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Marcellino: Pols likely to decouple teacher evals, test scores

Sen. Carl Marcellino, seen here on Feb. 4,

Sen. Carl Marcellino, seen here on Feb. 4, 2017, is chairman of the Education Committee. Credit: Ed Betz

ALBANY — A key senator on Thursday predicted the State Legislature will approve a bill to decouple teacher evaluations and students’ scores on standardized tests, saying linking the two had been, in hindsight, a mistake.

“Yeah, it was,” Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), chairman of the Senate Education Committee said when asked if tying evaluations to test scores had been a misstep. The State Legislature backed the idea in 2015 at the strong urging of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo as part of an effort to adopt the national Common Core academic standards.

Marcellino’s comments came after the Education Committee voted to advance a bill to undo the decoupling. He said he expected the Republican-led Senate to approve the repeal measure before the adjournment of the legislative session on June 20; the Democratic-run Assembly already voted for it.

Approving the measure essentially would be the final step in reversing a policy the governor led in 2015, but eventually retreated from.

“I don’t think we should be using the students’ performance as a means of linking to teachers’ evaluations. I think they should be separate and dealt with apart,” Marcellino said. “Some kids, for whatever reason . . . don’t score well. That’s not necessarily bad teaching — it just occurs. So I don’t think we should be punishing people for something that’s outside of their control. The local district can come and evaluate their teachers’ performance.”

Noting the measure now has 55 co-sponsors in the 63-seat Senate, he added: “I think it will pass by end of the year, yes.”

The new drive to approve the bill comes just as an influential union is pressuring Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) to allow a vote on it.

The New York State United Teachers is driving billboards around the State Capitol and planning rallies at the district office of Flanagan — and other Senate Republicans — on Friday. The union has promised to make it an election-year issue if lawmakers don’t act before adjourning.

A Flanagan spokesman said the Senate will “do the right thing” for students, parents and teachers, but added: “We will continue to review this bill in the context of a number of education reform issues now before the legislature.”

Three years ago, Cuomo led the effort to tie teachers’ evaluations to students’ test scores as part of a pledge to adopt the national Common Core academic standards and fight what he called “local inflation” of teacher ratings. The policy not only based 50 percent of a teacher’s appraisal on test scores, but also dictated financial penalties to school districts that didn’t comply.

A backlash by parents and teachers across the state, followed by test boycotts, ultimately resulted in Cuomo backtracking and the state Board of Regents instituting a four-year moratorium on the evaluation system.

The Cuomo administration is in talks with the major players about the de-linking legislation, a spokesman said. “We have been working with the Legislature and education community for months to address this issue and would like to reach a resolution this session, but it depends on the overall political environment,” Cuomo aide Rich Azzopardi said in an email.

With the moratorium set to expire in 2019, NYSUT and anti-test groups are trying to get lawmakers to decouple student tests and teacher evaluations for good. The Democratic-dominated state Assembly overwhelmingly approved the repeal bill by a vote of 133-1 in April.

“Teachers and parents are fed up. They want to drive a stake through the heart of this broken test-and-punish system,” NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said. “NYSUT isn’t going to back down until the Senate passes this bill.”

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who was in Hauppauge Thursday for a luncheon honoring valedictorians, told Newsday that the state’s system of teacher evaluations needed to be changed, but that she had concerns about legislation that would sever the connection between state test scores and teachers’ job ratings.

The state’s top school official has contended that the legislation could have the unintended effect of increasing the number of tests administered to students, because each school district would have the option to choose the assessments used to measure job performance. “I just want to be thoughtful about unintended consequences,” Elia said in response to a reporter’s question.

With John Hildebrand

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