The state's largest school organizations will weigh in on Albany's toughened system of teacher evaluations linked to test scores at a state Education Department invitation-only "summit" meeting next week -- and parent leaders of a growing test-refusal movement may be among the participants.
The state Board of Regents has called representatives of school boards, superintendents, principals, teachers and parents to the May 7 meeting to make recommendations for changes in the job-rating system of teachers and principals statewide.
An agreement pushed through the legislature by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this month gives the state far greater authority to set regulations for job evaluations. The Regents and their appointees in the Education Department are to adopt final regulations by mid-June.
Richard Longhurst, executive administrator of the New York State PTA, said Tuesday that he plans to offer some of his group's tickets to representatives of the opt-out movement, as well as to parents who have chosen to continue having their children take state tests.
Each organization invited to the meeting has between 20 and 30 tickets to distribute.
"Some people are concerned with the tests and what they do to the kids, and others are concerned with how much test results should be used in teacher evaluations," Longhurst said. "Either way, we conclude that the issues have proven toxic to the education environment, and we've got to find a way to get this under control."
Longhurst noted that the test-refusal movement has shown particular strength on Long Island, and in the suburbs of the lower Hudson Valley and the Buffalo area. Newsday surveys showed 42.6 percent of eligible students in Nassau and Suffolk counties opted out of the state English Language Arts test, while 46.5 percent refused to take the math test. Both tests were given this month to students in grades three through eight.
The May 7 meeting is scheduled to run from 8:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. in the 200-seat auditorium of the New York State Museum. National experts in the fields of education, economics and testing psychometrics, yet to be named, will be invited to participate, along with representatives of the New York State School Boards Association, New York State Council of School Superintendents, the New York State United Teachers union and other groups.
This is the only meeting on regulating the teacher-evaluation system in which the Education Department is inviting limited public participation. Though on-site attendance is only for those invited, the event will be simulcast and public comments and recommendations can be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A major complaint by school groups is the tight -- and confusing -- deadlines set by the amended state law for the launch of revamped evaluations. School districts have been told to submit their new local plans by Sept. 1, but also have been told that they might obtain extensions to September 2016, in case of hardship.
Jack Bierwirth, superintendent of Herricks schools, who has worked with the state superintendents council on the March 7 presentation, recalled that schools chiefs had extensive opportunity to consult with principals, teachers and others before presenting their recommendations at a similar state meeting several years ago.
This time, Bierwirth added, "It's going to be a bunch of presentations and that's it. But the fact that we're going to be given a chance to speak is better than nothing."