New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch talks...

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

Sweeping revisions in the state's teacher-evaluation law are so complex and leave so many questions unanswered that school districts cannot be expected to meet a Nov. 15 deadline for putting the new rules into effect, several state policymakers said Monday.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, said schools may need more time to adopt local plans for carrying out the new job-ratings law pushed through the legislature this month by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Several lawmakers later agreed.

"I do not believe that, by November, it's fair to ask the districts and the department to get this done," Tisch said.

Any change in the November deadline would require approval of both the governor and legislators, and a Cuomo aide immediately rejected the idea.

"The legal deadline for the state to approve the district evaluation systems will not change and we fully expect the law to be complied with," spokeswoman Dani Lever said.

Administration officials noted that hundreds of districts across Long Island and the rest of the state managed to quickly adopt evaluation plans in 2012, despite widespread complaints that the plans rushed into place were seriously flawed.

Regents board meets

The 17-member Regents board met in Albany with state Education Department staffers to start thrashing out ground rules needed to meet requirements of the revised law, which passed as part of the budget deal. Some regulations must have the Regents' approval, officials said, but how far the board can go in shaping the changes is a matter of dispute between the governor and some legislative leaders.

Under the law, the Education Department and the Regents must issue final regulations by the end of June. Then, local districts must negotiate plans with their teacher unions and get Education Department approval of those plans by Nov. 15.

"What we do here is going to be very important," said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Nassau and Suffolk on the Regents board. "To do it within two months is almost impossible, really."

One major issue still unsettled is whether the revised system will base about 50 percent of teachers' job ratings on students' performance on state tests, as the governor has proposed, or whether that percentage would be far lower -- perhaps 20 percent or less, as favored by some Regents.

Regent Kathleen Cashin, a former superintendent in a Brooklyn community district, spoke in favor of a smaller role for test scores in evaluations.

"We have rushed into too many things," Cashin said. "I think our approach should be slow and steady."

Boycotts for tests

The question carries great weight on Long Island, where thousands of parents pulled their children out of state English Language Arts and math tests last spring, and calls mounted for another boycott this year. ELA testing in grades 3-8 is scheduled to start Tuesday.

Many protesting parents and teacher union leaders say the use of test scores in evaluating teachers is unfair and exerts unneeded pressure on students.

"Parents are opting out in droves," said Judith Chin, a newly elected Regent from Queens.

State Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), a senior member of the Assembly's education committee, said he believes Tisch's suggestion of a time extension for districts would find strong support. Englebright added that his colleagues generally agree the Regents have "broad discretion" over such areas as teacher evaluation.

Assemb. Patricia Fahy (D-Albany), who attended the Regents meeting with several other legislators, endorsed both the concepts of a deadline extension for districts and a relatively small role for test scores in rating teachers.

"We very much favor minimizing the influence of state tests," Fahy said. "Parents have told us that. Teachers have told us that."

Regents are selected by the legislature, and control of those selections in recent years has been in the hands of Assembly Democrats, who represent the biggest voting bloc.

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