ALBANY – The use of Common Core-based standardized test scores to evaluate the job performance of New York’s public school teachers will be put on hold while the state works on improving the way the controversial curriculum program is operated.
The delay was agreed to Thursday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Assembly passed the bill late Thursday night, and the Senate approved the measure just before 1 a.m. Friday.
The agreement comes three months after students in New York got a related temporary reprieve from the impact of the Common Core tests.
The two-year delay, affecting teacher performance evaluations this year and next, means that, according to the state’s teachers union, about 20,000 teachers who were given poor evaluations this year will have those results stripped from their records and will not have to face any mandatory on-the-job training or potential dismissal from their positions.
State education officials put the affected number lower and said about 1,000 of the teachers who received the lowest ratings will see their evaluations change for the better.
“We want a fair evaluation,” said Cuomo, who has blamed the Board of Regents and education department for what he has characterized as a mishandling of the Common Core rollout. Earlier this spring, Cuomo and lawmakers provided a similar break to students so that standardized test scores based on the Common Core curriculum would not keep them from advancing to the next grade level or from graduating.
“People’s lives are being judged by this instrument, so you want the instrument in the evaluation to be correct,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said he still believes in the principles of the Common Core to try to improve student performance, though a veteran lawmaker involved in the teacher negotiations said she thought the problems around both student testing and teacher performance reviews could be the impetus for reviewing the whole curriculum.
Officials acknowledged the teacher evaluation changes had to be done in such a way so as to not change the Common Core program in a manner that could jeopardize $300 million in federal funding.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan signaled that was not going to be a problem, saying that he commended the deal because it keeps intact New York’s commitment to “improve schools, raised standards and help ensure students gain the skills they need to succeed.”
Based on rough estimates, state education officials said they believe only a minimum number of teachers – possibly fewer than 1,200 across the state – would receive a change in their 2013-14 evaluation scores based on the new legislation. That is far below the numbers NYSUT estimated Thursday.
Last year, 1 percent of the roughly 120,000 teachers who were evaluated under the new system received “ineffective ratings.” In addition, 4.4 percent were rated “developing.” The state has not released teacher evaluation data for the 2013-14 school year.
Regent Robert Bennett said he believed the focus on the use of state exams in the teacher evaluations was misguided. Student performance on state math and English exams in third through eighth grade is only a requirement for 20 percent of a teacher’s score. The remaining portion is based on locally selected measures and teacher observation.
“We’re not going to abandon the learning standards,” said Bennett, who added that the initial teacher evaluation law was crafted with “safeguards” in mind for teachers.
“My personal feeling is it’s a good beginning for a true conversation among parents and educators in the community about how, one, we want to evaluate our teachers, and two, what kind of curriculum we want to have in our schools,” said Todd Hathaway, an East Aurora High School teacher.
Hathaway earlier this year served on a governor’s panel to review the state’s Common Core reform efforts, but expressed dissent from the panel’s final report that did not include a teacher evaluation delay.
“This will maybe tamp down some of the fervor,” Hathaway said of Thursday’s teacher evaluation deal, “but I doubt it will be the total elimination of it.”
Parents and educators opposed to the way the state has rolled out the new exams have expressed a wide range of concerns – including that the state no longer releases the tests after they have been administered and the pressure placed on children. But their use in determining the performance for some teachers has fueled a statewide debate over public education during the last year.