A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by these actions and programs. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, people who have been re-assigned from their life and career. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
A Bronx performing arts school’s dance instructor will be
judged on students’ English exam scores. Physical education teachers at a
transfer school in Brooklyn are going to teach Olympic history lessons to
prepare students for the history tests that will help determine their ratings.
And teachers in Queens are putting the fate of their evaluations into a final
exam that they don’t teach, but yields high pass rates.
The scenarios are not unusual — across the city this
year, thousands of teachers will be rated in large part based on test scores of
subjects and students that they do not teach.
Rather, the scenarios are examples of how schools have
tried to comply with a new teacher evaluation system that must factor student
performance into final ratings. They also represent how the original purpose of
the evaluations, to differentiate teachers’ effectiveness, has been squeezed by
restrictive state laws, limited resources, and a tight timeline for
“It’s insane to me that 40 percent of my evaluation is
going to be based on someone else’s work,” said Jason Zanitsch, a high school
drama teacher who will share the same “student growth” score with colleagues in
his school this year.
An incomplete evaluation system, implemented rapidly
Sixty percent of teachers’ ratings this year will come
from observations by administrators. The state’s evaluation law mandates
that the remaining 40 percent come from a combination of state tests and
assessments chosen by each district, whose scores are all crunched to determine
But neither kind of test exists for Zanitsch and other
drama teachers, at least this year. They are among the thousands of city
teachers for whom the state has not approved any way to measure student
learning. They include librarians, 5,000 physical education and arts
teachers, and others who teach foreign languages, health, and career
New York City principals had until the first day of
school last week to choose from a menu of limited options,first
made available in early August, for evaluating their teachers on student
growth. Principals and teachers told GothamSchools that their schools have
picked a ”default” option in which all teachers — even core subject
teachers — will receive the same score cobbled together from all of the state
tests taken in the school.
“What we are advising most of our schools and principals
this year is since the principal’s rating is based on how their school
collectively is doing, just take the default, especially since it means the
minimum of extra work and testing for everyone,” said a person who works in a
network with many high schools.
The arrangement has drawn a lawsuit in Florida and criticism from dozens of city
principalswho last week pledged not to help execute it. But in
lieu of state-approved assessments for all subjects, officials say rating
teachers by their colleagues’ scores is the best option available until more credible
alternatives can be developed.
“If the legislature had wanted us to be fully compliant
at the outset, they would have put in place a massive funding program to
support assessments to support every single subject,” said Shael
Polakow-Suransky, the Department of Education’s chief academic officer. “But
they decided to have a statewide evaluation system in place and then to build
it from there.”
Looking on the bright side
Some principals and teachers say the arrangement could
“It absolutely encourages collaboration,” said Vinnie
Zarillo, a social studies teacher at Brownsville Academy High School whose
students’ scores will influence the school’s physical education teachers’
ratings as well as his own. He said he is already talking to his colleagues
about how to add lessons to P.E. classes about athletics’ role in world
Theatre Arts Production Company Principal Ron Link, whose
teachers will be rated using results from the English Regents, said the
school-wide approach meshed with how teachers already worked together on the
school’s end-of-year theater productions. But Link also wondered if
eventually it could lead the curriculum to narrow.
“Is it teaching to the test? I don’t know,” Link said. “I
think we’re lucky here at TAPCO because we were already doing the infusion part
with arts teachers working with the English and the social studies teacher on
Concerns about testing’s role
But the silver lining doesn’t sit well with everyone
who has been told to look for it.
“I want my art teacher to teach students to make and
analyze art. I don’t want them to teach mathematical modeling. That’s why I
have a great algebra teacher,” said a Brooklyn high school principal, who asked
to remain anonymous because she did not want to criticize the evaluation system
publicly. The principal added, “The best that I can see coming out of this
is that no harm is done.”
“The administration is saying it is teamwork and we are
all in this together, but I don’t feel comfortable being graded based on how
the other teachers in my school [are] preparing students for their tests,” a
forensic science teacher told GothamSchools. The teacher, who said
her evaluation will be partially based on her students’ Living Environment
Regents exam scores, requested anonymity because she feared retribution.
Department officials concede that the situation is far
from ideal but say it’s the best they could have done under the state’s
timeline for implementing the new evaluation law. Polakow-Suransky suggested
that teachers could find solace in the fact that the city did not introduce
more required tests, as some had worried that the new evaluation system would
do. But he also noted that several schools are piloting arts assessments
funded by federal grants and signaled that schools could have the option
to add tests in the future.
“We’re not going to go out and invent a bunch of multiple
choice-tests for gym classes. It’s a waste of time,” he said. “We are working
hard to develop new assessments that would be useful” for teachers.
Lumping teachers together, instead of telling them apart
For now, educators are pondering the implications of an
arrangement that groups teachers together rather than distinguishes their
“If you have two or three really not-so-great teachers
and you take the default, all those teachers are going to get effective or
highly effective,” the network official said. “On the flip side, if your school
does badly overall on the Regents this year, some really good teachers are
going to get screwed.”
Some principals say they tried to mitigate against those
possibilities by hinging teachers’ ratings on their colleagues whose students
have done well in the past.
“I’m going to try to game it in little ways, [to] tie it
to where we think we’re going to get some good performance,” said the Brooklyn
high school principal.
“We picked based on past performance,” said Moses Ojeda,
principal of Thomas Edison Career and Technical Education High School, where
many teachers work in technology subjects.
But those choices, designed to protect teachers, lead to
questions about the meaningfulness of the ratings that the new evaluation
system will produce.
One teacher who will be rated based on his own students’
scores said the fact that exams in his subject would factor into the scores of
his colleagues who teach other subjects would cause him to question all of
their ratings. “If you create a system which will work only if
administrators don’t follow the rules, it’s a bad system,” he said.