By Richard Iannuzzi, President, New York State United Teachers
The ink hadn’t dried on the agreement between NYSUT and the State Education Department before the press, blogs, e-mails and airwaves were filled with diatribes on what the new law does and does not do. While there were a lot of comments and reactions that understood the dynamics (see Sean Corcoran at the NYT School Book blog and Leo Casey at Edwize.org ), many misstated the outcome and some were just outright wrong (see Carol Burris, author of the “principals’ letter” in The Washington Post: Answer Sheet blog by Valerie Strauss).
As a party to the agreement (I was personally at the table throughout the negotiations), NYSUT sought to maintain principles that are good for students and fair to teachers. We believe we succeeded. This agreement creates a thoughtful, collaborative framework that allows teachers, principals and parents to develop a majority of the evaluation measures through conversation and negotiation. It recognizes the complexities involved in teacher evaluation and emphasizes the continual improvement of teaching skills in ways that benefit all children. At a time when poverty and the wealth gap widen the achievement gap, this agreement strives to strengthen public education by building on collaboration to help every child succeed.
The new law was written to limit state standardized testing to 20% of a teacher’s evaluation. NYSUT has always maintained that standardized tests have a place in teacher and principal evaluations, but given the margin for error and inability to account for the “noise” that impacts a student’s score that role needed to be strictly limited. An additional 20% of a teacher’s evaluation must include different measures of student achievement, selected and developed locally, that provide teachers the opportunity to show how their students achieve beyond state standardized tests. Finally, using a locally selected state approved rubric, the remaining 60% takes into account “other measures” determined locally that assess a teacher’s practice against existing state teaching standards. The category of “other measures” includes classroom observations and sources of evidence such as student work, portfolios of teacher created artifacts and parent and student feedback.
The second 20% student achievement measure and the rubric are selected and developed at the local level. In addition, how a teacher reaches one of the four categories-Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective (HEDI)-is also determined locally for these areas. Thus, how a teacher reaches a HEDI category in 80% of her/his total score and the scoring ranges for the 60% “other measures” are collectively bargained locally.
When critics, like Ms. Burris, say a teacher can be effective in all three areas and still be labeled Ineffective, they show a lack of understanding of the law. The law allows for local determination of the score for the 60% teacher practice rubric. Applying the rubric to a teacher’s practice will determine the HEDI category for this subcomponent and drive a point total within the assigned range. The assigned ranges would not negate the value of the achieved category as Ms. Burris’s concludes. By design, the effective range in each of the three areas must drive a composite score that falls in the effective range.
Similarly, being rated ineffective on a single state test alone cannot result in requiring an ineffective overall rating. A teacher’s “student growth” score of two or less (out of twenty) based on standardized tests, with the HEDI cut points set by the state, as well as a score of two or less (again out of twenty) on a different locally developed and selected measure, where the HEDI cut points are set locally, is the only statistical combination that makes it impossible for the area of “other measures” to overcome the deficit, resulting in an Ineffective overall rating. An objective reader would most certainly see this as a fair and balanced approach.
There are many difficult situations where teachers find themselves facing what often seem like insurmountable challenges. Carol Burris compassionately gives several examples that reflect the realities teachers and principals face every day. Unfortunately, critics like Ms. Burris prejudge the outcome. Their misapplication of the law spreads even more anxiety in teachers and mistrust in New York’s educational bureaucracy that unfortunately has demonstrated more than its share of inefficiencies and shortcomings. Worse, these critics malign dedicated educators by implying that these professionals would abandon “at-risk” and “special needs” children for a more “secure” assignment. In my 34 years as a classroom teacher I witnessed many, many dedicated teachers take on challenging classes and students. These educators do this out of their love for teaching, without regard for the “risks” some have cautioned them to avoid.
New York’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation Law is designed to give voice to teachers and principals in classrooms around the state. The lion’s share of the process (80%) gives practitioners the opportunity to define what is good for students and fair to teachers. Most importantly, it respects collective bargaining. The remaining 20% allows state standardized tests to influence-but not drive-the process of evaluating teachers as part of a law that encourages and supports continual teacher growth and improvement. As with any attempt to balance crafting policy and defining the best practices that guide a profession-and then codify that balance into law-there will always be a need for adjustments over time. This agreement anticipates that need by heavily weighing local voice, respecting professional judgment, protecting sound educational practice and allowing that practice to guide implementation.