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OpinionEditorial

New front on the war over education reforms

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For the vast majority of teachers in New York, there was never going to be a new evaluation system this school year for 2015-2016: At least 90 percent of districts have been granted waivers by the state. And now, education experts and government officials say there will almost certainly be a multiyear moratorium during which evaluations aren't linked to student testing.

In theory, districts with waivers revert to the last "new" system, basing teacher evaluations 60 percent on classroom observation and 40 percent all on state tests, or 20 percent on state tests and 20 percent on local measures. That's the system that infuriated everyone already.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was enraged because it identified only about 1 percent of the state's teachers as "ineffective," a result he rightfully considered bogus and unacceptable. Meanwhile, the New York State United Teachers union and many teachers and parents were furious that teacher evaluations were linked to student tests, arguing it was unfair and would lead to a culture of "teaching to the test."

So Cuomo went to war on that system and instead got a subsequent plan passed that said student performance on the tests would count for 50 percent of the evaluations (although teachers generally couldn't be penalized unless they did poorly on both classroom observation and student achievement). The threat was that districts that didn't go along would lose state funding increases. It sounded like a win for Cuomo, but he can't enforce it without turning a widespread rebellion even uglier.

As Cuomo was seeking his changes, NYSUT and parents opposed to new Common Core standards fostered a widespread boycott of the tests. At least 200,000 students in grades 3-8 skipped mandated exams in English and math.

Now the state Education Department says tests will be better and shorter. Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, after perusing about 5,500 responses to individual Common Core standards, says about 70 percent of respondents, most of whom were educators, agree with the grade-level goals. Everyone always agreed that the state rollout of curricula and lesson plans was botched. And the federal law linking student achievement to teacher evaluations is going through a rewrite that may drop that requirement. That's a mistake.

Students should take reasonable, high-quality standardized tests, so progress can be measured. Part of a teacher's evaluation should derive from that progress. It's not unreasonable to believe a teacher who has had kids for a school year should have improved their skills, and that the improvement should be measurable.

But NYSUT and the parents allied with it object to using test results to evaluate teachers, and they've flexed that muscle. Cuomo can cut funds to schools that don't go along with him. He hasn't flexed that muscle yet, but he must be willing to in order to force a compromise that allows good teachers to be rewarded, poor ones to be replaced and all students to flourish.

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