State education officials signal extension of moratorium on teacher evaluations tied to state tests

Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa announced Monday that the state’s education policymakers want to extend a moratorium that excludes state English and math test scores from how New York teachers are evaluated, before the ban expires in June.

Rosa said the board is directing Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and the state Department of Education to come back with a proposal in December for extending the moratorium by one year, through the 2019-2020 school year.

Officials want to use an extension to continue speaking with teachers, principals and advocates about the evaluation system, which has long been a politically charged issue in the state.

The evaluations, called Annual Professional Performance Reviews, or APPR, have seen stiff resistance for years, especially when it comes to associating state test scores with teachers performance.

Rosa’s announcement came just one day before the election, which could usher in Democratic control of the state Senate and could make state government more friendly toward untying state test scores from teacher assessments.

“As the board is aware, APPR has been extremely challenging,” Rosa said. “It has been an issue that, in many ways, has created some barriers.”

Right now, teachers are evaluated based on principal observations and students’ academic progress. State law requires state test scores to be considered as well, but the Regents suspended the use of grades 3-8 English language arts and math exams three years ago.

The evaluation system drew blowback from advocates and teachers unions, and also fueled testing boycotts that led to one in five students sitting out of the exams across the state (the number is considerably lower in New York City).

In remarks to reporters after the meeting, Rosa said they wanted to make sure they were giving themselves “time to really look at this” before the current moratorium expires on June 30, 2019.

When use of state test scores in evaluations was first suspended in 2015, Elia said officials would focus on revamping Common Core standards and consider other ways to evaluate teachers.

“The importance of the moratorium is to greater assure that we’ll get it right,” said Vice Chancellor Andrew Brown to reporters after Monday’s meeting. “We’ve been out talking to a lot of the stakeholders around the state, and the commissioner is doing that now. We believe the additional time will allow us to get it right. We value our teachers greatly. We have to have a system that works not only for teachers but also to the benefit of students, and that’s what the moratorium would allow us to do.”

Monday’s move wasn’t a complete surprise, as officials have previously said they could extend the moratorium.

Earlier this year, the state Assembly — the government’s lower chamber in New York — passed a bill that would untether teacher evaluations from state test scores.

The bill, which died in the Senate, wasn’t expected to have a big impact on New York City teachers because of the moratorium. And, over the past three years, the city has created a new evaluation system that uses local tests to assess student progress, which union officials said would probably stay unchanged.

New York State United Teachers, the state teachers union, applauded the move but, as it has before, signaled the need for a permanent fix.

“We welcome the extension of the moratorium and thank Chancellor Betty Rosa and the Regents for continuing to recognize that the state’s over-emphasis on standardized testing has worked for neither students nor teachers,” the union said in a statement. “While we welcome the moratorium extension, NYSUT will continue to seek a long-term legislative solution that will return evaluations to local control. Teachers and local school districts know what works best in their own communities.”

But it was viewed as “neither a surprise nor a solution” by High Achievement New York, a group that describes itself as a coalition that supports college and career ready standards.

“What we need is for all parties to agree on an evaluation plan that contains an objective, statewide measurement of student growth,” HANY said in a statement. ‘Without it, the state may inadvertently increase student testing and undermine their drive toward equitable education outcomes.”

Julie Marlette, the government relations director for the New York State School Boards Association, said the move could be designed to avoid a too-quick approach to finding a solution. If the Republican-controlled Senate flips to Democrats, who are one seat shy of the majority, it’s possible Democrats would quickly pass legislation to untie test scores from teacher evaluations.

“It suggests to me that the board, too, believes this could be a quick action in January, and they could be trying to position themselves for a more moderate approach as opposed to a more swift change in January that might not involve all the stakeholders,”  Marlette said.

Alex Zimmerman contributed to this report.