New York considering using scores on AP exams and SAT subject tests in evaluations

Future evaluations of New York high school principals might incorporate student scores on SAT subject tests and Advanced Placement exams, state officials told local education leaders this week.

According to a memo sent Tuesday to superintendents, districts will soon be required to send scores from a host of tests, including AP exams, SAT subject tests, International Baccalaureate tests, and career and technical exams, to the state. The education department will then use those results to “model” how those tests could be used to evaluate educators. It is unclear whether the state is also considering using those tests to evaluate teachers.

The memo cautions that officials are only considering those changes. But expanding the use of SAT and AP scores would be in keeping with a national trend, as a number of states switch from using traditional tests to those college-prep exams for judging high school quality. It would also be another shift in how New York educators are evaluated — something that has been at the center of more than three years of continuous debate in Albany and in classrooms across the state.

The possible changes would “recognize efforts to encourage student participation and success in college preparation courses,” the memo, written by Ira Schwartz, New York’s assistant state education commissioner, says.

In a shift that could affect elementary and middle school teachers, the memo says state officials are also considering using three years of data to calculate a teacher’s growth score, the metric meant to isolate a teacher’s impact on student learning. That score makes up a portion of a teacher’s evaluation.

The current formula, based on one year of data, has been criticized for yearly fluctuations that teachers and their unions say could not possibly reflect changes in teacher quality. Last year, a Long Island teacher sued the state, claiming that a dramatic change in her score in one category showed that the system was volatile and arbitrary.

The memo indicates that the state believes the shift could solve that problem. “Research indicates that stability in growth results are greatly increased when growth models incorporate two or more years of data,” it says.

That doesn’t go far enough for some.

“All the beta-testing and tinkering in the world won’t change the fact that there is no valid use for growth models in measuring teacher effectiveness,” state teachers union spokesman Carl Korn said Wednesday.

None of the proposed changes involve the state’s math and English tests for grades 3-8, which have been at the heart of recent controversy about how teachers are rated. In December, the state’s education policymaking body suspended the use of those tests in teacher evaluations for the next four years.

The moratorium is meant to give the education department time to redo the evaluation system. This announcement, especially the references to SAT, AP, and other exams, offer early signs of how state officials will sort out that task and which new metrics they are exploring.

The memo also says that the state has reversed course on how to use this year’s Algebra Regents exam scores from eighth-grade students. Earlier this year, state officials told districts they would include the scores in teacher growth models.

This story has been updated throughout to clarify that is is unclear whether the alternative tests would apply to teachers in addition to principals.