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Cuomo Creates Site to Track Evaluation Progress

By guest blogger Andrew Ujifusa

Want to see if New York state school districts are literally checking the right boxes on new teacher evaluations? The Empire State has you covered.

The website, announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, allows parents and others to follow the progress of districts in hashing out the new evaluations, in the wake of the Feb. 16 agreement on the basic shape of those evaluations between the state education department and the state teachers union, New York State United Teachers.

At the NY Students First site, you can click on a link to "Track Your School District's Progress," which takes you to a map of New York by county that resembles a teacher's chalkboard. Scrolling over a county brings up a box with each of the school districts in that county. If a district were to submit a new teacher evaluation plan to the state education department, a box would checked next to its name. If the plan were to be approved by the department, the district would get another check mark (this time in bright red).

Next to the map is a link that allows you to "Contact Your School District," a part of the site Cuomo indicated would be key in pushing the evaluations over the finish line.

"I hope the countless parents and advocates who have been demanding accountability in our schools will use www.nystudentsfirst.com to get involved in our efforts to put students first and reform our education system," Cuomo said in a March 6 statement announcing the site.

The online effort represents Cuomo's eagerness to use parental and other community pressure to ensure districts get evaluations done that are agreed to by local teachers unions and given the seal of approval by State Education Commissioner John B. King.

But it also illustrates that the Feb. 16 deal did not represent the finish line for new teacher evaluations in the state, only the starting gun for individual districts to get moving.

The framework for the new evaluations is that 20 percent of a teacher's evaluations will be based on students' scores on state assessments. Another 20 percent will be based on student achievement on various measures as agreed to between individual school districts and their local teachers unions. The remaining 60 percent will be based on multiple measures of effective teaching, including classroom observations, that are also locally bargained.

The deal represents a key part of the state's new commitments to education reform in order to receive $700 million from the Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education that the state was awarded in 2010.

NY Students First has a chart, replete with more check marks, that allows viewers to compare the state's overhaul efforts on teacher evaluations with those in other states, including the use of student achievement data. It also saves some space for political rhetoric.

A statement on the main page reads in part, "Our system has suffered because Albany has spent more time worrying about the business of education—contracts, salaries, and benefits—than they have worrying about the children."

The teachers union, naturally, has a different take on whether concerns over salaries and benefits have overtaken students' needs.

Stay on the lookout for my upcoming story on what's next for New York state teacher evaluations. On a related note, also check out my colleague Sean Cavanagh's recent item on "parent unions" and their attempts to get in on policy debates.

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