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Delay in the new teacher evaluations can’t be the first step in a complete cave-in

That was fast.

Hardly six weeks after passing a new state budget that included important changes in the teacher evaluation system and aggressive deadlines for imposing them, the Assembly retreated en masse, voting 135-1 to slow it down.

Either Assembly members didn’t know what they were doing a few weeks ago or they have buckled under pressure from teachers unions. It is also possible, of course, that both are true.

A different bill, with similar intent, is moving through the Senate. If both chambers eventually pass identical bills with majorities anything close to the rout in the Assembly, the Legislature could override the veto that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would certainly provide.

It could be that the Assembly really does want only a short delay in implementation of the changes and, if so, it wouldn’t qualify as an unmitigated disaster. Unfortunately, that’s anything but certain, and there is plenty of reason to worry that the Assembly, which has lived happily in the pocket of teachers unions for decades, would be happy to see the whole thing go away.

The fact is that evaluations are important. It should go without saying that New Yorkers, who spend billions of dollars on education every year, have some right to know that their investment is producing results. It’s fundamental.

But the evaluation system hashed out during Cuomo’s first term in office was clearly ineffective, and easily manipulated. Something more accurate – and with a goal of helping teachers improve their performances, where needed – was required.

The Legislature did that, approving a measure that required the Board of Regents to create more stringent regulations by June 30, and giving school districts until this November to negotiate with their local teachers unions and implement the new system.

Then the Assembly blinked. Under unrelenting pressure from the teachers unions and facing deadline doubts by the Regents, it revised the timeline, giving the Regents until mid-November to create the new ratings and delaying implementation by school districts until November 2016, 12 months later than was demanded in the law passed just a few weeks ago. It may not be terrible, but it’s as suspicious as a turtleneck in August.

Now, New Yorkers have to see what the Senate does. If it passes a radically different version of this measure from the Assembly’s, nothing may come of it. Members of both chambers get a free vote that they can brag about to their union supporters.

But if the Senate and Assembly ultimately agree on a bill, each by a veto-proof majority, then New Yorkers will have to watch to ensure that there is no further backsliding by their representatives. The penalty could be too high.

It’s not that education is terrible in all parts of the state. Indeed, many districts – mainly suburban ones – do a fine job of teaching their students, and some have demonstrated, beyond any dispute, that implementing the Common Core is no impossible task.

But accountability must be required in all parts of the state, and in a way that allows valid and useful comparison. If Buffalo and Yonkers used different evaluation systems, there would be no way to know which is doing better and which needs to catch up.

And the purpose isn’t simply to get rid of bad teachers, though that should be the result for those who can’t do the job and also can’t improve. The goal is measurement in service of improvement. That fact too often goes ignored in the din of resistance to evaluations.

If legislators, Regents, school boards and unions would focus on hammering out a system that does that, there would be few people left to complain.