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Regents vote for delay of teacher evaluations

WBFO News File Photo

The state’s education commissioner says no new laws are needed to reverse a proposal in this year’s state budget tying teacher performance reviews more closely to standardized tests.

At the December Board of Regents meeting, members voted to postpone the effects of the tests on teacher evaluations until for at least four more years.

Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia says the Regents , at her request , voted to rescind the linking of standardized test results with the teacher performance reviews,  reversing  a policy put in place by Governor Cuomo and the state legislature  less than a year ago.

Elia calls it a “transition period”,  until other issues associated with Common Core can be more thoroughly worked out.

All of the Regents voted in favor of the change, except the board’s  Chancellor,  Meryl Tisch, who voted no. Tisch had been a champion of fast tracking adoption of the Common Core. She is not seeking re election to her seat when her term expires early in 2016.

The vote comes just days after a task force appointed by Governor Cuomo quietly issued a report that also  recommended a reversal of the new teacher evaluation policy. The advice represents a major shift from earlier in the year, when Governor Cuomo forcefully pushed new performance reviews for teachers beginning this school year,  that would depend more heavily on standardized test results.

Cuomo, in his State of the State message back in January, pointed out what he believed were the flaws in an evaluation system that rated most teachers very highly, while students perform poorly.

“They are baloney,” Cuomo said of the teacher performance standards.

The governor, was successful in winning the new teacher evaluations as part of the state budget. But almost immediately, the policy began unraveling. First, the Board of Regents, who are not appointed by Cuomo, but instead by the legislature, voted to permit school districts waivers to delay the new performance rules. More than 90 percent of schools were granted the waivers.  

Cuomo, asked by a reporter why he decided to reverse his stance and delink the tests from the teacher evaluation, said that’s an incorrect characterization.

“I think if you read the report you’re going to find out that your two questions are not accurate,” Cuomo said. “There are teacher evaluations that are in the report and they are connected with tests.”

It’s true that neither the Regents vote of the governor’s task force recommend ending the new teacher evaluation rules altogether.

Teachers, who have long been waring with the governor,  declared victory.

New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee, says it marks the end of what teachers have called the “test and punish agenda” and represents a much needed “reset."

“The delinking says we’ll develop relevant curriculum and standards and implement them first and do it the right way,” Magee said. “And then we’ll  talk about how we evaluate.”  

The governor’s task force also calls for scrapping the Common Core learning standards in favor a of a new set of standards generated by New York’s teachers and other education professionals, and says there should be fewer tests and less time devoted to test prep.

It’s unknown whether the retreat from the most controversial effects of the Common Core standards will quell a boycott movement that led to one fifth of students skipping the third through eighth grade standardized tests earlier this year.

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.