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Nassau educators: Stop linking test scores, teacher evals

Dr. William Johnson, Superintendent of the Rockville Centre

Dr. William Johnson, Superintendent of the Rockville Centre UFSD, speaks at a Nassau County Council of School Superintendents Financial Forum, in Westbury, Feb. 4, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

Nassau County school leaders, citing the influence of the region’s test-boycott movement, urged the state Thursday to sever ties between student test scores and teacher job evaluations that have proved unpopular with many parents.

Organizers of a regional forum in Westbury, attended by hundreds of school superintendents, board trustees and others, called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators to repeal a law passed in April that would eventually require as much as half of teachers’ job ratings to be based on annual results of English and math testing.

A repeal is considered a long shot by political analysts, who noted the governor has said such action is unnecessary.

Leading local school superintendents, however, suggested Thursday that a large-scale test boycott held last spring will likely be repeated two months from now unless a teacher-evaluation law is eliminated or sharply amended.

“It’s like a shadow on the side haunting us and our teachers,” said the forum’s keynote speaker, William Johnson, superintendent of Rockville Centre schools.

Johnson and others spoke at the annual forum sponsored by the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents. Suffolk County school chiefs have taken a similar position on the evaluation law.

Forum participants also called on state lawmakers to provide extra financial aid for the 2016-17 school year, to help compensate for a near-zero, state-imposed “cap” on increases in local property taxes.

Superintendents here have spoken out against linking test scores to evaluations many times before. But participants at Thursday’s conference said that pressures for repeal are taking on increased urgency, now that the state Education Department is preparing for the next round of testing in April.

Long Island emerged last spring as the epicenter of the nation’s biggest test boycott effort, with about 70,000 students in grades three through eight skipping state assessments in English Language Arts and mathematics. Statewide, the opt-out movement swept up more than 200,000 students, or 20 percent of those eligible for testing.

In recent months, state authorities have taken a series of steps aimed at quieting the public uproar. In December, the state’s Board of Regents declared a four-year moratorium on using state test results to rate teachers, based on recommendations from a Cuomo-appointed advisory group.

Boycott organizers vowed, nonetheless, to continue their campaign, contending that a four-year delay was not enough to relieve the anxieties of students and teachers. During the moratorium, teachers will continue to receive job ratings, though results of state tests will not be used in a way that might jeopardize their careers.

Several superintendents at Thursday’s forum, including Johnson, complimented parent opt-out leaders for sending “a real message” to state authorities.

In Albany, the push for repeal of the evaluations law is widely viewed as an uphill struggle.

“We detect no willingness on the part of the Governor or the State Legislature to reopen the teacher-evaluation law at this time,” said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

The Albany-based council represents more than 800 school administrators and others statewide.

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