Written by Kristian Stefanides
In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo spearheaded a national movement in American public education to revamp the system by determining a teacher’s rating by their students’ standardized test results. Cuomo promised that half of a teacher’s ratings would be based on how well (or how poorly) students performed on standardized tests.
The decision was met with resistance by parents and educators, who felt the system was an unfair way to evaluate job performance, as well as the anticipated stress this initiative would produce. Advocates held news conferences and rallies in protest of Cuomo’s new plan. New York parents, backed by teacher’s unions, showed the largest display of opposition by refusing to permit their children to sit for portions of the tests. As a result, 240,000 students did not sit for the English and math sections of the test last year.
Moving in a New Direction
Four years later, Cuomo has moved in a new direction, and New York is about to become a part of a larger group of states, including Colorado and California, dispensing with this form of teacher evaluations.
In Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, the city’s teachers’ union held a massive strike, partly due to this issue, and after one week, they were offered a deal by the city’s school district to create a new plan that would be less focused on the use of standardized exams. In Denver, the city’s teachers authorized a strike by vote that was in part due to a bonus system that rewarded teachers who had the privilege of working at schools with high exam scores.
The New York State Legislature’s new bill was originally passed last spring in the Assembly but did not move through the Senate until this year. Now that it has passed, teachers’ unions and local school districts in New York, along with some guidance from the Education Department, will be the official determinants of an educators rating. Standardized tests will not be a requirement in this evaluation, a move heavily backed by the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Union and Democrats. The NYSUT is fearful of a future reversion to Cuomo’s previous stance, but many have shown support for Cuomo’s new direction.
“Most parents believe their local school and teachers are good. To have evaluations that contradict that creates some dissonance,” said Columbia University Teachers College professor, Aaron Pallas. “The state tests seem so far removed from day-to-day classroom practice.”
When his original evaluation plan passed a few years ago, Cuomo pushed the Board of Regents to place a ban on the use of standardized testing scores as a means for the evaluation of teachers due to the protests. Essentially, this ban will be codified into New York state law with the new bill.
Data shows that in 2016, ninety-six percent of teachers were rated “highly effective” or “effective” while only one percent was found to be “ineffective.” However, that same year, less than forty percent of students passed the standardized exams in math and English.
What evidence of low test scores was once used as a factor for rating a teacher as ineffective and as a way to fire them will now be disregarded in determining a teacher’s fate. Rather, educators will not be penalized over poor test results, but instead, will be protected.
President of the United Federation of Teachers based in New York City was pleased with Cuomo’s new plan stating, he “now understands what standardized tests are, and their limitations, and I give him credit for that.” No longer will teachers have to worry that their students’ standardized test scores will be linked to their teaching evaluations, and potentially the loss of their jobs.
Although many teachers, parents, and scholars are in favor of the new bill, evaluation advocates are unsatisfied.
“People overplayed their hands,” president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, Kate Walsh, said. “Instead of adjusting, they threw the cards in and went home sulking.
But Cuomo’s new plan came from listening to local communities. Jim. Malatra, former top aide, served as the governor’s office’s soundboard for the 2015 education agenda. Parents and teachers voiced concerns about the old bill and wanted something different.
New York City is Following Suit
Similar to Cuomo’s prior stance, longtime New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg envisioned a teacher evaluation system where students’ test results defined a teacher’s rating. But since taking office in 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio has worked to take the City into a new direction.
The Future of Teacher Evaluations
“What we’ve heard from teachers is that there’s a sweet spot where assessments are useful for informing the teaching and learning process,” Paula White, executive director of Educators for Excellence in Excellence, a teacher organization in New York, said. “Teachers invented tests” after all, she noted.
With notable advantages and disadvantages to both sides, a compromise in the middle may be suitable to not overly rely on standardized tests for teacher evaluations, but not to eliminate those tests completely.
While basing teachers’ evaluations on students’ exam performances may motivate teachers to give students their best efforts, it is difficult to determine whether test scores are the best way to evaluate more than half of a teacher’s performance when many other factors can play into a student’s score. “Our teachers and students are more than their test scores,” bill sponsor, Senator Shelley Mayer, said in a statement. “Thank you to Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and
my colleagues for changing state law to allow districts to determine the most effective ways to measure student and teacher performance.”
Eliza Shapiro, New York Joins Movement to Abandon Use of Student Tests in Teacher Evaluations, THE NEW YORK TIMES (Feb. 1, 2019.
Rick Karlin, Major education bills on tap for New York Legislature next week, TIMESUNION (Jan. 18, 2019.
Zak Failla, New York Abandons Use of Tests In Teacher Evaluations, DAILY VOICE (Feb. 3, 2019.
Photo courtesy of Washington Post.