Nearly half of all classroom teachers statewide -- 49.7 percent...

Nearly half of all classroom teachers statewide -- 49.7 percent -- obtained "highly effective" job ratings in the initial rollout of the state's new evaluation system, according to figures released by the state Education Department. Credit: iStock

More than 90 percent of teachers statewide scored "effective" or "highly effective" in their jobs, according to the state's first rollout Tuesday of results from a controversial new evaluation system linked to students' test performance.

The ratings released by the state Education Department included teachers on Long Island, but not New York City, which is running a year behind the rest of the state. Specific figures for counties and school districts are not yet available; those will be released later this fall or winter, department officials said.

Evaluations are composites based on job-performance ratings issued by local districts that include classroom observations and, in many cases, state ratings based on students' test scores. They cover more than 126,800 teachers and 3,200 principals statewide, including tens of thousands on Long Island.

State officials indicated Tuesday that the release was meant, in part, to reassure teachers and other school staffers that the evaluation system is not harsh. The state's influential teachers union, New York State United Teachers, recently condemned the system and demanded a three-year moratorium on its use.

Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, which sets educational policy, said, "The purpose of the evaluation system is not to create a 'gotcha' environment. The goal is to improve teaching and learning by targeting professional development to make sure every student receives quality instruction."

Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., who reports to Regents, added that "it's time to put aside talk about a moratorium."

Educators dismiss results

Teacher representatives were unmoved.

Richard C. Iannuzzi, a former Central Islip teacher who now heads the statewide union, Tuesday repeated his call for a moratorium, saying the time is needed to fix what many local educators -- and some Regents -- see as statistical glitches in the ratings.

"Until then, parents and teachers will remain frustrated and outraged, and students will be denied the high-quality education that they deserve," Iannuzzi said.

Some veteran educators scoffed at the results.

Sean C. Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School in the East Williston district, said the system is greatly flawed, pointing to the statewide composite statistic that only 1 percent of teachers were deemed "ineffective."

If that is true, he said, "Why are we doing all of this?"

The evaluation system, cobbled together last year by state and union officials, places each teacher in one of four performance categories ranging from "highly effective" to "ineffective." Those rated "ineffective" for two consecutive years can lose their jobs.

Few teachers face such a prospect anytime soon.

The statewide composite results show 49.7 percent rated "highly effective," 41.8 percent "effective," 4.4 percent "developing" and only 1 percent "ineffective."

Sixty percent of the evaluations were based on local district criteria that are subjective -- for example, the result of supervisors' classroom observations. The other 40 percent is split evenly between state tests and an assessment of the district's choice.

Breakdown for principals

For principals, the breakdown was 26 percent "highly effective," 60.9 percent "effective," 7.5 percent "developing" and 2.1 percent "ineffective."

Evaluation results for teachers look different when broken down to show ratings based on objective test-score criteria alone.

Consider, for example, the objective ratings given teachers of English and math in grades 4-8. Those teachers receive 20 percent of their evaluations from the state, based on students' improvement on standardized state tests.

Albany's ratings for those teachers showed that during the 2012-13 school year only 7 percent scored "highly effective," 76 percent "effective," 11 percent "developing" and 6 percent "ineffective." Ratings covered 38,384 teachers statewide.

Local school administrators pointed out that state and local ratings cannot be directly compared, because they are calculated differently.

Still, local civic activists found the state figures significant.

The 17 percent classified as "developing" and "ineffective" "is a pretty high number," said Andrea Vecchio of East Islip, a longtime taxpayer activist and board member of Long Islanders for Educational Reform, a regional advocacy group.

"It brings us back to the problem of teachers not doing what they're supposed to do. I mean, they're not bad people, but they probably don't belong in teaching," Vecchio added.

King, asked Tuesday about the gap between state and local ratings, noted that districts enjoy wide latitude in the subjective criteria they set for teachers.

Under state law and regulations, districts can choose any one of nine different "rubrics" for judging teachers' work in classrooms. Rubrics are a form of checklist, developed by researchers to help school supervisors determine if teachers work effectively with students.

"I would hope, if a district found they set their objectives too low, that is something they would re-evaluate," King said.

Nationally, debates over state teacher evaluation systems are growing.

Forty-six states now require or recommend that evaluations include some measure of teachers' impact on student achievement, according to a study issued two weeks ago by the Center for Public Education, based in Alexandria, Va. More than two-thirds of states have significantly changed their evaluations since 2009, the study found.

The center provides research and other information on education issues, and is an initiative of the National School Boards Association.

Jim Hull, the center's senior policy analyst, said that state evaluation systems appear to work best when they limit districts to the use of one or two well-tested rubrics, while allowing districts waivers from that restriction in individual cases.

"It's really unrealistic to expect 15,000 school districts [nationwide] to develop their own rubrics," Hull said.

With Jo Napolitano

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