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State budget agreement includes accord on new criteria for teacher evaluations, testing

ALBANY – The Cuomo administration Monday night said it reached agreement with lawmakers on broad new education policies, including setting in law parameters for how classroom teachers will be evaluated. The evaluations can be used for everything from awarding tenure to firing ineffective teachers.

The Cuomo administration said the increases in state aid funding to districts will be linked to adoption of the new teacher evaluation program. Hours earlier, the head of the state’s big teachers union called on parents to have their children opt out of taking the state’s Common Core-based standardized tests.

The state budget adoption process was fully engaged Monday, a day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders announced they had a fiscal deal. Yet, throughout daylight hours, details about one of the budget’s biggest components – education – were still being pieced together.

The overall formula-based education aid was to rise to about $1.4 billion, which sources said would include about $1.1 billion split between reducing the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which favors more suburban districts, and Foundation Aid, which favors more lower-income and urban districts.

But state aid figures for the individual 700 districts in the state had not yet been released.

Deals were reached Monday evening on how to address persistently failing schools and, according to the Cuomo administration, a new teacher job performance evaluation program.

A senior Cuomo official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said teacher evaluations, to be devised by the state Education Department with specific criteria set in law, will factor in student performance on a state-administered test and, if the teacher’s union seeks and the district approves, a second locally administered test.

Secondly, a teacher doing poorly during a classroom observation by a principal, independent monitor or highly qualified peer can’t be rated higher than “developing,” the second-lowest on a four-level rating system. In essence, a teacher must be rated as “developing” if their performance is not deemed adequate based on either student testing or classroom observations.

The agreement also links evaluations to tenure: a teacher in a “developing” stage or below cannot receive tenure under the new deal.

In addition, to attain tenure, a teacher must achieve a rating of “effective” or “highly effective” in three out of four years. The changes, which the administration said lawmakers have okayed, also permit swifter termination of teachers deemed ineffective.

The budget will also include an exam that new teachers must pass to get a teaching certificate, a recertification process every five years, and $20,000 bonus awards to the highest-rated teachers

“It’s better for the teachers. It’s better for the students,” said the Cuomo official.

However, Assembly Democrats privately said Cuomo’s claims of an education deal are premature until the complete school aid picture is clear. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that lawmakers trust the Regents to devise a workable teacher evaluation.

That education issues were still the subject of negotiation was made clear by the army of lobbyists from New York State United Teachers still working the Capitol’s hallways Monday evening. NYSUT President Karen Magee sought out reporters to say that Cuomo took a political beating with his education proposals, even though talks were still ongoing about teacher evaluations and failing schools.

She blasted Cuomo’s education policies, which she said come “from his hedge fund friends who would like to see public education destroyed,” and called for a mass boycott of state standardized tests.

The statewide teachers union posted information on its website for parents about their rights regarding directing their children to opt out of the state’s standardized tests. Union officials believe as many as 250,000 students might participate in the opt out movement this year, she said. Last year, parents and teachers who were helping to organize the testing protest counted as many as 60,000 opt-outs across the state.