State lawmakers easily passed a bill Wednesday that scraps the use of state tests when evaluating New York teachers, but even supportive lawmakers raised concerns about potential loopholes that could subject students to more high-stakes testing.
The union-backed bill is a reversal of a 2015 deal Gov. Andrew Cuomo reached with lawmakers, which tied teacher evaluations to performance on state testing, seen by many as a political move not rooted in education policy. Strong backlash over that deal led many families to opt out of state tests, and eventually led to a state moratorium on using certain state assessments for teacher evaluations.
The bill allows local districts and their teachers unions to decide what kind of assessments should be used to evaluate teachers and requires State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to decide on a “menu” of alternative assessments for local districts.
The proposal, which now goes to Cuomo’s office for approval, jumps ahead of work the Board of Regents is attempting. Before the session started, the Board of Regents planned to extend the state-assessment moratorium by one year and created work groups to hash out the best policies for assessments and evaluations. Sen. Shelley Mayer, a Westchester Democrat and chair of the Senate education committee, said Wednesday she recognizes the Regents’ work, but “as legislators, we are doing what we are charged to do in making necessary changes in state law.”
“Since 2015, when these provisions were initially adopted, parents, teachers, and the legislature have — in a bipartisan way — have all recognized a flaw in this law,” Mayer said.
In a statement, Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie called the bill’s changes “common sense reforms” that will help teachers “prioritize the needs of their students.”
State Department of Education officials will “work to implement the new law” and will “continue to engage stakeholders in the process,” Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state education department said in an email.
The bill is not likely to have a drastic effect on New York City schools, since the district already chooses from a menu of local measures to evaluate teachers. United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew, who praised the legislation dismissed concerns about the bill leading to more testing, at least in New York City, because of how it already uses alternative local options.
“You should be active in making sure your school district is using performance indicators that are not tests, if you believe in that,” Mulgrew said.
Despite the bill’s passage — unanimously in the Senate — even supporters expressed concerns about allowing local districts to select their methods for evaluating teachers. What if another type of standardized test shows up on the “menu” that the state commissioner creates? Or, what if local districts decide they want to use more standardized tests?
“There are serious concerns that this bill will actually double the amount of testing (one tests for student achievement, the other teachers), while making it harder to compare across districts,” said Nathaniel Styer, a spokesman for teacher group Educators for Excellence, in a tweet.
When a similar question was raised on the Assembly floor, bill sponsor Assemblyman Michael Benedetto doubted the chances that local districts would agree to more testing.
Wary lawmakers also raised concerns about the bill not going far enough to decouple state assessments from teacher evaluations, formally called Annual Professional Performance Reviews or APPR.
The New York State Allies for Public Education, a coalition of parents and teachers who oppose standardized testing, believes that this law would subject students to more tests, a view shared by Sen. Robert Jackson, a Harlem Democrat. Jackson and Queens Democrat Sen. Jessica Ramos both voted to support the bill nonetheless, but cautioned that it “does not go far enough” to eliminate the use of assessments completely.
“We have an opportunity to take a couple more weeks before budget season begins in earnest to really workshop these ideas,” Jackson said. “With so much riding on reforming APPR, we owe it to students, teachers, parents, and other advocates to get this one right.”