every human effort is being made to meet these deadlines," Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said after the Board of Regents meeting in Albany. "People are being asked to work seven days a week for at least three or four weeks."

Tisch said she did not know if the state would meet its goal or what would happen if it does not. "I don't know what happens when we get there," she said.

According to New York's controversial new teacher-evaluation law, passed this year, all 715 districts must have plans in place by Jan. 17 or face the loss of increases in state financial aid totaling millions of dollars.

The Education Department has received draft plans from 275 districts and has approved 75 so far, officials said Monday. Workers have made at least some progress on another 75, they said.

New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teachers union, had no immediate comment.

The state won more than $700 million in Race To The Top funding in part because of its pledge to implement a new teacher and principal evaluation plan that for the first time ties student performance to job ratings.

For school districts, the formal application deadline is Jan. 17. But the Education Department's review takes four to six weeks, pushing districts' effective submission deadline back to early December.

Last month, the department had a full-time lawyer and 13 temporary staff members working on draft evaluation plans. Some of the staff were law students who had to return to school, which halved the number of people reviewing the plans.

The state now is replacing those who left and seeking to hire two full-time, permanent staff members.

State officials said Monday they did not immediately know the review effort's cost.

Dennis Tompkins, a department spokesman, said the state's ability to meet the deadline will depend on two key factors: when the remaining draft plans are submitted, and their quality.

"If we get crummy ones on Dec. 15 and have to send them back, that will be hard," he said.

Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said the most "acute source of anxiety" about the new evaluation system centers on the dramatic change in the role of school principals, in terms of the time they must spend evaluating teachers.

Roger Tilles, of Great Neck, Long Island's representative on the Board of Regents, said school officials have told him that carrying out evaluations will take up one-half to two-thirds of their time.

"And they don't know who is going to pick up their work," Tilles said. "It is really putting the squeeze on those districts not on the list for additional [state] aid . . . but who still have to go through the same process."


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