NY Regents: Stop the madness

gavel photo

Court costs; implementation speaks
(Photo by Brian Turner)

“back to school” for the New York State Board of Regents and the State
Education Department that it oversees. But will it also be “back to court”?
Primed by the Race to the Top pump, Empire State legislators passed a bill last
year ordering districts to base 20 percent of their teacher evaluations on
student growth measured by state tests. They also stipulated that another 20 percent of
the evals be based on “other locally selected measures of student achievement.”
But the Regents got a little greedy. In May, they voted to merge the “locally
selected” with the state assessment, effectively making 40 percent of the
teacher evaluation dependent on state test scores. New York’s teacher union was predictably
miffed—and took the matter to court. Flash forward to last week, when a state
judge in Albany ruled against the Regents: New York cannot mandate that state
test scores be used for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Upon hearing the
news, State Education Commissioner John King, Jr. sounded off that the state
would appeal the decision. Hold on, there, King. We are in the infancy of
teacher-evaluation reform. When it comes down to the details, we’ve got little
more than educated guesses as to what will work best under which circumstances.
Yes, tying 40 percent of an evaluation to test scores might make it easier to
dump a teacher who gets terrible results. But it might also create unhealthy
pressure for all educators in the
state to teach narrowly to the test. Maybe 20 percent would strike a better
balance—and still allow administrators to move bad teachers out of the
classroom. We don’t really know as yet, nor does anybody else. So Regents (and
NYDOE officials), be mindful: Your newfangled evaluation system is going to be
miles more rigorous than what virtually all your districts have today,
regardless of whether one-fifth or two-fifths of the ratings comes down to test
scores. Call off the lawyers, and get down to work.

This piece emerged from
two posts (one
by Peter Meyer
and one
by Michael J. Petrilli
) that originally appeared on Fordham’s
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Click to listen to commentary on testing and teacher evaluation in NY from the Education Gadfly Show podcast


Test Overhaul Struck Down
,” by Jacob Gershman, Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2011.

Court: Teacher Evals Can’t Focus on Test Scores
,” by Staff, Associated Press, August 24, 2011.