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New York State, Union Reach a Deal on Teacher Evaluation

Faced with the prospect of losing millions of dollars in federal funding, New York officials and representatives of the state's largest teachers' union announced Thursday they had settled a dispute over how to use test scores in evaluating educators.

Representatives of the state's department of education and the New York State United Teachers union said they had resolved the dispute, which had imperiled the state Race to the Top award.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had pressed for an agreement and set a deadline of Feb. 16 for reaching one, released a statement saying the accord will make his state "a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement."

The president of the New York State United Teachers union, Richard C. Iannuzzi, said the agreement is "good for students and fair to teachers."

The dispute grew out of a law approved by New York lawmakers in 2010 that called for 40 percent of a teacher's annual review to be based on student achievement. Legislators approved the measure in part to bolster the state's chances in the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition. And it did—the state walked away a $700 million winner.

Under the law, the first 20 percent was to be based on student growth data, as measured by state tests, or comparable measures for subjects that aren't assessed by the state. The dispute grew out of the second 20 percent. The regulations approved by the Board of Regents allowed districts to use state test results for that portion of the evaluation, too.

The union sued, noting that the law required that the second 20 percent be based on locally selected measures of achievement. In August, a judge largely agreed, ruling that the same student growth measures could not be used for all 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation.

Under the agreement, the two sides say that 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student academic achievement, with 20 percent from state testing and 20 percent from a list of three testing options. Those options include state tests; third-party assessments or tests approved by the state department of education; and locally developed tests that also will be subject to state review and approval.

State assessments can be used for up to the full 40 percent, under the agreement. But that step can be taken only if the 20 percent designed at the local level and based on state tests is used differently than the other 20 percent based on the state assessments. That local evaluation portion also must be collectively bargained, according to the state department of education.

The remaining 60 percent will be based on rigorous and nationally recognized measures of teacher performance—such as classroom observations, at least one of which will unannounced; as well observations by independent trained evaluators, peer classroom observations, student and parent feedback from evaluators, and evidence of performance through student portfolios.

Cuomo has said that local school districts will need to approve their own teacher-evaluation plans—based on the overall state template—within a year in order to be eligible for a boost in state aid included in his recent budget.

State Education Commissioner John King described that deadline as a "shot clock" provision.

Cuomo has said that his state had a lot riding on working out the dispute, and has argued that other states would follow New York's lead on evaluation.

"We believe today's agreement is good for students and fair to teachers," said Iannuzzi, of the NYSUT. "It includes two principles we believe are essential. First, a child is more than a standardized test score. While there is a place for standardized testing in measuring teacher effectiveness, tests must be used appropriately. Secondly, the purpose of evaluations must be to help all teachers improve and to advance excellence in our profession."

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