Grading Teachers: A Tri-State Conundrum

May 15, 2012 at 5:40 am

New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf, New York’s Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. and New York City’s Senior Deputy Chancellor of the Department of Education Shael Polakow-Suransky discuss teacher evaluations with Rafael Pi Roman at WNET’s Celebration of Teaching & Learning. Video by Daniel Ross and Daniel Allen/MetroFocus.

How to judge whether a teacher is doing his or her job is the inexact science at the center of the education debate in New York City and the Empire State. But by no means is the situation unique to New York: how to evaluate teachers is a hot-button issue across the tri-state area, and is one that everyone seems to have an opinion about.

Governor Dannel Malloy aggressively sought education reforms in Connecticut this year, and on May 8 he addressed the sweeping education bill before him.

“I believe education reform is the civil-rights issue of our time, and once I sign this bill, the table will be set for real and fundamental reform of our public schools,” Malloy said in a statement.

Access to a good education — and federal funding — is driving states to figure out how to make sure teachers are doing the best they can. And as with any issue where the interested parties are many and the stakes so high, the road to a fair system is bumpy. MetroFocus takes a look at the latest developments in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.


Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut referred to education reform as the "civil-rights issue of our time." AP/ Jessica Hill.

Governor Malloy signed an education reform bill on May 8 that includes, among other things, an overhaul of the way the state evaluates teachers, particularly in relation to teacher tenure.

Currently, all teachers in Connecticut public schools receive tenure after four years of teaching. The new legislation will require an annual evaluation process for principals, administrators and teachers, and teacher tenure will be awarded based on “effective practice,” according to the Hartford Courant. The new evaluation system will be rolled out as a pilot program in eight to 10 schools next year and implemented across the state the year after that.

Under the new law, evaluations will be based 45 percent on students’ performance on standardized tests or other indicators decided by individual districts, another 40 percent on performance in the classroom and the remainder on feedback from peers, parents and students.

In a state where the achievement gap between largely white suburban students and largely minority urban ones is the largest in the country, revamping how the state evaluates teachers was of supreme importance, Malloy has said. The governor devoted much of his State of the State speech in February to the subject.

The bill was, not surprisingly, controversial. In recent months, negotiations came to a halt when the teachers union, Connecticut Education Association (CEA), criticized the bill and charged that teachers could be fired after receiving one bad evaluation.

New York

In February, state education officials announced a deal on teacher evaluations that settled a months-long impasse between education officials and the state teachers union. The deal secured nearly $1 billion in federal Race to the Top funds that were contingent on a statewide teacher evaluation system. In January, the federal Education Department had warned New York that it could lose its share of the money if it did not comply.

According to the terms of the state deal, 40 percent of a teacher’s annual review will be based on student performance on standardized tests. Twenty percent of the total 40 percent must be based on how a student improves on state test scores, and the remaining 20 percent can be based on scores on tests developed by an individual school district, or a third party, pending state approval. The remaining 60 percent of a teacher’s score will come from direct observation of the teacher, as reported by students, peers, parents and independent evaluators.

“We want to build a system where we help everyone improve and in order to do that you need to be able to differentiate performance,” said John B. King, Jr., New York’s Commissioner of Education. “Ultimately the goal is to to have a positive impact on student learning.”

Every one of the approximately 700 school districts in New York State needs to have a system of evaluating teacher performance in place by January, 2013.

New Jersey

New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf says that although creating an evaluation system is hard, it's necessary. AP/ Mel Evans.

In the Garden State, the situation is similar: the way teachers are being evaluated is a priority. Just like what will soon happen in Connecticut, a pilot program has already begun in New Jersey that will evaluate teachers in 10 school districts this year and 30 more next year, before rolling the program out across the state two years from now.

“We should step into this slowly and with the complete collaboration of our educator force,” said New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf.

The pilot program calls for teacher evaluations to be based half on classroom observations and half on student progress, based on standardized tests. Teachers are then rated on a scale from ineffective to highly effective. Principals will be rated on the same criteria. There are some exceptions; for teachers who teach subjects without standardized tests, student performance can count for less than half the grade.

Under the current state law, tenured teachers are observed once a year, with many districts giving marks of only “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” Under the new pilot program, teachers will be observed more regularly.

Unlike in New York City, where teacher rankings based on student performance on standardized tests were made public in February, the New Jersey teacher evaluation process will not include a public performance rating, said Cerf.


Watch MetroFocus for more videos and articles about education in the metropolitan region.

“MetroFocus: Education Innovation” premieres on May 15 at 10:30 p.m. on WLIW21; May 16 at 10:30 p.m. on NJTV; and May 17 at 8:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

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