ALBANY—Even though about two thirds of the state’s students failed Common Core-aligned state exams last year, the majority of educators in New York’s five largest school districts got high ratings on the portions of their performance evaluations that were based on students’ test scores, according to new data released Thursday by the State Education Department.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for an overhaul of the state-mandated evaluation system, arguing that teachers’ high scores in the first two years of implementation don’t “reflect reality,” citing elementary and middle school students’ low scores on state English and math exams.
The proposal the governor included in the state budget would increase the percentage of the evaluations that is based on state test scores from 20 percent to 50 percent and diminish the impact of subjective observations, which he argues skew overall ratings, from 60 percent to 50 percent.
Evaluations are now based 60 percent on observations, 20 percent on state tests and 20 percent on local tests. Cuomo’s proposal removes the local component.
But if educators’ evaluations were based entirely on state test scores last school year, the majority of teachers and principals in the “Big Five” districts—New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers—would have still earned high marks.
In New York City and Buffalo, the state’s two largest districts, 91 percent of educators were rated “effective” or “highly effective” overall. If only the component that measures student performance on state exams is considered, 89 percent in New York City and 90 percent in Buffalo were rated in the top two categories.
New York City had the highest scores on third-through-eighth-grade state exams last year of the “Big Five;” 28 percent of students were proficient in English language arts, and 34 percent were proficient in math. In Buffalo, 12 percent passed English, and 13 percent passed math.
Ninety-eight percent of educators in Yonkers were rated “effective” or “highly effective” overall, and 87 percent got those ratings on the state-test category. In the Westchester County city, 19 percent of students passed English exams, and 22 percent passed math.
The gaps were bigger in Rochester and Syracuse, but nonetheless, most educators in those districts scored in the top two categories overall and on the state-test portion. Eighty-nine percent in Rochester were rated “effective” or “highly effective” overall, compared to 78 percent on the component based on state tests; in Syracuse, 98 percent got the high ratings overall, compared to 69 percent on the state-test component.
Student test scores were lowest in these two cities. In Rochester, only 5 percent of students passed English, and 7 percent passed math; in Syracuse, 8 percent of students passed both exams.
While it doesn’t appear that increasing the evaluations’ reliance on state test scores would result in a majority of teachers being rated “ineffective,” there would likely be an increase in some districts.
In Syracuse, for example, 16 percent of educators were “ineffective” on the state-test portion, but 0 percent were “ineffective” overall. Similarly, in Rochester, 10 percent were “ineffective” when rated based on the state exams, compared to 1 percent overall.
Under Cuomo’s legislation, a teacher could not be rated “ineffective” based on state exams and end up with an overall rating of “effective” or higher.
“The ratings show there’s much more work to do to strengthen the evaluation system,” Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a statement. “There’s a real contrast between how our students are performing and how their teachers and principals are evaluated.”
The evaluation system does not rate teachers and principals on students’ absolute performance, which explains why teachers whose students fail the exams don’t automatically earn low ratings. The evaluations measure student growth on state exams from year to year, and they also take into consideration factors like poverty and students’ disabilities.
Only about 20 percent of teachers—those who teach English and math in the third through eighth grades—teach classes that are directly tied to state exams. Districts have different ways of evaluating the remainder of teachers, some of which use school-level or district-level aggregate test-score data to rate all teachers, even those who specialize in other subjects like art or physical education.
Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever emailed the following statement: “Clearly the current system, where 99 percent of teachers are rated effective, does not match student achievement. The Governor’s proposed reforms will ensure that we have a teacher evaluation system that accurately measures effectiveness and guarantees that New York’s children receive the best possible education.”
The results, broken down by district, are available on the Education Department’s data website: http://bit.ly/1vCW3UZ