Debate Teacher Evaluation

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. announced last Thursday that the Assembly had passed legislation to improve teacher evaluations by delinking them from standardized testing and returning control to local school districts. The legislation recognizes that what works for one classroom or district may not work for another, Assemblyman Thiele noted. 

But on Monday, New York’s top education officials weighed in on the subject during the monthly Board of Regents meeting in Albany. The board sets education policy.

The bill being discussed would make the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations optional rather than mandatory. If passed, it would mark a major break from the current law, where as much as half of an educator’s evaluation can be based on standardized tests.

“Every kid learns differently and it should be up to the people who know them best — their teachers and school districts — to figure out how to meet their needs,” Assemblyman Thiele wrote in a press release. “The best educators concentrate on the child in front of them, not the test looming over the horizon.” 

Meanwhile, the state’s education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, and certain board members warned of potential unintended consequences: increased testing for students, since the bill allows districts to create alternative assessments for use in teacher evaluations. However, in districts that provide alternative tests, students would still be required by federal law to take state tests.

Though neither the regents nor the State Education Department can vote on the bill, their opinions could sway lawmakers in the Senate, which must pass the bill for it to become law.

In East Hampton, the entire debate could be irrelevant because Richard Burns, the district superintendent, recently announced that last week’s state-mandated math exams for third through eighth graders had a 95 percent participation rate. 

“At this point we’re not referring to it as an opt out,” he said, referring to the so-called opt out movement, which saw record numbers of students boycott state exams over the last few years. “We’re opting in.”