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Union chief: Teacher evaluation plan unfair

Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, said Wednesday that new state-mandated teacher evaluations would be unfair if districts can base up to 40 percent of a teacher's rating on state test scores.

Weingarten made the remarks at Barack Obama Elementary School in Hempstead after meeting with educators and students there as part of a national tour. Earlier, she visited a school in Freeport. "There is a right way and wrong way to do this," she said, speaking of the evaluation system.

Weingarten, president of the 1.5-million-member AFT, said the state isn't being honest about why it is focusing so much of the evaluations on test scores. She said school districts "couldn't come up with real measures of student learning" because of budget cuts.

Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said New York allows districts to base 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation on test scores. He said it leaves another 20 percent to be decided by the district.

Local school administrators can consider test scores, he said, but must use some other extrapolation of the testing data specific to the needs of their district.

Tompkins said districts may not have the money to come up with their own tests.

The remaining 60 percent of teacher ratings are to be determined by other criteria, such as principals' evaluations of the teachers' classroom work.

The Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) evaluations are being phased in starting this school year, with educators in grades 4-8 who teach English Language Arts and mathematics. The ratings ultimately are expected to affect 35,000 teachers on Long Island.

However, the New York State United Teachers filed suit in June, challenging the percentage of a teacher's rating derived from standardized state test scores.The union contends the regulations violate state law and go against the statute adopted by the Legislature in May 2010.A judge in Albany ruled in the union's favor; the state is appealing.

Weingarten said the purpose of her tour was to highlight the work of dedicated teachers who have to cope with new and added demands while weathering severe budget cuts.

"What you see are teachers and school administrators making a difference in the lives of kids despite these obstacles, despite the demonization and despite the finger-pointing," she said. "All of that stays outside the classroom, and you see teachers doing the work that they're beloved for."

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