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Always reforming,not always improving

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"The kind of improvement that will make a difference for students requires much more than a rigorous teacher evaluation system."

The teacher evaluation bill, passed by New York lawmakers on June 21, will give "limited public access" to teacher evaluations. Evaluation scores (not the names of teachers) will be posted on the State Education website. Parents will be able to see only the evaluation scores for their children's teachers.

Governor Cuomo has admitted that disgruntled parents might release teachers' names using social media. The problem is that with the passage of this one bill into law, records of a teacher's performance and evaluation, which up to now could not be released without written consent from the teacher, could be posted on the Internet for all to see.

Here's a little background:

2010: New York State wins nearly $700 million from the federally funded Race to the Top program.

2011: New York State Education Department sets four "reform goals": tougher standards, robust data systems, rigorous teacher and principal evaluation systems, and interventions to turn around low-achieving schools.

2012: Governor Cuomo announces that a new statewide evaluation system will make New York State a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement.

The "carrot" in this matter is the additional Race to the Top funding available to school districts. The "stick" is teacher evaluations. In order to receive a share of the pot, school districts must develop a rigorous evaluation system that includes student achievement as 40 percent, improved professional development, and the removal of teachers and principals rated "ineffective" for two consecutive years.

The public has been led to believe that the educational community came together in an "unprecedented show of support for the broad education reforms" detailed in the state's Race to the Top application. The truth is that the educational community, including the teacher unions, came together for one purpose – to make sure they would receive the additional money to fill budget gaps and restore programs and staff.

While helping teachers become more competent is certainly an important goal, that alone will not help competent teachers address the needs of students in schools with a high concentration of poverty, nor will it improve teaching. The kind of improvement that will make a difference for students requires much more than a rigorous teacher evaluation system.

Something even harder to understand is why the governor's bill had the backing of the teachers unions. With a mountain of evidence to suggest that most districts are not ready to implement a rigorous evaluation system, it is obvious that the leaders of the teachers unions were not willing to "kill the goose that laid the golden egg" by withdrawing their support. To their shame, union leaders appear to be "fellow travelers" on the road to undermining public education.

Keep in mind that any new evaluation system must rank teachers as highly effective, effective, developing, or ineffective. Ask the superintendent in your district if she or he feels any uncertainty about the reliability of the data and the related teacher rankings inherent in the evaluation system they must implement in the fall. They will probably tell you that the new evaluation system is a work in progress.

Finally, are students, parents, teachers, school leaders, and board members really up to dealing with the fallout from this new law? Students will be confused by conflicting reports about their teachers. Parents will want only the best teachers for their children. But most important, teachers may have their reputations tarnished, only to find that the evaluation system used to judge them is based upon unreliable and invalid standardized test results.

Standardized tests were never intended to evaluate teachers. They have only one purpose: to monitor student achievement over time. Unfortunately, teachers and school leaders will focus on standardized tests to an even a greater degree than they have in the past. Does anyone see the sad irony of this new evaluation legislation?

Donald Bartalo is an instructional leadership coach and is author of "Closing the Teaching Gap."

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