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Buffalo Schools Illustrate Difficulties of N.Y. Evaluations

By guest blogger Andrew Ujifusa

In a March 14 story on the challenges that remain for new teacher evaluations in New York state despite the Feb. 16 agreement brokered by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), I mentioned Buffalo Public Schools as one district that was already experiencing just how difficult creating those evaluations can be. (Maybe the "agreement" reference should start being capitalized, in order to give the deal the same weight as diplomatic achievements like the Treaty of Versailles or the Helsinki Accords.)

Since then, even more has happened in Buffalo to illustrate the situation's complexity.

Some background: Buffalo schools had $9.3 million in federal School Improvement Grant money suspended by the state in January, because its proposed plan for teacher evaluations (submitted in December) did not come up to snuff. A subsequent teacher evaluation proposal submitted to the New York State Department of Education on Feb. 15 and agreed to by the Buffalo district and its teachers' union, was rejected because it excluded the performance of chronically absent students from a portion of the evaluations.

After my March 14 story, the school district and union reached another evaluation deal on March 23. It no longer excluded students with attendance problems from evaluations, but did include provisions that essentially allowed scores to be adjusted based on the percentage of students chronically absent at a school, if the percentage varied from overall district attendance rates.

But on March 27, the state rejected this latest evaluation model, but not because of problems with factoring in student attendance, Buffalo Superintendent Amber M. Dixon said. She said state officials this time cited various problems with the district's proposed scoring methods for determining which teachers are rated "highly effective," "effective," "developing" and "ineffective."

The district is now working on a new evaluation proposal based on the latest advice from the state, although Dixon said March 28 she isn't sure how the Buffalo Teachers Federation will respond now. She said she has received verbal guidance from state officials several times, but that new problems keep cropping up.

Some of the $9.3 million in SIG money will end up being released to schools anyway. But $5.2 million, and teachers' jobs, still hinge on the district getting a new evaluation approved. An additional $42 million in SIG money the district is seeking over the next three years could also depend on the newest version, according to Dixon.

Finally, but crucially, the district must ensure that whichever version of the evaluations gets approved by the state for SIG purposes will square with guidelines on the new teacher evaluations based on the Feb. 16 agreement. Dixon said she is due to meet with officials in Albany soon to discuss next steps.

Dixon put it succinctly: "It's been challenging to try to work out the statewide policies of teacher evaluation."

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