planning ahead (updated)

State releases teacher rating data that most districts won't use

As of today, school districts across New York State have in hand the first piece of data they would need to calculate some teachers’ ratings: their “growth scores” for last year.

The State Education Department today distributed scores to districts for 36,685 educators who teach reading and math in grades 4-8 or supervise those teachers. The scores — which calculate students’ growth on state math and reading tests, adjusting for the students’ past performance, the performance of similar students, and the reliability of the exams — would count for 20 percent of educators’ ratings under the state’s evaluation law.

Two consecutive “ineffective” ratings could trigger termination proceedings under the law. But the data released today suggest that the state’s current formula for measuring student growth would be unlikely to place many teachers’ jobs at risk.

Nearly 85 percent of the 36,685 educators who received a score fell into the “highly effective” or “effective” ranges. Just 6 percent of them had scores in the “ineffective” range.

Few of the scores issued today will actually be used to evaluate teachers. Most of the state’s 715 school districts, including New York City, have not yet adopted evaluation systems that comply with the state’s evaluation law, and many that have adopted new evaluations won’t use them until next year.

“The evaluation law won’t be fully implemented until the coming school year, so most districts won’t be using the scores we’re releasing today for evaluations,” State Education Commissioner John King said in a statement. “But they can use the scores to help improve instruction.”

The state temporarily removed the scores from its internal data system this afternoon after districts alerted it to inaccuracies in some of the reports, according to an email from Jeff Baker, SED’s data chief, that GothamSchools obtained. Baker said the reports would be corrected and reposted on Friday.

The state’s scores are similar in theory but not in algorithm to the city’s defunct Teacher Data Reports, were produced from 2008 to 2010 for reading and math teachers in grades 3 to 8. The TDRs were “value-added” scores that adjusted students’ test score growth for many more factors than the growth scores used. The state’s evaluation law mandated a growth score measure for last year and a value-added measure for the future, possibly starting this year.

The state is working with the American Institute of Research to build its model; the city’s model was designed by a research center at the University of Wisconsin.

Both strategies aim to upend the way teachers traditionally has been judged. In the past, assessments of teacher quality tended to look only at students’ test scores: A teacher whose students scored higher was deemed stronger. But that design stacked the deck against teachers whose students started the school year with greater needs and lower scores.

The idea behind value-added and growth measurements is that they look instead at how much improvements students make in a year. Teachers are rewarded not when their students score highest, but when the students’ performance gains exceed the average gains made by similar students.

Several news organizations published the city’s TDR scores in February, leading to a public reckoning about the value of rating systems that emphasize progress on test scores. It also placed some low-rated teachers in the line of sharp criticism and caused some principals to receive requests for students to be moved to higher-rated teachers’ classes.

This fall, educators and district leaders will get access to the growth scores, but they will only be able to see their own scores and scores of teachers they supervise. In December, the public will get a window into the scores, but in accordance with a law passed in June, only aggregate data will be available and parents will have to ask their principal for access. The state is supposed to shield all information that could allow people to link ratings with individual teachers.

City Department of Education officials said they were reviewing the state’s growth scores for accuracy right now and would make them available to schools in the future. “We intend to prepare materials for schools to help principals share and discuss the results with individual teachers in the fall,” said Connie Pankratz, a department spokeswoman, in a statement.

But Pankratz said the city would not share the state’s scores with parents until a new evaluation system is in place in New York City, explaining that the department is “legally prohibited” from sharing the scores until then. “This is just one of the many reasons why it is imperative that we come to an agreement on teacher evaluations,” she said.

In addition to the 20 percent that the state calculates, evaluations under the state law require another 20 percent to come from locally approved growth measures and the final 60 percent to come from subjective measures, at least half based on principal observations.

The law mandates that districts make publicly available both the subcomponent scores and the overall ratings. But if the state’s growth score is not yet part of the city’s annual evaluations, it would not necessarily fall under the transparency law.

New York City was supposed to have evaluations online last year in 33 schools that had been receiving federal funds known as School Improvement Grants. But the city and its teachers union could not reach an agreement about particulars of the evaluation system, so neither new evaluations nor the federal funds are flowing to the schools. Nine other districts across the state did reach evaluation deals for their SIG-eligible schools, and they make up the majority of schools where the growth scores for last year will influence teachers’ ratings.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set a Jan. 16, 2013, deadline for all districts to comply with the teacher evaluation law or risk forgoing increases in their state school aid.

certification showdown

Judge strikes down rule allowing some New York charter schools to certify their own teachers

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Success Academy hosts its annual "Slam the Exam" rally at the Barclays Center.

In a blow to charter schools in New York, a rule that would have allowed certain schools to certify their own teachers was blocked in court Tuesday.

The judge’s ruling upends the plans of the city’s largest charter school network, Success Academy, and wipes out a legislative victory that New York’s charter sector thought it had won — though the decision will likely not be the end of the legal battle.

The regulations, approved by the State University of New York in October 2017, were designed to give charter schools more discretion over how they hired teachers. They eliminated the requirement that teachers earn master’s degrees and allowed charter schools authorized by SUNY to certify their teachers with as little as a month of classroom instruction and 40 hours of practice teaching.

Some charter networks argued their existing in-house training programs are more useful to new teachers than the training required for certification under state law.

But the rule was quickly challenged by the State Education Department and the state teachers union, which filed separate lawsuits that were joined in April. They argued that SUNY overstepped its authority and charged that the rule change would lead to children being taught by inexperienced and unqualified teachers.

The ruling was issued Tuesday by State Supreme Court Judge Debra J. Young, who wrote that the new certification programs were illegal because they fell below the minimum requirements issued by the state.

Charter networks “are free to require more of the teachers they hire but they must meet the minimum standards set” by the state, the judge wrote in her order. Young also concluded that laws requiring public comment were not followed.

“Today’s decision is a victory in our fight to ensure excellence in education at all schools,” state teachers union president Andy Pallotta said in a statement.

The Success Academy network and the Bronx Charter School for Better Learning had their plans for homegrown teacher certification programs approved in May, according to SUNY officials.

Success Academy spokeswoman Anne Michaud said the network is disappointed with the judge’s decision.

“As the top-performing public school system in the state, we are working to meet the demand for excellent schools that families in New York City are so desperate for, and we will continue to fight for what we know is our legal right: to train world class teachers and fill the teacher shortage that hampers so many disadvantaged neighborhoods,” Michaud said in a statement.

The certification policy grew out of the 2016 budget deal, when state lawmakers gave SUNY the authority to regulate the “governance, structure and operations of charter schools.”

The state’s top education officials — Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa — have long seemed offended by the new regulations. On a panel last year, Elia said, “I could go into a fast food restaurant and get more training than that.”

In a joint statement on Tuesday, Elia and Rosa praised the court’s decision as a “victory for all New York’s children.”

“In its strong opinion, the court rightly upheld the Board of the Regents and the Commissioner’s authority to certify teachers in New York State,” the statement reads.

On Tuesday, SUNY officials said they planned to appeal and believed that the judge’s ruling also offered a roadmap for creating new certification rules as long as they met those minimum standards.

“We are reviewing today’s decision. While we are disappointed that it did not uphold the regulation as written, it acknowledged the ability of the Charter School Institute to issue regulations,” said  SUNY spokeswoman Holly Liapis in a statement. “We will further evaluate our next steps.”

This post has been updated to include a statement from SUNY and from Success Academy.

survey says

More bullying reported at New York City schools, study shows

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

More New York City students say there is bullying in their schools, a report released Monday showed. The findings also revealed that many schools reporting the greatest number of violent incidents on campus have no social workers on staff.

The report was commissioned by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer also released an audit of how school safety matters are recorded, and concluded that the education department should provide more oversight and streamline incident reporting rules.

“The audit found clear breakdowns in communication in the reporting and tracking of incidents and actions taken,” according to a press release from Stringer’s office.

The education department disputed some of the comptroller’s findings, and in a written statement, spokeswoman Miranda Barbot wrote: “We have detailed protocols in place to ensure allegations of bullying are immediately reported, investigated and addressed, and are investing in both anti-bullying initiatives and mental health supports.”

But the pair of reports raises scrutiny of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school discipline reforms, which favor  “restorative” practices that emphasize mediation over punishment, and make it harder to suspend students.

Advocates of the de Blasio reforms say the shift is necessary because black and Hispanic students are more likely to be arrested or disciplined at school. Research has shown such disciplinary action can lead to higher dropout rates. Critics of the reforms, meanwhile, say the changes have created more chaotic schools.

The findings are also likely to add to a chorus of parents and elected officials who say more emotional supports are needed for the city’s most vulnerable students. Students who experience a mental health crisis during the school day may be handcuffed and shuttled to hospitals. The city’s latest budget, which was approved last week, includes an additional $2 million to hire social workers and guidance counselors in schools that currently don’t have any.

Here are some highlights from the reports.

More students report there is bullying in their schools — but the data comes with a catch.

Last year, the education department’s annual survey showed that 82 percent of students said their peers “harass, bully, or intimidate others in school.” That’s up year over year, and up significantly from 65 percent of students in 2012, which was the lowest rate recorded since at least 2010. (De Blasio’s discipline reforms started to take effect around 2015.)

A note about these numbers: Prior to 2017, the survey asked whether students harass, bully or intimidate other students none, some, most, or all of the time. The most recent survey responses were slightly different: none of the time, rarely, some of the time, or most of the time — a change that may have artificially inflated the bullying numbers.

That’s enough to render the survey data unreliable said Max Eden, a researcher who has studied school climate for the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute — a critic of the mayor’s discipline reforms. Still, taken with other findings, it’s reasonable to think that bullying is on the rise at city schools, he said.

Among the other evidence: A first-of-its-kind report, released this month under a new city law, that showed substantiated bullying incidents are on track to increase this year.

Schools that log the most violent incidents often lack mental health supports.

Guidance counselors and social workers are key when it comes to creating safe schools because they can help address the root cause of violent or troublesome behavior, advocates who want more mental health supports say.

But many of the city’s neediest schools go without that help.

Of the schools reporting the most violent incidents on campus, 36 percent lack a full-time social worker, the comptroller found. On campuses where there are social workers, caseloads are a staggering 700 to one. That far exceeds the recommended ratio from the National Association of Social Workers of 250 general education students per social worker — and it’s higher than the citywide average of 612 students per social worker, according to the comptroller.

The comptroller’ compares that to the ratio of New York Police Department school safety agents who are placed in schools: There is one safety agent per 228 students, according to the report.

“Our city is failing to meet the social and emotional needs of our students,” Councilman Mark Treyger, of Brooklyn, who has pushed the city to report more up-to-date bullying data and to hire more school counselors, said in an emailed statement.

Schools may be underreporting violent incidents, something the education department disputes.

In a separate audit, the comptroller compared logs kept by school safety agents to incident reports filed by school leaders. In 21 percent of cases, incidents that were noted by safety agents were not reflected in the school reports.

The school data, in turn, are used to report incidents to the state for its Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR. The discrepancy could raise questions about the already-controversial reporting system. (VADIR has been criticized for classifying schoolyard incidents as serious offenses, and the state has tweaked its definitions in response to those kinds of concerns.)

This finding also comes with some caveats. The comptroller looked at only 10 schools — a tiny sample of the city’s portfolio of about 1,800. And the education department took issue with the methodology.

In its response to the audit, education department officials said that the police data doesn’t align with the state’s reporting categories, and that the information may not be comparable because of student privacy concerns and recordkeeping issues on campuses where multiple schools share a building.