What King decreed, Part II: Growth measures, surveys, and more

The teacher evaluation plan that State Education Commissioner John King set for the city over the weekend has prompted both city and union officials to claim victories.

But a point-by-point analysis of some of the major areas of dispute shows that the truth is more complex than either side has proclaimed. We’ve rounded up some of the biggest disputes and how King settled them. In our first installment, we looked at King’s decisions on issues relating to teacher observations. In the second installment, we look at other issues where King bridged gaps between the city’s and union’s positions.

School-based committees to decide student growth measures
Outcome: Shared UFT/DOE win
Both the city and the UFT agreed that figuring how to calculate the “locally selected” piece of student growth should be decided at the school level. But they disagreed about who should make that decision and about one of the options they should have.

The UFT wanted a team of teachers to make the choice, but the city wanted principals to have complete discretion. King accepted the union’s suggestion that each school have a committee to draft recommendations for which student growth measure to use. But, siding with the city, he said principals could reject the committee’s recommendations.

The sides agreed that the committees should be able to choose from performance assessments or third-party tests. They also both agreed that there should be a “school-wide” option where all teachers would be rated on student growth in certain areas.

But the union also wanted portfolios of student work to be included as a possible measure of student growth, too. Both performance assessments and portfolios compare authentic student work, such as an essay or a science experiment, produced at different points over the course of the year. But portfolios traditionally reflect work that has been revised with teacher feedback, while a performance assessment is considered a more pure reflection of students’ skills. King rejected the union’s request, although he allowed for portfolios of student work to be considered in a different portion of the evaluation system.

The scorecard that the UFT sent out Sunday afternoon listed the portfolios issue as a “win.”

“Somehow the UFT must not have read the plan, because what they’ve stated is simply not true,” said David Weiner, the deputy chancellor in charge of teacher quality.

Outcome: UFT win

The law allows teachers to challenge their ratings, but another open question was whether King would let teachers challenge the way their principals carried out their evaluations, too.

The Department of Education argued that no additional time needed to be set aside for arbitration of procedural issues, such as the timing of observations. The union, on the other hand, asked for 100 days of arbitration, which could allow for a thousand teachers to challenge their evaluations each year.

King was not obligated to grant any days at all. But King, who has previously expressed concerns about the city’s preparedness to carry out evaluations, allotted 150 slots over 15 days, which city officials said they had offered in January shortly before negotiations with the union broke down. On Saturday, King made it clear in a conference call with reporters that it was inevitable that disputes would arise because of the plan’s complexity.

King also rejected an overarching proposal by the union to establish a “policy committee” that would be “responsible for all decision-making and policy-making related to aspects of the NYCDOE’s APPR plan.”

Sunset clause
Outcome: Cuomo
Another issue that stymied negotiations in January was the union’s request for a “sunset clause” or expiration date for the plan. Most districts in the state set their plans for just one or two years, which distressed Mayor Bloomberg so much that he ended talks.

The dispute was rendered moot in March, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo pressured lawmakers to amend the evaluation law. Now, plans remain in effect unless and until districts negotiate new plans with their teachers unions.

Pointing to the “in perpetuity” amendment that Cuomo pushed through, the city didn’t suggest a timeline for when the plan should expire in its proposal to King. But the UFT asked, as it did in January, for the plan to expire after one year.

In his decision, King did set an expiration date: after the 2016-2017 school year, unless he approves a new plan submitted by the union and a new mayor before then.

Bloomberg said on Sunday that the timeline was a victory for the city. But King said explicitly that he had chosen the extended timeline because of the city’s and union’s intransigence over evaluations up to now.

Student surveys
Outcome: DOE win

Bolstered by the Gates Foundation’s finding that student surveys effectively predict teacher impact on student learning when used in conjunction with other measures, the Department of Education has long advocated for including student surveys in teacher evaluations.

The UFT, on the other hand, has staunchly opposed the option, and department officials said they had conceded the point in negotiations with the union in January. Still, the officials made the case in their paper to King last month that surveys yield useful information about teacher quality, and according to King, they asked that survey results count for a full 10 points of the 60 allocated to “subjective measures.”

King sided with the city, but he carved out only a 5 percent role for student surveys. But he acknowledged the union’s resistance to the measure by requiring the city to conduct a one-year pilot before counting survey results in teacher ratings. The move creates a window for the UFT potentially to negotiate away the surveys with the next mayoral administration before the surveys count in ratings.