a re-evaluation

In big shift, Regents vote to exclude state tests from teacher evals until 2019

PHOTO: Yvonne Albinowski/Ramapo for Children

In a dramatic reversal, New York’s Board of Regents voted Monday to suspend the use of state standardized test scores in teacher evaluations for four years.

According to the proposal state officials presented Monday, teachers will receive two annual evaluation ratings beginning next year and lasting through 2019. One rating will include state test results but be used only for advisory purposes. The other, which state officials called a transition rating, will not use state test results and will be the one used for personnel decisions. The same arrangement would also apply to principals during that period.

The plan takes up a recommendation made last week by a panel appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and represents a fundamental change to New York’s teacher evaluation system.

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State policymakers, local school districts, and teachers unions have spent much of the last three years refining evaluation systems meant to categorize teachers more effectively than the longstanding system that rated teachers as satisfactory or unsatisfactory. The rating systems weigh multiple classroom observations as well as state test scores and local measures of student learning.

But the use of complicated formulas to determine student academic growth and repeated changes to New York’s state tests eroded trust in those scores. So did the fact that many teachers were rated based on state test scores of students they didn’t teach, or in subjects unrelated to their own.

Now, those observations and locally selected tests will remain, but state test scores won’t count in decisions about whether teachers get tenure or extra support.

The change follows mounting criticism of the teacher evaluation system, which grew in tandem with the state’s testing opt-out movement. One in five eligible students didn’t take the state’s math or English exams last year.

The number of Regents skeptical of using test scores to rate teachers has swelled recently, as support for the policies eroded in Albany and nationally. On Monday, the changes earned nearly unanimous support from Regents and from State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who served on the governor’s task force.

“I’m glad that something happened in the atmosphere to get us to a better place because we certainly didn’t have this last year,” said Regent Betty Rosa. The state teachers union also hailed the vote.

Only outgoing Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who has long supported test-based teacher evaluations, voted against the new regulation.

“I want to say that on the issue of this regulation I am of a different opinion,” Tisch said. “I do not believe that we can do away from an objective measure.”

The transition evaluations will remove the growth scores that the state has calculated based on its standardized math and English exams in grades 3 through 8 or on Regents exam scores for high school students. Locally selected measures of student learning will take their place.

The Regents also said they were considering changes to the growth model itself to take longer-term trends into account. During the four-year transition period, Elia said officials will focus on revamping the Common Core standards and considering alternative ways to evaluate teachers.

Last year’s law requiring half of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on state test scores remains on the books, with the Regents adopting the changes Monday as an emergency provision. (New York City, along with most districts, is still negotiating the details of those changes with its teachers union, and it’s unclear how the Regents’ actions will alter that process.)

The Regents will take another vote on the proposal on Tuesday. That will finalize the plan, though a public comment period will also follow.

Read more: 92 percent of city teachers earned high marks in newest round of evaluations

First Person

We work at Denver’s Title I schools, too. Here’s why we’re ready to strike.

PHOTO: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Students in kindergarten on the first day of school at McGlone Academy.

We are a group of teachers representing schools in the far northeast region of Denver. Many of us now receive “incentives” for working at Title I schools where many students live in poverty — and we are also willing to strike in support of the union’s proposed salary structure, which moves some of the money used for those incentives into long-term base pay.

Why? In short, we would rather have our base pay prioritized than earn bonuses that are not reliable, may not be working, and may also take the pressure off the district to solve systemic problems our schools face.

Issue #1: The current bonuses can’t be relied on. The “hard to serve” school label is based on free and reduced-price lunch percentages, which vary on an annual basis. Teachers at Marie L. Greenwood Academy, for example, could lose their “hard to serve” label because their school dropped just barely below the threshold. Additionally, John Amesse Elementary School and McGlone Academy are less than two miles apart, serve similar populations, and are a part of the same network; however, due to ambiguous calculations based on test scores, free and reduced-price lunch numbers, and teacher turnover rates, McGlone teachers receive larger bonuses than John Amesse teachers. This is not fair nor equitable. Teachers need money they can depend on.

Issue #2: It’s not clear that the current bonuses are working. We have not seen conclusive evidence that the incentives we receive for working in hard to serve schools have affected teacher retention or recruitment. Every year, schools in our area are hiring for positions that often get filled by first-year teachers. Many of the schools that receive these incentives still suffer from the same high turnover rates the bonuses were meant to remedy.

Issue #3: The current bonuses let the district off the hook. Some have argued that teachers in Title I schools deserve significant bonuses because the challenges faced in our work are difficult and taxing. However, many of these issues are due to systemic problems that the district would be better off trying to solve directly.

We know that increasing incentive pay to work at “hard to serve” schools will not fix the issues around segregation in Denver Public Schools. Increasing incentive pay to work at “hard to serve” schools will not fix the issues around some schools lacking nurses, social workers, counselors, support for Spanish speaking and emerging bilingual students, and support for special education programs. It will not solve issues around the lack of reliable technology, funding for arts, comprehensive neighborhood schools, or the flood of issues that we all feel in our schools on a daily basis.

We support the union’s proposal because we want the decisions we make as educators to stem from a love of our schools, a desire to serve our students, and a hope to support our community. We want teachers to seek out and stay at our schools because they believe in our vision, our mission, our students, and our community.

We are also passionate about a clear and transparent pay schedule. We want that structure to recognize our dedication to the field and our commitment to furthering our education – not a system that provides one-time bonuses that are in our checks one year and absent the next due to circumstances outside our control.

Anyone who enters our classrooms will see that we are doing our best with the resources we have in order to lift up the students in Denver who are most impacted by systemic racism and poverty. Let us come together on this idea: Fair pay for teachers means better outcomes for students. If we can stand together on this, then we can help improve the lives of so many more students, teachers, and families.

This piece was written by Jessica Schneider, Noel Community Arts School; Tanessa Bass, John H. Amesse Elementary; Rebecca Roberts, John H. Amesse Elementary; Valerie Henderson, Sandra Todd Williams Academy; Brian Weaver, Florida Pitt Waller ECE-8; Michelle Garrison, Farrell B. Howell ECE-8; Michael Sitkin, DCIS @ Montbello; Cory Montrieul, DCIS @ Montbello; and Nik Arnoldi, Escalante-Biggs Academy.

Last minute

Teachers union continues voting on possible Denver strike

PHOTO: Michael Ciaglo/Special to the Denver Post
Eagleton Elementary School first grade teacher Valerie Lovato, left, and East High School French teacher Tiffany Choi hold up signs as the Denver teachers union negotiates with district officials.

Denver teachers resumed voting Tuesday evening on whether to go on strike, a decision that will touch tens of thousands of people in Colorado’s largest school district.

The vote comes after months of negotiations left Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association still $8 million apart and with serious philosophical disagreements about how teacher compensation should be structured. Denver teachers are riding a wave of activism by their peers across the country that began last year and continues to build. Teachers in Los Angeles just reached a tentative deal with their district after more than a week on strike.

Members of the teachers union began voting on a strike Saturday. A final round of voting began at 4 p.m. Tuesday and will end at 9 p.m. Union officials said Tuesday evening that results would be announced at 9:30 p.m.  

On Tuesday evening, a steady stream of teachers bundled against the cold made their way into a Knights of Columbus Hall in downtown Denver where the last voting session is taking place.

Maria Cruz, an early childhood education teacher for the past two years who previously worked as a paraprofessional in the district, said she voted “yes” to strike hoping it will push the district to close the gap between its offer and what the union is seeking.  

“Teachers come and go and come and go and they never stay because there is not enough pay,” she said. “It doesn’t validate the teaching profession.”

The earliest a strike could start would be Jan. 28. On Tuesday evening, district families received a robocall from Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova making clear that classes would go on as normal on Wednesday, and that district officials intend to keep schools open for the foreseeable future.   

Cordova has said she’ll ask for state intervention if the vote is yes, which could delay a strike. If teachers do walk out, the district intends to keep schools open and students learning by relying on substitutes, tapping central office staff with past teaching experience, and using pre-packaged lessons plans for every grade and subject area. 

A Denver strike would affect roughly 71,000 students in district-run schools.

District officials went on the offensive over the weekend, making the argument that their offer was generous and responsive to longstanding teacher complaints about stagnant salaries.   

The district also published its new salary schedule online alongside the salary schedules of other Denver metro area districts.

The two sides disagree on how much new money the district should put into teacher compensation and also on how that compensation should be structured. The district has said it will not compromise on offering bonuses to teachers at high-poverty and hard-to-serve schools. The union wants smaller bonuses and more money to go into base pay.

This would be the first teacher strike in Denver in 25 years.