The moratorium dilemma

Cuomo, union still at odds over changes to teacher evals

As state officials hurry to come to new agreement on teacher evaluations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state teachers union are still looking for common ground on how best to account for the new, tougher Common Core standards in teacher ratings.

In a Thursday morning interview on the public radio program “Capitol Pressroom,” Cuomo said he’s willing to lower the stakes for teachers by adjusting teachers’ ratings, and implied that could mean excluding test scores from the calculations altogether.

“It would be illogical to say I see the inaccuracy for students and the potential harm but not for teachers,” Cuomo said. “So can you find a way to do that? That’s what we’re working through on that issue.”

Cuomo, union officials, and state lawmakers are currently in talks to temporarily lower the stakes attached to the state’s new teacher evaluation system, which for some teachers incorporates student scores on state tests. With the legislative session set to end next week, the Assembly and the New York State United Teachers are pushing a “moratorium” on the use of those tests, which since 2013 have been aligned to the Common Core.

Adding to the pressure this week, a senior executive from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an influential voice in education policy, said the organization supports decisions not to use Common Core-based test results on teacher evaluations for two years.

State test scores count for at least 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, though they could count for up to 40 percent in some cases. The remaining 60 percent is based mostly on reviews by the teacher’s principal.

Cuomo said the Assembly’s bill was “overkill” because it would discount all parts of a teacher’s evaluation, including the portion that’s not directly related to the Common Core tests.

“When they say moratorium, they mean the evaluation doesn’t count this year,” Cuomo said.

A spokesperson for the state teachers union said Assembly’s moratorium bill, which NYSUT backs, would preserve the current rating system. But he said teachers who receive two years of “ineffective” ratings based partially on state tests would not face termination, as the law allows.

Other officials who initially opposed the idea of a moratorium have also conceded that they’re open to changes. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said that she would agree with a retroactive two-year moratorium, as long evaluations for the 2014-15 school year count.

“If someone said to me, you’ve generated these evaluation numbers for the first two years, now let’s start at ground zero, I would say that’s not unreasonable,” Tisch said on Thursday.

It remains unclear how student performance would be factored into teacher evaluations for the next two years if Common Core state tests can’t count. The law currently requires 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student learning measures and if state tests can’t count, officials will have to come up with a different measure to take their place.

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Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

Another error

Missing student data means 900 Tennessee teachers could see their growth scores change


Tennessee’s testing problems continue. This time the issue is missing students.

Students’ test scores are used to evaluate teachers, and the failure of a data processing vendor to include scores for thousands of students may have skewed results for some teachers, officials said.

The scores, known as TVAAS, are based on how students improved under a teacher’s watch. The scores affect a teacher’s overall evaluation and in some districts, like Shelby County Schools, determine if a teacher gets a raise.

The error affects 1,700 teachers statewide, or about 9 percent of the 19,000 Tennessee teachers who receive scores. About 900 of those teachers had five or more students missing from their score, which could change their result.

The latest glitch follows a series of mishaps, including test scanning errors, which also affect teacher evaluations. A delay earlier this summer from the Tennessee Department of Education’s testing vendor, Questar, set off a chain of events that resulted in the missing student scores.

To calculate a teacher’s growth score, students and their test scores are assigned to a teacher. About 3 percent of the 1.5 million student-teacher assignments statewide had to be manually submitted in Excel files after Questar experienced software issues and fell behind on releasing raw scores to districts.

RANDA Solutions, a data processing vendor for the state, failed to input all of those Excel files, leading to the teachers’ scores being calculated without their full roster of students, said Sara Gast, a state spokeswoman. The error will not affect school or district TVAAS scores. (District-level TVAAS scores were released in September.)

Gast did not immediately confirm when the state will finalize those teachers’ scores with corrected student rosters. The state sent letters to districts last week informing them of the error and at least one Memphis teacher was told she had more than 80 of her 120 students missing from her score.

In the past, the process for matching students to the right teachers began at the end of the year, “which does not leave much room for adjustments in the case of unexpected delays,” Gast said in an email. The state had already planned to open the process earlier this year. Teachers can begin to verify their rosters next week, she said.