The details of New York’s new teacher evaluation law are now clear – mostly. After the law passed in the state budget, the Board of Regents and state Education Department had to figure out how heavily to weigh student test scores and when the changes would go into effect. The Regents disagreed with the department’s recommendations, made several changes, then voted on the rules earlier this week. SUNY New Paltz education researcher Robin Jacobowitz spoke with WSKG’s Solvejg Wastvedt and explained the Regents’ concern over the law.
Solvejg Wastvedt: What were the Regents trying to accomplish with the changes they made? What direction were they trying to push the law?
Robin Jacobowitz: There was [some talk] about trying to be slower and more specific about what this program would look like, and what exactly the different percentage points would be — taking more time to really study it and make sure it was right.
SW: There are two parts to the teacher evaluations: student test scores and classroom observations. Starting with the tests — it seems like the Regents reigned in the emphasis on state tests.
RJ: Well I think that schools can decide that. So you can choose to base 100 percent of your growth score on the state test scores, or 50 percent on the state test scores and 50 percent on a local measure. I think there will be some restrictions on what those local measures are, and we have yet to see exactly what that would be.
SW: Overall, would you say there’s more emphasis on tests now than in the past?
RJ: Yes. It moved [the weight given to test scores] up to 50 percent. Last year, taking both local and state measures together, it was 40%. Now, even within that 50 percent, the state measures are weighing more heavily.
SW: What will change on a day-to-day basis in the classroom for teachers? Will anything change? We’ve had a lot of new evaluation systems in the past few years.
RJ: I think there’s a little bit of whiplash. The rules keep changing. Even in this conversation — we’re trying to talk at a very general level, but we keep getting down into, ‘the percent, of the percent, of the percent.’” To have those calculations in your mind gets a little bit mind-boggling. I think the fear is that the focus on testing at a teacher evaluation level will focus the classroom more on testing, and that will narrow the curriculum further.
SW: Is this the final word on evaluations? Are we done with this discussion?
RJ: I don’t think this conversation is done. It’s certainly not done at the district level, and I think this is a conversation that will continue at the state level. I don’t know when the next stage of changes will be made, or how they’ll be made, but I don’t think this conversation is done.