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50,000 Teachers Could Be Rated Based on Students That Aren't Theirs: Union

By Amy Zimmer | March 12, 2015 10:58am
 Landmark High School social studies teacher Dennis Joyce, a teacher for 29 years, said when you teach to a test it
Landmark High School social studies teacher Dennis Joyce, a teacher for 29 years, said when you teach to a test it "stifles" student's curiosity.
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DNAInfo/Amy Zimmer

BROOKLYN — As many as 50,000 public school teachers could see half of their yearly evaluations determined by state exams for kids they haven't taught and may have never even met, according to a breakdown of the governor's controversial teacher evaluation proposal by the teacher's union.

That's roughly 75 percent of the city's approximately 67,000 teachers — including all teachers of students from kindergarten through second grade, as well as music, art and gym teachers — according to the United Federation of Teachers.

Only 25 percent of the city's teachers have corresponding state tests for their subjects. This means the ratings of three-quarters of teachers could depend heavily on the results of tests taken by students in unrelated subjects that they did not teach, according to the UFT.

The State Department of Education raised hackles when it changed the teacher grading process last fall to rely on the unrelated state tests. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed changes would raise the stakes — boosting the percent of each evaluation that relies on the outcome of the state tests from 20 percent to 50 percent — as well as reduce principal autonomy when it comes to evaluating their teachers.

Many schools are also concerned about the proposal's move to take authority away from principals and bring in outsiders to conduct teacher observations, which would count for 35 percent of a teacher's grade. A principal's observation would count for just 15 percent of the rating.

The stakes of the evaluations are high as well — teachers couldn't be granted tenure unless they had five consecutive years of being rated "effective" under the plan. Anyone rated ineffective two years in a row could lose their jobs.

The changes have sparked outrage among parents, teachers and school staff, many of whom took to their schools Thursday morning, joining hands in a symbolic chain link fence in a massive citywide protest against Cuomo's proposal.

     ► Downtown School Forms 'Human Chain' to Protest Cuomo's Teacher Evaluations

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"We all have a hand in our students' education, but to evaluate us on something we're not directly teaching seems ridiculous," said Shenandoah Ferreira, an art teacher at P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens, who planned to join the protests.

"I do believe that what I teach makes them critical thinkers, but in the same breath I work with them once a week for 45 minutes."

Ferreira, who is also the parent of a second-grader at the nearby Brooklyn New School, is not just opposed to tests for her own evaluations, but also for her colleagues and her son's teachers.

"I do believe in accountability and teaching to high standards and setting clear expectations," Ferreira said. "But the fact that what we do as a career is based on state tests given six days out of 180 days is not fair."

Cuomo has harshly criticized the current evaluation system — where state tests only count for 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation, while school-based teacher assessments count for an additional 20 percent and a principal's observations count for 60 percent. The governor believes the system skews teacher evaluations too favorably.

"We need real, accurate, fair teacher evaluations," he said in his State of the State address.

Cuomo's proposal, expected to go up for a vote in Albany on April 1, would also carry penalties for schools that don't adopt the new evaluation system — in the form of cutting their funding, his office said.

Dennis Joyce, a teacher at Chelsea's Landmark High School, who teaches a subject that doesn't have a state test, said of Cuomo's changes, "I don't think he can look any teacher in the eye and say this is a genuinely fair system."

"It's sad because I know teachers who work hard, and when their students are underperforming, they bring it home with them and lose sleep over it," added Joyce, a 29-year veteran of the schools system. "I've taught to the test before. You get very narrow in your focus. You stifle your students' curiosity when all of the focus is for a test."

The battle over teacher evaluations comes amid increasing concern nationwide about how high-stakes testing is impacting education. A growing number of families are opting out of such tests altogether, while some states are also moving away from test-based teacher-evaluation systems.