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N.Y. Teacher Evaluations Getting Surgery to Alter Impact of Common-Core Tests

New York state lawmakers have approved legislation sponsored by Gov. Andrew Cuomo changing the impact that assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards would have on certain teacher and principal evaluations for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

The measure, Governor's Program Bill 56, changes how the evaluations will affect teachers and principals rated either "ineffective" or "developing" for those two academic years. (The two other, higher ratings are "effective" and "highly effective.") If teachers and principals are rated "ineffective" or "developing" due to state tests aligned to the common core, that portion of the evaluations will be set aside. Instead of the common-core aligned tests, local asessments and other factors would be used in the teacher and principal evaluations for those years. 

In addition, the legislation states that teachers and principals won't be at risk of losing their jobs or being denied certain job protections if they receive the two lowest ratings on the evaluation system for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. 

Currently, New York's teacher evaluations are based 20 percent on student performance on state tests, and 20 percent on "locally-determined" student-achievement measures. The remaining 60 percent considers classroom observations and other factors. 

According to a memo from the governor's office accompanying the bill, the legislation (which was approved by the full legislature early on June 20) "does not include a moratorium or delay." But it's difficult to see the legislation as anything other than a pause of some sort, at least for some teachers. Teachers and principals whose evaluations don't involve the common-core tests in English/language arts and math in grades 3-8 won't be affected by Cuomo's bill.

Common-core tests' impact on K-12 accountability in New York state has been political napalm for months. The New York State United Teachers, for example, officially withdrew its support the common core in New York state and voted "no confidenced" in state Commissioner John King back in January. As justification, the union cited problems with common-core curricula and materials and the state's decision to move ahead with assessments. 

On June 19, by contrast, the NYSUT praised the bill from Cuomo (a Democrat), calling it a "necessary first step" to further assess the state's progress in transitioning to the common core. 

"The state test scores that have been deemed invalid and unreliable for students would be deemed invalid and unreliable for penalizing teachers. Basic fairness prevails," said NYSUT President Karen Magee.

Initially, there were fears that the state could lose federal funding because of the legislation. But subsequently, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement supporting the legislation, saying it would ensure the state would move forward with key K-12 policy changes.

Read the governor's memo describing the bill below:

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