Is a teacher coming to school every day? Is she attending professional development? Is she sharing her lessons with other teachers?
If the state’s teacher’s evaluation system is going to change, Chancellor Carmen Fariña told lawmakers in Albany on Tuesday, it should be to account for more of those factors, not to increase the role of state test scores.
“There’s so many other things,” Fariña said. “I was a teacher for more than 20 years and if I was only measured in test scores, that would only have been a little bit of my work.”
Fariña’s remarks, her most extensive comments yet on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plans to overhaul the state’s teacher-evaluation system, came after testifying about Gov. Cuomo’s budget proposal. His teacher-evaluation plan would increase the role of state test scores, bring in outside experts to observe teachers, and diminish the role of a principal’s observation in exchange for increasing overall education spending.
“I absolutely believe that holding teachers accountable only on test scores and outside evaluators is not a good idea,” Fariña said in response to questions about Cuomo’s plan.
First passed in 2010, the state’s evaluation law was meant to create a system that rates teachers on a mix of student learning measures and principal observations. But two years after it was first implemented, nearly every teacher has been rated in the top two categories, though the ratings earned by city teachers were slightly more evenly distributed. Cuomo wants to change it to make it more difficult for teachers to earn top ratings, so struggling teachers can be identified and, in some cases, be fired.
New York City implemented its own plan before Fariña took over, but she negotiated some changes to the city’s evaluation system with the teachers union. The new contract reduced the number of skills that principals must assess and agreed to protect teachers who earned low ratings based on test scores.
“I think that what we’ve got in New York City, which is unique to New York City, should be a model for the rest of the country,” Fariña said.
But Fariña also offered a much broader idea of her vision for measuring a teacher’s performance. She suggested a better way to evaluate teachers might be through the framework that the city uses to evaluate schools, looking at elements such as instruction, collaboration, leadership, and ties with the community.
“Are they doing Common Core the way that it’s meant to be? Do they collaborate?” Fariña said.
Fariña noted that her positions on evaluation are in line with the national mood, as parents and officials in more states question the widespread emphasis on using standardized tests to assess schools, teachers, and students. But New York’s debate over evaluations is focused on the best way to measure student learning, making some what Fariña would want measured, such as attendance and collaboration, less likely to gain traction.
Other city’s education officials had more specific recommendations for improving teacher evaluations. Sharon Contreras, superintendent of the Syracuse City School District, said she backed Cuomo’s desire to eliminate local tests to evaluate teachers, but proposed that state test scores account for 30 percent of the overall rating. (Cuomo wants them to account for 50 percent.)
And while the teachers union has been the most outspoken critic of Cuomo’s plans for evaluations, Republicans in the Assembly who are not typical union allies also expressed their unease with giving the state more power over a teacher’s evaluation. Long Island Assembly Member Ed Ra, who has sponsored legislation opposing the Common Core standards, said he agreed 100 percent with city teachers union head Michael Mulgrew’s concerns.
“The more rigid we get, the more difficult” it becomes to evaluate teachers of students with special needs, Ra said.