With less than a week left in the state's legislative session, trying to analyze how the big issues will play out is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall -- particularly on teacher evaluations.
Less than three months ago, the Assembly, Senate and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo agreed to a new system of evaluating public school teachers, an update on the plan used for two years. The old system pleased no one. Teachers unions hated that 20 percent of the ratings of third- through eighth-grade English and math teachers came from student scores on standardized tests. Cuomo felt the system was being gamed by rosy scores on subjective parts of the evaluations. As proof, he pointed to the fact that only about 1 percent of the state's teachers were found to be ineffective in the most recent evaluations.
Cuomo won, getting his new evaluation system into the state budget. Under this law, no teacher can be rated highly effective overall, the highest of the four ratings, if he or she is rated ineffective on "student growth." And no teacher can be rated ineffective overall, the lowest of the ratings, if he or she is rated highly effective on student growth.
The Board of Regents meets next week and is supposed to pass regulations to enforce this new plan. But earlier this week seven of the 17 members called for a delay in the implementation deadline, which requires that school districts adopt evaluation procedures by Nov. 15.
The Assembly recently passed a bill 135-1 that would put off the new evaluations until after the fall 2016 legislative elections. Republicans who control the Senate majority have been all over the place on the issue. And Cuomo seems to measure his flexibility on teacher evaluations in millimeters.
Unusually, the devil is not in the details, although there are details under discussion that need to be fixed. We'd like to see better tests, results presented in a more timely and meaningful manner, and reviews of curricula and test content. And if some districts need a month or two more to adjust, that's understandable. But significant delays and stonewalling can't be tolerated. Our schools must have teachers who improve student performance in measurable ways.