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Get New York State’s teacher-evaluation law right

The state must ensure all students have access

The state must ensure all students have access to a great education. Credit: Uli Seit

Highly skilled educators are critical to providing students with a quality education and opening doors of opportunity for their futures.

The state has a fundamental responsibility to improve students’ access to great educators, while supporting teachers to become even more effective.

That’s why for us, it’s so troubling that the New York State United Teachers — the state’s largest teachers union — is pushing lawmakers in the final weeks of the state legislative session to make the teacher evaluation system irrelevant.

Though New York’s teacher evaluation law is far from perfect, this particular “cure” may be worse than the disease.

NYSUT’s proposal, which has passed the State Assembly, supports more testing for students and risks making teacher evaluations meaningless — a disservice to teachers and students alike. And with a moratorium in place stopping districts from using third-through-eighth grade English language assessment and math test results in teacher evaluations while the state Education Department launched a collaborative process to improve evaluations, their proposal appears to be a solution in search of a problem.

However, as written, the legislation is a big step in the wrong direction. The bill, which dramatically expands collective bargaining to permanently remove state assessments from evaluations, is likely to lead to more — and unnecessary — local testing.

Instead of state assessments, teacher evaluations might now be based on a menu of “alternative assessments.” But state assessments are still required under federal law, so any new assessments will add to the tests students take.

In addition, the bill risks making teacher evaluation meaningless. Based on NYSUT’s comments, it wants to see more teachers evaluated on tests in subjects they don’t teach and for students they don’t teach — even when there is a good assessment already available. That simply makes no sense.

Finally, the bill eliminates any consistency across school districts. Since each of New York’s roughly 700 school districts could have different tests or use them in different ways, the bill would eliminate safeguards that help ensure the students most in need of highly skilled teachers have equitable access to them.

Getting the teacher evaluation law right matters for two important reasons:

First, basing teacher evaluation on the right factors can have a major impact on student learning and on teachers’ professional experiences. State law requires that evaluation be a “significant factor for employment decisions” like retention, tenure and termination, and for professional support like coaching and training. If the feedback is based on the wrong things, those crucial decisions will have less value.

Second, having a meaningful and consistent statewide system of teacher evaluation shines a light on whether historically underserved students are being given access to strong educators.

According to the Education Department, low-income students in high-poverty schools are 11 times more likely to be taught by a teacher rated ineffective than non-low-income students in low-poverty schools. Likewise, students of color in high-poverty schools are 13 times more likely to be taught by a teacher rated ineffective than white students in low-poverty schools.

There are two ways to make this educational injustice disappear: by identifying, supporting, recruiting and retaining the best teachers to serve in the schools with the greatest needs — or by masking the problem.

Instead of destroying the teacher evaluation system — and forcing students to take more tests — let’s get it right.

Ian Rosenblum is executive director of The Education Trust–New York, and Evan Stone is co-founder and co-CEO of Educators for Excellence.