The first state-mandated teacher evaluations are out, and the results indicate that good teachers abound. The 2012-13 data shows the overwhelming majority of area teachers are considered to be either “effective” or “highly effective,” according to data released by the state this week.
That appears true for poorer districts like Buffalo and Niagara Falls, which had more than 90 percent of their teachers rated effective or highly effective, as well as their wealthier suburban counterparts. In Buffalo’s case, however, it appears the district failed to properly record evaluations for roughly half its teachers.
The creation of a statewide teacher evaluation system was a source of great angst and controversy, subject to lengthy negotiations and overriding concerns that the system would ultimately result in large numbers of veteran teachers being pushed out the door.
But the results released this week are in line with state figures from October showing that 92 percent of all teachers, excluding New York City, are considered effective.
Teacher advocates say the results shouldn’t be surprising because New York has some of the best-trained and most experienced teachers in the country. But the consistently high teacher ratings for most districts, which sometimes conflict with lower student test results, have led some to question the quality of the state’s teacher evaluation system.
Although 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student growth on state standardized tests, the remaining 80 percent is based on locally selected measures. In many instances, the local measures significantly boosted teacher scores.
In the Williamsville district, for instance, 28 percent of teachers were considered “highly effective” based on state-required measures of student test results, but when the local measures were factored in, the overall percentage of teachers considered “highly effective” jumped to 68 percent.
Making matters more confusing for the public is the fact that the state used a complex formula to censor the release of rankings if the numbers were construed as being able to identify specific teachers.
That means for nearly half of all the districts in Western New York, the public has no way of knowing what percentage of teachers are considered effective because either the number of “effective” or “highly effective” teachers was suppressed.
“We’re constrained by the law,” said state Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins. But, he added, “Parents can contact their school and get evaluations for teachers who teach their child.”
The state numbers that weren’t suppressed indicate that more than 85 percent of all teachers in Western New York are considered to be performing well.
The true percentage is actually far higher but could not be specifically determined.
In Buffalo, 9 percent of its teachers – 156 out of 1,653 who were evaluated – were considered “ineffective” or “developing,” meaning that the teachers are not meeting performance expectations.
Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore pointed out that Buffalo’s percentage of well-performing teachers was much higher than those of other large urban districts, including Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers.
“We’re doing fantastically better than the other cities,” he said.
However, the teachers union has roughly 3,600 members, but the district submitted completed evaluations to the state for only 1,653 of them. Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie said some evaluations fell through the cracks because of data-inputting problems, but it’s also possible many teacher evaluations simply weren’t completed.
Buffalo was late in reaching an agreement with the teachers union on an evaluation process, he said, and that uncertainty hurt the district’s ability to properly evaluate staff.
“There was uncertainty about when do we begin, how much time do we need, and what rubrics do we use,” he said. “So, ’12-13 was, at best, a roll-out year.”
He added that he expects the 2013-14 evaluations to be much more complete.
The district has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to train its administrators on how to evaluate staff since 2012-13, including more than $200,000 earlier this month.
“We’re looking for far better results,” Ogilvie said, “and we’re not alone in that.”
Buffalo did not have the highest percentage of teachers considered underperforming. That distinction went to Erie 1 BOCES, which showed that 34 percent of its 175 evaluated teachers – one out of every three – were considered “developing” or “ineffective.”
Ogilvie, who previously served as district superintendent of Erie 1 BOCES, acknowledged that the BOCES career and technical education teachers were shocked and alarmed at the evaluation results when they first received them.
“I think it was their worst fear,” he said.
Because BOCES teachers don’t teach courses aligned with state standardized tests, 40 percent of the teachers’ evaluations were based on how well their students met certain student learning objectives, he said.
It was clear after viewing the 2012-13 results that the bar for meeting learning objectives was set too high, he said. Adjustments have since been made.
This week’s release of teacher evaluations has prompted criticism of the evaluation process on both sides.
Students First NY, a state education reform group, criticized the 80 percent local component of teacher evaluations, saying that the state’s 20 percent measure of student growth on standardized tests is the only valid and comparable measure across districts.
It pointed out that if teachers were only evaluated based on the 80 percent of locally selected criteria, zero percent of New York’s teachers would be rated “ineffective.”
“Any part of the teacher evaluation system that finds zero percent of teachers to be ineffective, when less than a third of students are on grade level, raises serious questions,” said Executive Director Jenny Sedlis, in a statement.
Meanwhile, New York State United Teachers spokesman Carl Korn called the teacher evaluations “invalid and unreliable.” He also said the assertion that only growth on state standardized tests should count on evaluations is narrow-minded.
“Parents and teachers know that students are more than a test score,” he said. “Test scores are probably the least valuable piece of information.”
State Education Department spokesman Tompkins said the results of the first round of teacher evaluations give districts the chance to look at their numbers and see what’s working for them. He added that the evaluations aren’t meant as a punitive measure.
“It’s supposed to identify teachers who are struggling and help them to improve,” he said.