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Despite generally good evaluations, a few teachers still need to do better

Anyone who wants good news about New York State’s teachers can find it in recent evaluations released by the state. Only 1 percent of teachers were rated ineffective during the last school year. Considered that way, it’s not a bad result.

But there is another way to view these figures that is somewhat more troubling. According to the figures released by the State Education Department, 49.7 percent of teachers were found to be highly effective while another 41.8 percent were rated effective. But 5.4 percent received the two lowest grades: either “developing” (4.4 percent) or “ineffective” (1 percent).

That may not seem like much, unless you’re one of the students with a teacher who isn’t up to snuff. It is, perhaps, no higher a share of the teacher force than anyone might have reasonably predicted to be subpar, but it still points out the need for improvement. How many more students would be graduating if those teachers could be coached to a higher level of performance?

That, of course, is the point. More than the point, it was the subject of adamant resistance by teachers unions and their members, who feared that the system was a ruse to fire them. State education officials insisted otherwise, saying the point was to help struggling teachers improve.

The facts will be known soon enough, after the Education Department completes its analysis of the ratings results, but we presume the state will be as good as its word.

Teachers who have committed themselves to educating New York’s children deserve the opportunity to correct their deficiencies – just as any other professional does. Only after two consecutive ratings of “ineffective” can a teacher be subject to termination proceedings.

But the ratings are urgent and the state is correct to reject the insistence upon delay by teachers unions. As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo noted in pushing for the ratings system, it makes no sense to spend billions of dollars a year on education with no way to measure what that investment is producing.

In that end, the goal has to be an educated corps of New York students. Achieving that goal requires able teachers and, before that, a top-flight system for preparing and then supporting the instructors on whom the system relies. That’s the point of these evaluations.

It will be important to see how these evaluations break down by district, especially for Buffalo, which is struggling to improve its performance. Those numbers are not expected until late fall or early winter. There will be no numbers for New York City schools until next year. When they come, districts and teachers will have a golden opportunity to make improvements that will benefit them, their taxpayers and their students.