Cuomo announces NY teacher evaluation plan

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a landmark deal Thursday on teacher evaluations that he says will be a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement.

The state and its largest teachers union have been negotiating a deal on a new system designed to improve teacher evaluations.

"Today's agreement puts in place a groundbreaking new statewide teacher evaluation system that will put students first and make New York a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement," Governor Cuomo said. "This agreement is exactly what is needed to transform our state's public education system, and I am pleased that by working together and putting the needs of students ahead of politics we were able to reach this agreement."

Under the agreement, 60% of a teacher's evaluation will be based on rigorous and nationally recognized measures of teacher performance based on classroom observations, student and parent feedback, and evidence of performance through student portfolios.

The remaining 40% of the evaluation will be based on student academic achievement with 20% from state testing and 20 percent from either state tests, approved third party assessments, and locally developed tests. Under the plan, school districts will also have the option of using state tests to measure up to 40 percent of a teacher's rating.

Kevin Ahern, president of the Syracuse Teachers Association which represents 2,000 teachers, says the new system raises the bar.

Ahern says teachers will be getting more feedback from administrators. Teachers will be evaluated on areas like their classroom management and planning.

"I think it's an unfortunate myth out there that this is simply about sorting teachers and saying this group should be fired and this group shouldn't," Ahern said. "And we would never support anything like that obviously. This is really more about improving classroom teacher's performance in the classroom as well as improving the profession."

The New York State United Teachers union negotiated the deal with the state education department. A major sticking point was using student test scores in evaluations of 222,000 public school teachers, a purpose for which the tests were never designed.

The deal will fulfill much of a commitment the state made two years ago to enact reforms. It also frees up nearly $1 billion in federal education money that was linked to the reforms. State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. has withheld some aid for districts he said were delaying action on teacher evaluations.

"The goal is and always has been to help students - to give them every opportunity to succeed in college and careers. To make that happen, we need to improve teaching and learning." King said. "We owe it to our students to make sure every classroom is led by an effective teacher and every school is led by an effective principal. Today, the Governor's leadership and his commitment to our students has helped us take a strong step toward that goal."

A new Quinnipiac University poll finds 50 percent of voters trust Cuomo more "to protect the interests of New York State public school students." Thirty-eight percent trust the teachers union more. The poll also found 45 percent of people approve of the way Cuomo is handling education, while 42 percent disapprove.

Voters also supported merit pay for "outstanding" teachers by 2-to-1. And two-thirds of voters said they support making it easier to fire teachers.

The deal gives to local school districts guidance for the implementation of a teacher evaluation system that is based on multiple measures of performance including student achievement and rigorous classroom observations. The agreement follows through on the state's commitment to put in place a real and effective teacher evaluation system as a condition of the $700 million granted through the federal Race to the Top program.

New York State United Teachers President Richard C. Iannuzzi, said, "Teachers support high standards and accountability for our profession. We believe today's agreement is good for students and fair to teachers... The settlement also reinforces how important it is for teachers to have a voice in establishing standards of professional effectiveness and in developing evaluations that meet the needs of local communities."

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)