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Delays appear likely for teacher evaluations

Less than a month after it was enacted, Governor Cuomo’s new teacher evaluation plan seems to be in jeopardy, with the Regents Chancellor calling for a year’s delay and a key Senator saying the legislature needs to revisit the issue.

When Cuomo convinced the legislature to approve a new teacher evaluation system the relies more on standardized tests,  his administration said that the State Board of Regents would have very limited power to make any changes including compliance with a November deadline to come up with new performance reviews.

Now, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, says that deadline is “unrealistic”, and she will extend it for another year, to September, 2016. Tisch says she’s heard from school districts all across the state, who say they won’t be ready in time.

“It is clear to me in no uncertain terms that the districts re feeling an enormous amount of pressure,” said Tisch “They simply can’t do this by November 15th”.

Tisch says she believes strongly in the new teacher evaluation system, and is not backing away from it.

The Chancellor’s decision was applauded by the teacher’s union, which has opposed the new performance reviews’ dependence on the controversial standardized tests. New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee says it’s a “responsible step."

“It affords a little breathing room,” said Magee. “Hopefully the Regents’ can mitigate some of what’s been rolled out as result of the budget, and can work toward establishing a fair and objective evaluation plan.”

Assembly Democrats support the Chancellor’s plan to post pone the deadline. Speaker Carl Heastie, speaking before the decision was made, has said all along that he trusts the Board of Regents to interpret the new regulations.

“They are the education experts,” Heastie said.

The Board of Regents is chosen by a joint session of the legislature. Assembly Democrats numerically are the biggest faction, so they have the most influence in selecting members of the board.

Republicans, who lead the Senate, often have little power to pick the Regents.  The Senate Education Committee Chair, John Flanagan, says he thinks the legislature will have to fix the new law.

“I would be shocked if there were not some modifications,” Flanagan said.

But he says Senators know that the public is unhappy.

Flanagan says he wants to modify the rules so that teachers and students can see the test results much earlier, within a couple of months of the exam dates, instead of waiting until August for their release.

The new teacher evaluation law ties additional school aid increases to compliance with the November deadline. Tisch says that’s wrong, and that “students should not be denied resources because of adult disagreements”. She wants to work with the governor’s office to uncouple the school aid from the new teacher evaluations.

Governor Cuomo’s top attorney, Alphonso David, in a statement, disagrees with Chancellor Tisch’s interpretation of the law.

David says under the new law , the Regents can only allow a delay in special cases, where it would be a “hardship” for the schools to meet the deadline, but can’t just  wholesale authorize a later compliance date for most of the schools in the state.  And David says “the law is clear that the additional state funding is linked to a teacher evaluation system, just like (it was) last year”. 

NYSUT President Magee says teachers will be lobbying the legislature to uncouple the school aid from the teacher performance reviews.

“We more than willing to work with our elected officials to address any of those fixes,” Magee said.

The new teacher evaluations already face disruption after nearly 20% of school children boycotted the state English tests that would form a larger basis for the teacher performance reviews. It’s expected that the same number of more, will opt out of this week’s math tests.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.