Tisch plays down tests’ role in new evaluations

Responding to concerns that an evaluation law passed Tuesday night could result in state test scores counting for half of a teacher’s final rating, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch stressed that was just one interpretation in a radio interview Wednesday.

“The legislation that has been put forth physically does not say 50 percent,” said Tisch, who the law tasks with determining some details of the new evaluation system. “If that had been the intent, that should have been written into the law.”

The comments, made on the Capitol Pressroom, were Tisch’s first since a budget agreement was announced on Sunday and came just hours after lawmakers approved the state budget. They suggest that she intends to take full advantage of her decision-making role and will look for ways to limit the influence of tests, whose reliability as a measure of a teacher’s job performance has come under increased scrutiny in recent years.

The law does clearly state that only two measures — tests and observations — will be required for evaluations, and a matrix of rules in the legislation implies that both will be given relatively equal footing. For each of 16 possible combinations of the testing and observation measures, the law prescribes a final grade.

But the law also charges the education commissioner and Regents chancellor with determining “the weights and scoring ranges” for the testing and observation components. Tisch, who has said she supports an evaluation system in which test scores count for 40 percent in the past, did not specify what an ideal weight for tests should be. But she repeatedly suggested there is enough flexibility in the legislation for the Regents to keep it at less than 50 percent.

“What we are going to do at the State Education Department is create an evaluation system that takes guidance from the legislation as was intended,” Tisch said. “[Lawmakers] didn’t put in 50 percent, which means they couldn’t agree to 50 percent.”

City teachers union President Michael Mulgrew said in an interview that his reading of the law also left plenty open to interpretation.

“It’s not 50 percent test scores,” Mulgrew said. “It’s not a victory for [Cuomo] at all.”

The 50 percent figure comes from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said tests should account for half of a teacher’s rating in his January budget proposal.

“The tests are the only standard objective,” Cuomo said in a separate radio interview. “You want to be able to compare Buffalo to Manhattan.”

But Tisch said the changes also worried her, and her main concern is that they wouldn’t get the buy-in of teachers, principals, and administrators being told to adjust to an entirely new set of rules just two years after the existing evaluation system debuted.

“Every year there’s a new thing coming out that requires them to jump through hoops,” Tisch said.

New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who criticized several features of Cuomo’s evaluation proposal in recent weeks, has not commented on the new evaluation law.

Final ratings under a new default evaluation system will be determined by matching ratings from testing and observation subcomponents according to the matrix above.