Andrew Pallotta: Fix The Broken Teacher Evaluation System

May 25, 2018

New York’s teacher evaluation system is broken – and now is the time to fix it.

Parents and educators remain angry and frustrated.  They are demanding an end to the state’s flawed evaluation system – a system which over-emphasizes standardized testing and which misuses tests to rank and sort teachers.  They want more local control, and a return to the days when schools could focus on teaching and learning … not endless test preparation.

Let’s first be clear about one point: Teachers welcome fair, meaningful evaluations that help them grow professionally and better serve their students. 

But, teachers and parents have never had any faith that standardized test scores – plugged into a mysterious mathematical algorithm no one understands – could accurately measure educators’ effectiveness as professionals.

Teachers and parents do see how the unrelenting pressure to produce higher standardized test scores has narrowed the curriculum; increased pressure to teach to the test, and poisoned the environment for teaching and learning.

Parents and educators want to stop subjecting children to these exhausting standardized tests.

They can see these results don’t inform instruction or accurately measure achievement. 

They have clearly stated their opposition to the evaluation law’s one-size-fits-all approach.  And they have rebelled by opting their children out of these flawed standardized tests in eye-popping numbers.

Elected leaders are finally getting the message.  Earlier this month, the state Assembly voted 131-1 to begin repairing the breach in trust between parents and educators on one side, and the state on the other.  With six weeks remaining in this legislative session, all eyes now turn to the state Senate. 

Senate bill 8301 has been sponsored by 55 of the 63 members of the Senate – including all of the Democrats and a majority of the Republicans.  Now, the Senator Majority Leader must bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

This bill would go a long, long way toward lifting the plague of over-testing.

It would fix the evaluation system by returning control over teacher evaluations to school districts and teachers, allowing them to collectively bargain performance review systems that help teachers grow professionally while meeting the unique needs of their students.

It also gives school districts needed flexibility to curtail testing, especially in the early grades, and bars standardized test scores from becoming a part of students’ permanent records.

Other states are already acting to end the tyranny of testing.

Using flexibility granted by the Every Student Succeeds Act, nine states no longer require teacher evaluations to include student growth measures from standardized tests.  

The winds of change are clearly blowing.  The Senate must now act to decouple state tests from evaluations and return evaluations to local control.  Through the collective bargaining process, school districts  and local teachers unions should be entrusted with negotiating their own evaluation -- just as they did prior to 2010. 

By immediately bringing S.8301 to the floor for a vote, the Senate can help put the focus back on what matters most in our classrooms – teaching and learning.

It is time to let teachers teach, let students learn and let the Senate vote. 

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.