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Regents to vote on longer teacher-eval moratorium

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks to school

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks to school board delegates during their convention at the Sheraton New York Times Square in Manhattan on Oct. 26, 2018. Credit: Corey Sipkin

ALBANY — Leaders of the state Board of Regents announced Monday they will push for a one-year extension of a statewide moratorium that temporarily bans use of student test scores in rating the job performance of classroom teachers.

Under such an extension, the moratorium would continue through June 2020.

The announcement, on the day before elections for state and federal offices, signaled that education leaders are seeking extra time — within limits — to settle an issue that has shaken local school districts for more than six years.

Resistance to the system linking tests to teacher evaluations has sparked a series of annual boycotts of state exams given to students in grades three through eight. The opt-out movement, with its epicenter on Long Island, spread statewide.

The Regents are scheduled to vote on the time extension at their next meeting on Dec. 10. A majority of the 17-member board, including its Long Island representative, Roger Tilles of Great Neck, has indicated support.

“At the end of this year, we as a board needed to act and to give ourselves time to really look at this,” said Betty Rosa of the Bronx, chancellor of the Regents board, which sets much of the state’s school policy.

The panel’s vice chancellor, Andrew Brown of Rochester, added that the one-year extension would allow Regents time "to get it right."

New York State United Teachers, the state’s biggest union representing educators, endorsed extension of the moratorium while adding that it will continue to lobby for a major overhaul of the current law requiring up to 50 percent of evaluations to be based on student scores.

NYSUT wants to return control of job ratings to local school boards, where the union often exerts considerable influence.

“Teachers and local school districts know what works best in their own communities," the union said in a prepared statement.

In contrast, a statewide advocacy group called High Achievement New York, which represents many business organizations, described the extension as “neither a surprise or a solution.”

“What we need is for all parties to agree on an evaluation plan that contains an objective, statewide measurement of student growth,” HANY said in its release. “Without it, the state may inadvertently increase student testing and undermine their drive toward equitable educational outcomes.”

The state’s current law on teacher evaluations, widely regarded as one of the most stringent in the nation, passed the Legislature in April 2015 with a powerful push from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Test boycotts grew across the state, and Albany officials responded by imposing a four-year moratorium on enforcement.

State lawmakers tried to rewrite the law last spring, but could not reach agreement. The potential success of any renewed attempt to change the law could be influenced by the results of Tuesday’s elections.

Meanwhile, Education Commissioner MaryEllen  Elia, who reports to the Regents, is forming two advisory groups of educators to look at possible changes in state testing and teacher evaluations. The work of the two 60-member groups originally was supposed to be completed by winter, but their deadline has been moved to as late as spring.

Tilles said Monday that he recognized the need for an extension of the moratorium, but he does not expect that action alone to stem the boycott movement. The movement’s chief organizer on Long Island, Jeanette Deutermann of Bellmore, agreed.

“Nobody’s celebrating, because it isn’t a permanent solution,” Deutermann said of the extension.

From the beginning, Long Island was the movement's hub.

More than 90,000 students in grades three through eight throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties refused to take the state's English Language Arts test in April, representing nearly 50 percent of those eligible, according to Newsday surveys that included nearly all of the Island's 124 districts. A similarly large number refused to take the state math test.

In September, Elia announced that the percentage of students boycotting those tests statewide had dropped to 18 percent — down a point from the year before. Nonetheless, more than 210,000 students across New York had refused to participate in the exam out of about 1 million eligible.

Administration of the tests to students in grades three through eight is required by federal education law.

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