The state Department of Education Thursday released its first teacher and principal ratings based on student test scores to public school districts, marking a key step in the implementation of a controversial new evaluation plan.

Teachers of math and English language arts in grades 4-8 and their principals were rated highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, with more than 75 percent falling into the second category, the department said.

Additional ratings for teachers in other subject areas will roll out over time.

The ratings -- which the state calls "growth scores" -- were based on student performance on state tests over a two-year period, as compared with similar students' past scores. Certain demographic data also was included in the calculations.

State officials said the data was for 33,129 teachers -- 15 percent of teachers statewide -- and 3,556 principals. The ratings are not being released to the public, but will be available to parents upon request -- only for their child's teachers.

Seven percent of teachers statewide were rated "highly effective," meaning that their students' growth was well above the state average for similar students. Another 77 percent were classified as "effective," meaning that growth was equal to the average of similar students.

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Ten percent of teachers across New York were rated "developing," meaning that student growth was below average, and 6 percent were found to be "ineffective," with growth "well below" average.

Six percent of principals were rated "highly effective" and another 79 percent were classified as "effective." Eight percent were found to be "developing;" 7 percent were labeled "ineffective."

The ratings will make up 20 percent of a teacher's or principal's overall evaluation. The remaining 80 percent will be composed of locally selected measures of student achievement, plus classroom observations, and parent and student surveys.

The system is being put in place in part to satisfy requirements established in President Barack Obama's Race To The Top initiative, which calls upon states to compete for federal funding. New York was awarded $700 million for its proposal.

"The growth scores include and account for a number of factors -- prior academic history, student poverty, English language learners, students with disabilities and test measure variance -- to make sure they paint a fair and accurate picture," Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said in a statement.

But Roger Tilles, Long Island's representative on the Board of Regents, questioned both the cost and merit of the new system.

"It is clear that this process will make some companies very rich," he said. "I wonder if the money spent on this would be much better spent on things that we know improve student learning -- lower class size, extended school day and year, inclusion of more arts instead of reducing it."

Sean Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, said the release marked a "sad day" for education.

"Nothing supports this notion that we can effectively measure teacher performance through these scores," said Feeney, who mobilized hundreds of educators across the state to sign a protest letter about these and other mandates.

The ratings' release just a few weeks before the start of school leaves little time to coordinate professional development before then, Feeney said.

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"There is very little counseling that you can do with a teacher right now," he said.