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Making teachers more accountable; Answers are beginning to emerge on New York's new evaluation system emphasizing student achievement.

Plenty of questions are circulating about the teacher-evaluation agreement that state officials and New York State United Teachers announced last week.

Here are some of the answers so far regarding the plan to more closely link teacher ratings with student achievement:

>Who is affected by the agreement?

It applies to all teachers in traditional public schools and BOCES statewide, starting in 2012-13.

>Is this a state law?

Not yet, but it's expected to become law once the state budget is approved. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has introduced it as a bill that is part of budget amendments. Due in large part to the support by NYSUT, it is expected to be approved by the State Legislature.

>Will teachers get an overall rating?

Yes. Each teacher will get an overall numerical score on a 100-point scale, along with a corresponding categorical rating: highly effective, for scores of 91 to 100; effective, 75 to 90; developing, 65 to 74; and ineffective, below 65.

>How will those 100 points be determined?

Sixty points will be locally developed, based on measures other than student tests.

At least 31 of those 60 points must be based on multiple classroom observations by a principal or other qualified administrator, including one visit that is unannounced.

The remaining 29 points could be based on classroom observations by an independent evaluator; observations by other teachers; feedback from parents or students; or "evidence of student development and performance" through lesson plans, student portfolios or other means.

For teachers in subjects that are tested by the state, 25 points will be based on state-determined measures of student growth on those tests, and 15 will be based on locally determined measures of student growth or achievement. For all other teachers, each of those two will be worth 20 points instead.

>How will student growth be measured for teachers in grades or subjects that are not tested -- such as kindergarten teachers or art teachers?

Local districts can choose from several options, which include: results on alternative assessments such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams or SAT II tests; a state-provided growth score for all students in the teacher's school who took the state math or English tests; and a district, BOCES or regional test that is "comparable across classrooms."

>What are the consequences for a teacher who is rated ineffective?

Teachers rated ineffective two years in a row could face termination proceedings.

The evaluations are also supposed to be used to provide better-targeted professional development and support for teachers, so that low-performing teachers can improve.

>Do local districts still have to negotiate any of this with their unions?

Yes. Each local district must negotiate with its teachers union the specifics of how it will determine the 60 points -- which are largely based on classroom observations -- and how it will measure the local portion of student growth or achievement, within the parameters established by the state agreement.

>When must districts have a local agreement in place?

Districts are to submit their plans to the state education commissioner by July 1, unless all the terms have not been finalized in collective-bargaining negotiations by then. In that case, the district is to submit its plan as soon as it has been finalized. The commissioner is to approve or reject each plan by Sept. 1.

>What are the consequences for a district that does not comply?

Any district that does not submit an acceptable plan by Jan. 17, 2013, will forfeit its 2012-13 increase in state aid, the governor announced in January as part of the roll-out of his state budget proposal.

>How does this affect districts that have already reached agreements with their unions?

Several local districts -- including Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda, Hamburg, Cleveland Hill, Cheektowaga and Lockport -- are among the 100 or so statewide that already have signed agreements with their teachers union.

Their teacher evaluations will have to comply with the new state requirements in 2012-13, just like every other district. If portions of their agreements do not comply with the state's, they will need to renegotiate those portions.

>Does the agreement apply to charter schools?


The existing teacher-evaluation law did not apply to charter schools, either. However, any charter school that signed on to Race to the Top in 2010 agreed to implement teacher evaluations as part of that agreement, which is separate from state law.

>Will the teacher evaluations be subject to public disclosure?

Based in part on a court decision last week, it appears that the answer is yes.

The state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled in favor of several media outlets seeking copies of New York City teacher ratings based on test scores.

In addition, Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government, has said that a teacher's overall score is considered a final determination by the district and must be disclosed.

>How does the state agreement affect Buffalo?

The state in January suspended federal school-improvement grants to Buffalo because it did not submit adequate teacher-evaluation plan for six low-performing schools for 2011-12, as it agreed to as part of the terms of the grants. The district has revised its plan and is currently appealing that decision.

The state agreement relates to all teachers, in all schools, in 2012-13. This has no bearing on Buffalo's situation regarding teacher evaluations in those six schools for 2011-12.

However, Buffalo must negotiate a new agreement for 2012-13 that complies with the new state agreement, just like any other district.