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State delays plan to tie teacher evaluations to student test results

Plans to tie public school teacher evaluations to student performance on state standardized tests will likely be delayed at least another year as the State Education Department continues to mull over whether it's appropriate to tie evaluations to state test results.

The New York State Board of Regents proposed the delay Monday.

Prior to the announcement, teacher evaluation ratings were to be linked to student test results starting next school year – following a two-year transition period ending in June.

“As we continue the work to develop a new evaluation system, it’s critical that we listen to teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and other stakeholders to ensure that the process we put in place reflects the best interests of our children and educators,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa in a statement.

The delay was not a complete surprise, given the changing political winds, with the state Senate flipping from Republican to Democratic control in January.

"Chances are it’s probably never going to be tied to it," said Samuel Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo, regarding the likelihood that standardized test scores will ever directly impact teacher evaluations.

Radford served on the Common Core Task Force, which supported the initial two-year delay in tying evaluations to test results.

He said he believes politics was a factor in the delay then, just as it is a factor now.

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Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore agreed the state Legislature is likely to untie the evaluations from test scores in the future.

"It’s the right thing to do," he said, calling the tests fundamentally flawed.

The state’s public school teachers – and their unions – were among Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's earliest targets when he took office in 2011. A deal was struck in 2012 to link student performance on state assessments to teacher job evaluations.

But many criticized that deal as not accounting for differences between rich and poor districts and the controversy over Common Core standards – sparking an uproar that led the state to initiate the moratorium.

New York State United Teachers, which has influence with Democratic lawmakers, has pushed for a law decoupling the test results from teacher evaluations, which are used in such matters as determining tenure.

Rosa said the delay in linking evaluations to test results will give the education department needed additional time to implement the Common Core Task Force's recommendations and "to develop an evaluation system that better supports teaching and learning."

Based on feedback collected from thousands of teachers early this year, the state has assigned work groups with the task of recommending an ideal evaluation system for teachers by the end of March.

Not everyone was happy with the delay.

“Today's extension of the moratorium on New York's teacher evaluation law does little beyond abdicating responsibility for another year," said High Achievement New York, an education reform group that champions school choice and strict accountability measures, in a statement. "We urge the Board to consider taking swift, but thoughtful action on the state's teacher evaluation system with educational equity as the highest priority."

Radford said teachers should be measured against concrete standards of accountability, even if they are teaching poor, urban students. But with many Buffalo schools moving in and out of receivership, the city district has had much of the flexibility it needed to make changes to teacher staffing.

"I don’t think the consequence is as bad as it would have been if we had not had receivership," he said.

Others applauded the state education department for delaying at least another year.

"Each time there are changes, they threaten to disrupt teaching and learning in all our schools and for all our students," said Charles Dedrick, executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "We should take the time, this time, to be sure we finally are making changes that actually will support better teaching, school leadership, and, most of all, student achievement."

Rumore, the Buffalo Teachers Federation president, said that, in a district where many immigrant children don't even have a strong grasp of the English language, tying student tests results to teacher performance is fundamentally unfair.

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