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Rockville Centre's Burris leads challenge of state teacher evaluation plan

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South Side High School Principal Dr. Carol Burris has co-authored a letter, signed by two thirds of Long Island’s public school principals and a growing number of educators from across New York state, asking state education Commissioner John B. King Jr. and the Board of Regents to delay and change a new teacher evaluation plan that links educator ratings to student test scores.

The letter, co-authored with Sean Feeney of The Wheatley School and sent on Nov. 2, urges the state to use school-wide achievement results in evaluating teachers and principals, pilot and adjust the system before implementing it on a large scale and use performance “bands” — not numbers — to rate education professionals.

Earlier this year, New York pledged to implement the system, known as the Annual Professional Performance Review, in an effort to secure nearly $700 million in federal Race to the Top funds. In it, teachers would receive one of four ratings: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective, based on a 100-point scale that weights student exams at 20 percent, local measures of student achievement (determined by collective bargaining) at 20 percent and classroom observations (and other criteria that would also be determined by collective bargaining) at 60 percent. Teachers who are rated “ineffective” for two straight years could be cited for incompetence and fired, through an expedited hearing process.

Burris said that after negotiating with New York State United Teachers, at the urging of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Regents changed two provisions affecting the student test score component of the evaluations at the last minute — increasing their weight to 40 percent and adding a clause that if a teacher is rated “ineffective” because of test scores, he or she cannot be rated “effective.”

“We wholeheartedly endorse the idea of evaluations,” Burris said, “but we worry that when student test scores take front and center, they will destroy the relationship between students and teachers.

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