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Make teacher evals private, lawmakers urged

Kindergartners (from left) William Flowers, 6, Louis Vanegas,5,

Kindergartners (from left) William Flowers, 6, Louis Vanegas,5, and Chandoo Robinson,5, (far right) work with teacher's assistant Christine Blankson at the Dryden Street School. (May 22, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

ALBANY -- Teachers from around the state converged on the state Capitol Tuesday to urge lawmakers to make professional evaluation results private.

Publicizing the results would have devastating effects on teachers without improving classroom instruction, they said.

"It destroys teachers' morale and principals' and schools' reputations," said Daphna Arm, a sixth-grade teacher at Lakeside School in Merrick, one of about 600 teachers who bused in for the lobbying effort.

"And I question how beneficial it is to the child," added Tomia Smith, a speech teacher at Massapequa High School.

At issue is a new teacher-evaluation system Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators approved earlier this year. In a separate case involving New York City teachers, a court ruled that evaluations were subject to public-records laws. That sparked calls from teachers' unions to enact legislation to make evaluations private.

Some lawmakers note that evaluations of police and fire personnel aren't available publicly and want teachers treated the same.

Cuomo has said the parent's right to know trumps teacher privacy, but that he'd like to find a way to give parents -- and only parents -- access to the data, which will be tricky, legal experts say.

Officials said the issue likely won't be resolved until the final weeks of the legislative session when traditionally all the outstanding issues are tackled. Adjournment is set for June 21.

On Tuesday, union members visited numerous lawmaker offices to make their case. "Our message is that every teacher wants to do an excellent job in the classroom," said Rob Ciani, a fourth-grade teacher at Mandrachhia Sawmill Intermediate School in Commack. Having evaluations "disclosed publicly isn't going to help good teachers become better and . . . will make it more challenging" for struggling teachers to improve, he said.

The Democrat-led Assembly is considering two bills that would shield evaluations from public view.

One would make it illegal for school districts to make them available to anyone. The other would allow parents only to view a teachers' overall assessment, but the parents would have to request the record through the state's freedom of information law. The measure has the backing of New York State United Teachers union.

"That's a good, common sense use of the information," said Richard C. Iannuzzi, union president. He said the union pressed lawmakers to resolve the issue before adjourning.

"We don't want to leave this to the courts," he said. "We don't want to go into another school year with teachers wondering who is going to try to exploit their personal information to make headlines."

Neither Cuomo nor the Senate, led by Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), has settled on a position.

Skelos, who met with a handful of teachers Tuesday, said he wants to ensure the evaluations aren't misleading.

"We want to make sure that when a teacher is evaluated there's fairness across the board," Skelos said. "Some teachers may be harder to analyze their performance if they're dealing with special needs kids, alternative schools. So we want to make sure the evaluation process is fair to all the teachers and that's a discussion going on, with the Assembly and the Senate, to see how we can come to a disclosure part of the evaluations."

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