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Editorial: Plan for teacher evaluations

Come January, it will be time for state lawmakers to revisit the subject of teacher evaluations and how test results influence them. They should start those discussions thinking first about students, then other interests, including parents and teachers.

If they do that, they will necessarily conclude that students' test scores need to play a role in evaluating teachers and helping those who need it to improve. They should be used and understood as a tool, not a punishment. The process does not have to be contentious and could – in theory, anyway – be accomplished through a cooperative effort involving unions.

The new legislative session which starts in January offers the chance. A moratorium on using student test results as part of teacher evaluations remains in effect through the end of the current school year. But next September will come soon enough.

State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, an Elma Republican who is also vice chairman of the state Senate’s Education Committee, believes teacher evaluations should be a priority for the next session.

Right now the focus, as Assemblyman Sean Ryan said, has turned to the November elections. Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, is a member of the Assembly’s Committee on Education. As he observed, the outcome of the vote – particularly as it determines control of the Senate – will directly influence how legislators deal with the Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR. To that extent, sadly, it’s more about politics than about New York students.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took on the state’s public school teachers and their unions when he took office in 2011. But the deal struck the following year to link student performance on state assessments to teacher evaluations fell flat.

It did not take into account the state’s push-pull between rich and poor districts. Nor did it consider the controversy over Common Core standards, which were implemented hastily and without appropriate preparation. The uproar was deafening.

The New York State United Teachers pushed for a law decoupling the test results from teacher evaluations, also effectively neutering it as a tool in determining tenure. The Assembly agreed and eventually the governor said he would sign a bill.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill but included expansion of charter schools in New York City, an addendum not appreciated by NYSUT. No law was passed, but the moratorium remains in place.

If voters flip the Senate to Democratic control, there may be little reason to hope for a sensible link between testing and teacher evaluations. But that has to be the goal. You can’t improve what you can’t measure, and just about everyone agrees that education in New York needs to be improved.

The nature of the link is certainly negotiable, but if the goal is to provide the best possible education for New York students – and it is, isn’t it? – then measurement is essential.

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