New York state education department officials weigh in on plan to overhaul teacher evaluations

The state’s top education leaders are finally weighing in on a plan that would untie state test scores and teacher evaluations — and the response is mixed.

In their first statement since bills to overhaul the evaluation law were introduced last week, state education department officials thanked the sponsors of the legislation but warned of “unintended consequences” as lawmakers continue to debate how to measure the state’s teachers.

Their statement, while measured, may be a sign that the legislation could pass this session. While lawmakers don’t need the education department’s blessing, its opposition could influence lawmakers.

“Clearly, the teacher evaluation process has caused much concern. We thank the Speaker Heastie, and Chairs Nolan and Marcellino for their ongoing efforts to improve our education system,” said state education department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis. “As legislation is considered, we must be thoughtful and deliberate to ensure it does not bring any unintended consequences for students, teachers and principals across the state.”

Some observers were bracing for a more negative response from the education department, since officials there had already laid out a slower timeline for revamping teacher evaluations that included workgroups and surveys. But Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said that she doesn’t see the new bill as at odds with that work.

“I think we’re going to use this as a way to support local school districts,” Rosa said. “In terms of implementing [teacher evaluations], I see it more as an opportunity.”

If passed, the bill would mark a major policy shift for lawmakers from a few years ago. In 2015, the state passed a law in which as much as half of a teacher’s rating could be based on test scores. Though that law technically remains on the books, there’s been a moratorium on the use of state tests in teacher evaluations since shortly after the bill was passed.

The teachers union has been pushing for this change since the beginning of the year. It gained little traction publicly until the Assembly introduced a bill to overhaul teacher evaluations last week. Since then, key players have either expressed support or remained silent, making passage of the bill look more likely

Officials representing Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pushed the 2015 teacher evaluation law, said the governor wants to see a resolution to this issue before the end of the session. Senate Republicans introduced an identical version of the bill, though top Senate leaders have yet to weigh in on the proposal.

The main opposition to the bill has been from certain advocacy groups who worry that without test scores, teacher evaluations will lack an objective way to track whether teachers help students learn.