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School Officials Say New Teacher Reviews 'Flawed'

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. – School officials throughout the state are protesting the implementation of new teacher performance reviews even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has threatened the loss of $805 million in state aid if the changes aren't enacted.

Cuomo's recently-released Executive Budget stipulates that school districts will not be eligible for state aid increases unless they have fully implemented the new teacher evaluation process by Jan. 17, 2013. Cuomo also plans to create a commission that will shift educational focus to school accountability to “improve student achievement and operational efficiency.”

But superintendents and principals say the new teacher evaluations are being implemented far too quickly.

“It's un-do-able,” Ardsley Union Free School District Superintendent Lauren Allan said during a  superintendents' conference on the new evaluations sponsored by Southern Westchester BOCES in January. “I don't know what the state's going to do about that.”

Under the new teacher review process, publicly available ratings will be compiled based on principal observations, state test scores and other locally-decided measures. However, school officials have noted that current state tests could only evaluate math and English teachers in fourth-through-eighth grades.

Schools officials in the Union Free School District of the Tarrytowns have said that the state hasn't told them how other subjects will be held accountable.

“We understand that there's a plan for getting this together, but it's difficult for any of us to understand how this all can be in place for the 2012-13 year,” said Barbarann Tantillo, assistant superintendent for instruction and personnel.

The new evaluations are a product of Race to the Top , a federal program designed to give funding grants to states who pledge to implement education policies set by the Obama administration.

A total of 1,213 principals throughout the state have signed an open letter protesting the structure of the new teacher reviews, saying educational research doesn't support the current plan and that tax dollars will be redirected outside of the classroom to help pay for the evaluation process.

They also say including student test scores will lead to state tests taking center stage in the classroom.

“We continually examine best practices and pursue the most promising research-based school improvement strategies,” the principals wrote . “We are very concerned, however, that at the state level change is being imposed in a rapid manner and without high-quality evidentiary support. Our students, teachers and communities deserve better. They deserve thoughtful reforms that will improve teaching and learning for all students.”

Elmsford Union Free School District Superintendent Barbara Peters said she felt the new evaluations could help teachers “look at what we do and try to be better,” but also noted state officials “really have rushed this.”

“Change is never easy,” she said. “When you're moving from one system to another, you're generally trying to implement in steps and make sure people know and understand what's going to be included.”

Allan acknowledged that there needs to be a way to evaluate teachers, but said the new review process was too public. She especially took issue with rating first-year teachers.

“The rating of brand-new teachers and identifying them in their first few years of practice as basic—the high-stake reaction that that's going to cause to the public is a huge concern,” she said.

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