ALBANY -- The state Board of Regents Monday criticized the new evaluation system for teachers forged into law a month ago by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the legislature and vowed to fight it.
"We have to exercise some leadership about what is the direction of education in the state, rather than have that direction dictated to us," said Regent Lester Young Jr. of Brooklyn.
"In 1784, the Board of Regents was established and its primary purpose was to separate policy from politics," said Regent Beverly L. Ouderkirk of Morristown. "I'm finding the reality is much different."
The board plans to issue a rare "position statement" critical of the evaluation system. Several members also said the board should push the legislature to revise the law and to direct counsel to explore legal action to stop it or change it.
Cuomo proposed the system to improve poorly trained teachers and to fire bad teachers. He wants to give far greater weight to objective test scores rather than rely mostly on a principal's subjective appraisal.
The legislature already has reacted to opposition from teachers unions and some parents outraged at the amount of standardized testing used in the new system. It promised legislation to reduce testing. Parents on Long Island and statewide have refused to allow thousands of students to take the tests used in the evaluations of teachers and principals.
The Regents Monday also heard the first recommendations by the state Education Department about making some changes in how the teacher evaluation system is implemented. The recommendations could ease some of the mandates for teachers, principals and school districts.
The state proposes that state test scores count for far more than an optional local test and that a principal's evaluation would count more than the classroom observation by another educator from another school.
Among those recommendations are to "round up" many teacher scores to give them the "benefit of a doubt" in the new system. The recommendations would also require teachers judged effective or highly effective to face as little as two 10-minute observations in the classroom, said Senior Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. That's a recommended minimum, although school districts could require longer observations.
Developing and ineffective teachers would face a minimum of two 20-minute observations. For all teachers, one observation session would be unannounced.
The recommendations also include a series of two-month waivers to implement a system if a school district is negotiating the system with its unions in good faith.
The board is expected to adopt the regulations June 18. The law pushed by Cuomo and passed as part of the state budget April 1 requires the Board of Regents to approve the regulations by June 30.
Regent Roger Tilles of Brookville said the few details the Board of Regents can write into the evaluation system amounts to "putting lipstick on this" law.
He predicted even more families, including those living in the focal point of opposition on Long Island, will refuse to allow their children to take the tests.
Much of the board's attention and criticism Monday was over the "evaluation matrix," which shows how teachers could be judged based on a combination of student test scores and classroom observation. For example, a teacher rated "highly effective" in terms of student progress in tests but rated "ineffective" through classroom observation would be judged "developing" and in need of help. A teacher repeatedly rated "ineffective" would be fired.
Chancellor Merryl Tisch, in criticizing the matrix, noted that teachers could be judged outstanding through observation in challenging classrooms that could include special education students and immigrants learning English, which could drag down test scores and lead to the teacher being rated "developing," the second-lowest grade.
Cuomo notes the current teacher evaluation system rated 95 percent of teachers statewide "effective" or "highly effective." He said that's impossible because many public schools in New York perform poorly.
Regent Charles Bendit of Manhattan also questioned the validity of the past year's evaluations that found just 5 percent of teachers statewide are "developing" or "ineffective."
"This accountability system isn't perfect," he said, but "I think we have framework of something to work with . . . I think that's a sensible approach."
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