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Center Moriches HS teacher: 'Ineffective' rating a 'badge of honor'

Center Moriches teacher Matthew Craig Charvat talks to

Center Moriches teacher Matthew Craig Charvat talks to Newsday about teacher evaluations and testing during an interview at Newsday. (Oct. 29, 2013) Credit: Chuck Fadely

A veteran Long Island high school teacher says he scored "ineffective" in the state's new professional job evaluations and considers the designation a "badge of honor" -- the first case the state teachers' union says it knows of an individual educator coming forward publicly about a low rating.

Craig Charvat, 42, in his 15th year teaching social studies at Center Moriches High School, told Newsday he received the lowest rating on the state's job-performance scale after he refused to submit written evidence of his classroom preparations and other work to a school supervisor.

Charvat said he decided not to comply with evaluation rules established by his school district and the state to protest the Annual Professional Performance Review system because he considers it "ludicrous."

The teacher evaluation law, which took effect in early 2012 after negotiations between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, top legis-lators and the teachers union, has drawn widespread complaints from school administrators, teachers, parents and students. Educators and parents have deplored increased testing of students -- largely a result of the evaluation process.

In statewide composite scores released last month, which did not include New York City schools, only 1 percent of teachers were rated "ineffective," while more than 90 percent of teachers were "highly effective" or "effective." Any teacher rated "ineffective" for two consecutive years faces potential job loss.

Disillusioned with plan

Charvat was a member of a Center Moriches teacher union team that helped negotiate the district's evaluation plan with administrators in spring 2012. He told Newsday he became disillusioned with the plan because of what he considered the district's flawed implementation during the 2012-13 school year.

"I take it as a badge of honor," Charvat said of his rating in an interview last week. "Being labeled as an ineffective teacher actually gives me the power, I think, to rip open the curtains on this flawed system."

School officials confirmed that Charvat's rating was due to scores of zero that he received after refusing to submit evidence of his work in two areas, including classroom planning and preparation.

District Superintendent Russell Stewart, in a prepared statement, said Charvat had a right to challenge the evaluation rules through appropriate lobbying with Albany officials to change state law. But Stewart noted that any teacher who intentionally disregards those rules "runs the risk of achieving a low score."

Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teacher union, said he knew of no other teacher who has come forward individually to discuss an "ineffective" rating.

Acknowledging glitches

Center Moriches officials acknowledged that their district, like others, has run into glitches in its ratings system.

"Any time that change in a school system is undertaken, it's going to be uncomfortable," said Wendy Turkington, president of the Center Moriches school board, who works as a librarian in another district. "I think that if we all stay calm and just focus on the end result of changing what needs to be changed and improving the system for all children, we'll get through this."

Charvat has taught global history and other social studies courses in Center Moriches for more than 14 years. A former stockbroker, he is certified by Syracuse University as an adjunct instructor in economics and sociology, which allows him to teach those subjects at Center Moriches High for college credit.

Charvat said he also became concerned, after talking with other teachers, that school supervisors used differing approaches in their classroom observations and other checks of teachers' job performance.

Stewart acknowledged that supervisors used various approaches, but added that all work observations fit within district guidelines.

Charvat said he will comply with terms of a teacher-improvement plan he recently received from the district that requires numerous specific steps, including advance submission to a supervisor of daily lesson plans.

Newsday confirmed details of what happened with the district's testing and evaluation process in interviews with three district officials, including Stewart, and an examination of district documents.

Teachers' ratings in Center Moriches, as in other districts, depend heavily on improvements in student test scores.

In September 2012, the district introduced a round of "pretesting," using a battery of standardized tests known as the Iowa Assessments. The assessments, which were intended to measure initial levels of knowledge, were taken in one class period per day for a week, students said.

Assessment resumed in April, with "post-testing" designed to measure how much students had learned over eight months. Testing was kept shorter than in September, a move district officials said was meant to avoid further stress on students.

Students confused

In the April "post-testing," some students reported being confused by a difference between the Iowa Assessments test booklets and the answer sheets the district chose to use.

In the test booklet, many of the multiple-choice answers were labeled J, K, L and M. To save money, Center Moriches did not buy the test's accompanying answer sheet, using a less expensive alternative with multiple-choice answers labeled as A, B, C and D. Students had to be careful to choose the appropriate letter to mark on the answer sheet, even though the letters did not always correspond with those in the test booklet.

Students' struggles with the answer sheets angered some parents. District officials acknowledged the difference, but said the situation was clearly explained to students. Eight high school students opted out of testing and were given zeros on parts of their assessments. Other test papers were invalidated because students did not complete them.

Mary Pettit, whose daughter Emily, 17, is an honors student, said, "The overtesting of children is taking away from the learning process."

Some parents, including Pettit, said they sympathize with Charvat. "Mr. Charvat is known in the community as an excellent teacher," Pettit said. "He is by no means ineffective."

NYS teacher evaluation results

Statewide 2012-13 composite results for teacher evaluations, released in October by the state Department of Education, showed:

49.7 percent: rated "highly effective"

41.8 percent: rated "effective"

4.4 percent: rated "developing"

1 percent: rated "ineffective"

3.1 percent: no composite reported

The statewide composite did not include teachers in New York City schools, where ratings are running a year behind the rest of the state.

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