Roger B. Tilles, a member of the state Board of...

Roger B. Tilles, a member of the state Board of Regents, is shown in this file photo taken in Oakdale on April 28, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

A split Board of Regents approved regulations yesterday expanding use of state-sponsored or approved tests to evaluate teachers' and principals' performance, giving student test scores and classroom observations roughly equal weight.

The 17-member panel's action offers school districts some options to choose exams and to seek more time to roll out their local plans.

The 11-6 vote, after more than three hours of tense debate and discussion, reflected sharp divisions over issues that have angered educators and parents statewide. The revamped ratings system, pushed through the State Legislature by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, applies to more than 190,000 teachers and principals.

The action in Albany came against a backdrop of rising public resistance to standardized testing. More than 200,000 students, by some estimates, refused to take statewide English and math assessments administered in grades three through eight in April -- the biggest state-level test boycott in the nation.

In the midst of debate, Regent Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Nassau and Suffolk counties, predicted those boycotts would continue to grow unless the state substantially alters a system that ties teacher evaluations to student performance.

"I don't see a decrease in the opt-out movement," said Tilles, who explained he voted for the regulations reluctantly because such action was required by state law. "I just want to be clear that we're not solving problems for the majority of parents."

The new regulations follow basic outlines of the amended law, called the Education Reform Act. The law gives student test results and classroom observations roughly equal weight in measuring teachers' effectiveness on the job. It represents a dramatic turnaround in a state that until 2010 banned use of test scores in evaluations.

Changing their answer

Before the reform law was passed April 1, the evaluation system based 20 percent of teachers' job ratings on state "growth" scores from their students' test performance, 20 percent on an exam chosen by local districts and 60 percent on classroom observations and other measures.

The new regulations approved Monday allow districts to use state-generated "growth" scores for the entire testing component of teacher evaluations. As an alternative, districts may base half of that testing component on "growth" scores and the other half on tests of their choice.

Such tests either can be of the traditional multiple-answer type or new-style "performance" assessments that have students write their own answers. The state must approve either type of exam.

The regulations also address timing. Under the law, districts must have local evaluation plans in place by Nov. 15 or risk loss of state aid. The Regents decided to allow individual districts to apply for four-month extensions in cases where local officials and union leaders cannot agree on details of evaluation plans.

The six Regents who voted against the regulations had backed a more sweeping approach that would have granted all of the state's approximately 700 districts time extensions until September 2016.

"Rushing into anything without taking time to prepare invites disastrous results," said Regent Kathleen Cashin of Brooklyn, one of the board members who pressed for the blanket extension.

Target of criticism

New York's evaluations system, while not unlike those used in dozens of other states, has become a constant target for local teacher unions and parent groups.

On Long Island, parents pulled more than 65,000 children out of April's state tests, largely on grounds that the linkage between assessments and job evaluations put undue pressure on both teachers and students. Teacher unions in Rochester and Syracuse have filed lawsuits challenging the evaluation system, as has an individual Great Neck teacher, Sheri Lederman.

Cuomo, in an appearance in Seaford earlier this month, suggested in response to reporters' questions that the court challenges reflected a fear of the unknown.

"Basically, the way the teacher profession worked was, you got a job, you got tenure, and then you basically had total job protection for the rest of your life," the governor said. "This system says we're going to have an evaluation system, and if you don't do well in the evaluation system, you could lose your job. So it really is jarring."

Opponents, including union leaders, denied that this is the point. Rather, they said, their objections to evaluations based increasingly on test scores is that such systems are statistically unstable and subject to fluctuation in ratings from one year to the next.

"Teachers are not against being evaluated; they just want it to be reliable and valid," said Brad Lindell, a school psychologist and union representative in the Connetquot district. "And the fact that the governor wants to double down on a system that has been shown not to be valid is what upsets teachers."

Research and support

Supporters said the system, while not perfect, is superior to traditional evaluations that were usually limited to one or two classroom visits a year by school principals.

One often-cited research study, the Measures of Effective Teaching, or MET, looked at the performance of 3,000 teachers at seven sites across the country, including New York City.

Researchers concluded in 2013, after a three-year inquiry, that the most accurate measure of teacher effectiveness was a combination of classroom observations by at least two evaluators, together with student test scores that counted for between 33 percent and 50 percent of the overall evaluation.

The study was headed by Thomas Kane, a professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and funded by foundation money from software billionaire Bill Gates.

Gates' foundation also has financially supported the efforts to establish the Common Core academic standards.

Nationwide, a push by U.S. officials and business leaders has prompted growing numbers of states to include test scores in evaluations of teachers.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy and research group based in Washington, D.C., reported last year that 41 states had recently moved to require objective evidence of student performance in evaluations. In contrast, only 15 states set such requirements in 2009.

"We've called it a sea change," said Sandi Jacobs, a former New York City teacher who serves as the council's vice president and managing director for state policy.

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