State Education Department Regent Roger Tilles speaks about Gov. Andrew...

State Education Department Regent Roger Tilles speaks about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's educational reform agenda on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015 in Port Jefferson. Credit: Ed Betz

A leading Long Island education policymaker called Wednesday for an overhaul of the state's use of Common Core test scores in evaluating teachers and principals, declaring the controversial ratings are weakening school staffs' morale.

Roger Tilles of Great Neck, now in his 11th year on the state Board of Regents, told a teachers conference in Port Jefferson that Albany faces the risk of growing opposition to the job evaluation system unless it reverses course.

"I oppose the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers and principals," Tilles said, drawing applause from about 400 teachers and school administrators at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson. "Not admitting a mistake is making a bigger mistake."

The senior Regent stressed that he spoke for himself and not the board.

Tilles called for an end to the use of the state's so-called "growth scores," which can count for up to approximately half of a teacher's annual rating. Such scores measure improvement on English and math tests of students in a teacher's class, matching that against improvement of those in other classes across the state.

As a substitute, he recommended changes in state law that would allow more emphasis on local measures of achievement. These would include "Student Learning Objectives" -- assessments adopted by school districts -- as well as teacher-written tests and "portfolios" of students' classwork.

The state's current evaluation law, including the increased emphasis on growth scores, was pushed through the Legislature April 1 by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The governor argued for greater use of state measures in evaluating teachers, on grounds that local measures can be manipulated and are not uniform from one district to another.

Later in April, parents across the state pulled more than 200,000 students in grades three through eight out of state tests in English and math -- the biggest test boycott in the nation. Leaders of the opt-out movement have called for an end to using state tests in evaluations, saying the system is statistically unreliable and exerts too much pressure on students and teachers.

Most political analysts have concluded that major changes in the evaluation law are unlikely anytime soon, given the governor's support for the system. The state's new education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, who reports to the Regents, has begun reviewing the ratings as directed by the board. Elia has cautioned that she expects no changes this year.

Brian Snow, a Vandermeulen High School economics teacher who heads the district's teacher union, voiced support for Tilles' recommendations, but said he believes the evaluation issue most likely will be settled in "a political battle between the legislative and executive branches."

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