Will New York State Learn from the City’s Teacher Evaluations?

Daniel T. Allen |

Lindsay Ehlers teaches math to her fourth grade class. Under a deal brokered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, all of New York's 696 school districts, including New York City, must present a proposal for clear teacher evaluation systems by July 2012. AP/Nick Geranios

Some students might daydream about giving their teacher a failing grade, but given recent events in New York City, that idea seems less far-fetched.

On Feb. 24, the New York City Department of Education released a report that based teacher evaluations on students’ standardized test scores. The department believed the data could be easily misconstrued but had to comply with a Freedom of Information Law court ruling to make the information public.  A particularly sensitive issue was that the Teacher Data Report identified 18,000 fourth- through eighth-grade teachers by name. The report reinvigorated the debate about how we rate teachers and how much information about their evaluations should be made public. In The New York Times, one special education teacher wondered whether his students’ failing scores on standardized tests would stigmatize him.

Most New Yorkers want to see the teacher scores. A poll revealed that 58 percent of New Yorker City voters favored the release of the data but only 20 percent trusted the data as an accurate benchmark of good teaching.

The release of the data came just days after Governor Cuomo brokered a late-night deal with New York State’s teachers union that stipulates that all 696 districts in New York State must propose a teacher evaluation system by July. If districts miss the deadline, Cuomo has vowed to decrease their state funding. Cuomo has said he would withhold a 4 percent increase of aid to New York City schools in the 2012-13 fiscal year, an amount of money equal to about $300 million.

Cuomo is keeping an eye on the statewide rollout. His office created an interactive map for parents to track their district’s progress on implementing the new evaluation systems.

Districts must choose what to measure and whether they’ll opt to release the data to the public.  At the recent Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference for teachers, organized by MetroFocus’ parent company, WNET,  MetroFocus asked two top policymakers to weigh in on what the state can learn from the city.

“My own view is that the publication of the data with teacher names was unhelpful,” answered New York State Education Commissioner John B. King. He continued to explain an alternative evaluation system in the works.  “We’re building a multiple measurement system where growth on state tests is 20 percent of the evaluation, not 100 percent.” His opinion is similar to other city education officials who have  expressed concern about using test data as the sole measure of teacher effectiveness.

New York City Department of Education Deputy Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said, “It [the Teacher Data Report] was designed as a source of support within the schools. We always want this information to be used in context. This information by itself doesn’t tell you the whole story, it tells you part of the story.”

How a story is interpreted can have serious consequences. New York City’s Department of Education and the teachers union are currently at odds over using teacher ratings as the reason to shutter 33 schools. A mediator has been appointed by the state to broker a deal.


MetroFocus correspondent Rafael Pi Roman interviews New York State Education Commissioner John B. King and New York City Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky about what the state can learn from the city’s experience with teacher evaluations.

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