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State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch seeks extension beyond November deadline for teacher evaluations

New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl

New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch talks about high school graduation requirements for Regents history exams during a news conference on "multiple pathways" to graduation at the State Education Building in Albany on Oct. 20, 2014. Credit: Hans Pennink

The chancellor of the state Board of Regents said Wednesday night she will seek an "administrative" solution that would give school districts an extra 91/2 months beyond Albany's November deadline for adopting new teacher-evaluation plans.

A revised state law approved earlier this month sets a Nov. 15 deadline for some 700 districts and their local unions across the state to negotiate the new evaluation plans and submit them to Albany. Districts failing to meet the deadline risk loss of state-aid increases for the 2015-16 school year, under the plan pushed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Many school leaders on Long Island and elsewhere had protested that they couldn't possibly craft a smoothly functioning evaluation system covering thousands of teachers by the deadline, and statewide organizations representing school boards and superintendents called the revised law "insanity."

Chancellor Merryl Tisch, whose board sets statewide educational policy, took note of the "very tight time frame" in announcing that she had instructed the state Education Department staff to find a way to stretch the deadline to September 2016 for districts that encounter difficulty in completing the work by Nov. 15.

"Our students deserve the best education we can give them, and a well-thought-out, effective evaluation system is integral to providing that education," Tisch said. She added that the Regents board and department would continue work toward meeting their June 30 deadline for issuing new regulations putting the state's revised evaluation law into effect.

State education officials provided few details on how their agency might find administrative leeway around the law that sets a Nov. 15 deadline. "Our lawyers tell us we can do it," said Dennis Tompkins, a department spokesman.

The state's teacher-rating system, based partly on student test scores, has come under withering criticism from unions and activist parents in recent weeks. An estimated 155,000 students statewide have been pulled out of this spring's state testing by parents, on grounds that the system puts too much stress on children and teachers alike.

The number of testing opt-outs has been especially high in the suburban counties of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester. On Wednesday, the Journal News newspaper in Westchester called for Tisch's resignation, saying the chancellor had failed to recognize the depth of parent anger.

The Journal News, in a separate news story, quoted a counsel to the governor, Alphonso David, as saying that Tisch's proposed delay would be disregarding the law.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and the Assembly's Education Committee chairwoman Catherine Nolan (D-Queens) issued a statement supporting Tisch's extension effort.

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