School districts given more time to revamp teacher evaluations

Teachers wondering how they will be evaluated next year will likely need to wait a little bit longer.

Rather than having to design new teacher evaluation systems by Sept. 1, school districts will now have until the end of December. The change, added at the last minute to the state’s end-of-session budget deal, does not mark a huge shift in how teachers are evaluated, but it gives districts more time to work out the details of their new plans.

It also represents the latest blow to last year’s law, which has been slowly defused by the state’s education policy-making body this year. The Board of Regents eased the most controversial aspects of the law by banning the use of grades 3-8 math and English state test scores in evaluations and allowing most teachers to avoid being observed by outside evaluators.

“This will provide much-needed breathing room for school districts and unions to successfully negotiate new evaluation plans and at the same time provide [the state education department] with additional time to review and approve education plans,” said state teachers union spokesman Carl Korn.

Here is what the latest change will mean for schools and teachers:

Everyone will get a little breathing room

Over 400 school districts across the state, including New York City, still need time to finish their evaluation plans. Those districts now have four extra months to hash out the details, which could include hot-button issues such as which tests will be used to judge teacher performance.

Districts need the extra time because evaluation rules have been in flux all year, Korn said.

“Was there a Regents meeting where the evaluations did not change?” Korn asked.

Teachers will likely start the year in limbo

If negotiations continue into September, teachers will start next year without a plan for how they will be evaluated. That happened last year too. While the change might create a better evaluation system in the long run, it could also frustrate teachers whose evaluations remain in limbo as the state continues shifting the rules.

A few big decisions still have to be made

The new measure joins a string of changes meant to mitigate the impact of the law, but it does not wipe it out entirely.

Schools still have to come up with some measure of student performance, and Regents exams can still be used. Also, any system that emerges in December will still be tied to consequences, including tenure and firing decisions.

For some, that means the legislature went home for summer too soon.

“The bill ultimately fails to cut the link between teacher evaluations and state aid,” said State Senator Todd Kaminsky. “By refusing to fix the fundamental problem, Albany continues to perpetuate a system that isn’t working for teachers, parents or students.”

This article was first published on Chalkbeat New York on June 20.