By Betsy Abraham
The Board of Regents ironed out regulations for the new teacher evaluation system last week, which require school districts to base at least 50 percent of teachers’ effectiveness on state test scores.
The State Education Department had originally recommended that 80 percent of student-performance be based on state tests, while the Regents suggested 20 percent. They eventually settled on 50 percent, with the other 50 percent of a teacher’s effectiveness score coming from classroom observations. The old system had state tests results making up 20 percent of the score.
Educators and teachers unions voiced their displeasure at the evaluation system, saying that too much weight was being put on the tests. Robert J. Reidy, Jr., executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said in a statement that the changes in the evaluation law were “woefully misguided.”
“We commend the members of the Board of Regents for their efforts to make the best of a bad law mandating yet one more set of changes to teacher and principal evaluations. But no amount of regulatory resourcefulness can alter the fact that the State Education Department and the schools are both being called upon to implement a law that will hurt teaching and learning for our schoolchildren,” Reidy Jr. said.
The evaluations were approved 11-6 on June 16. Among those who voted to approve the highly-debated evaluation system was Nassau and Suffolk County Regent representative Roger Tilles.
Matt Jacobs, regional staff director of the Nassau Chapter of the New York State Union of Teachers, said he was not surprised by the Regents’ actions, but he was disappointed, saying that with four newly appointed Regents members, he had hoped for a stronger voice for reform.
“We think the [teacher evaluations] are very detrimental and take a system that was effective and have made it significantly worse. It eliminates consideration of other important and relevant means of evaluating teacher performance and reduces it to test scores and observation,” Jacobs said. “These growth measures are statistically unreliable and have never been demonstrated to work well.”
Jeanette Deutermann, head of the Long Island Opt-Out movement, said that people shouldn’t overlook the significance of having six members of the Board of Regents not approving the regulations.
“The only way to stop it was for the Regents to stand up and say they cannot regulate a morally objectionable bill. The Regents couldn’t have decided no [because] this is a law now,” Deutermann said. “We were looking for more Regents to join on but we had a divided vote which is pretty significant.”
Deutermann anticipates more legislative action happening next year since it’s an election year. But she said parents still have veto power—and that they should take advantage of it.
“None of these bills address the major component of what we’re looking for,” she said. “We’re moving in the wrong direction when it comes to legislation and testing and how it’s taken over our schools, but the biggest point in all of this is it doesn’t matter because parents have veto power with opt-out.”
She said she expects the opt-out movement to grow next year, and that if more students choose not to take the state tests, teachers will regain some of the power in the classroom. She’s also rallying parents to send in letters to school districts on the first day of school if they plan on opting their kids out of the state tests so teachers can go into the year knowing the number of kids taking the tests.
“We can offer protection for kids and teachers by opting out,” Deutermann said. “We don’t want our teachers graded on our kids’ test scores which leads to classrooms being narrowed and taken over by test prep, so we can throw this kink in the system. We can have the final say through opt-out.”
Kim Velentzas, the Glen Cove liaison-Long Island Opt Out and moderator for the Glen Cove Parents for Common Sense Education Facebook page, echoed that sentiment.
“Parents called on the Board of Regents and the legislature to stand up to the Governor. They had the chance to do what’s right for our children and our schools and they didn’t—they failed miserably,” Velentzas said. “Parents will be charging full steam ahead with test refusals and I will personally be encouraging everyone I know to send their opt-out letters in for their child on the first day of school.”
School districts are now tasked with coming up with a plan on how they will implement the new evaluation system. Districts must have plans in place by Nov. 15; however, the Regents did introduce waivers that would allow districts a four-month waiver to delay introducing a new system until 2016-17.