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New York City Seeks Teacher Evaluation Waiver LINK
New York City applied for a waiver on Monday from the state's newly revised teacher evaluation law so its changes would be ready for the 2016-17 school year.
The move came after state officials allowed waivers for school districts that wanted more time to implement rules approved last spring by the state legislature and the Board of Regents. The city's new deadline for submitting a plan to Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia would be March 15, 2016, instead of November of this year.
"We want to make sure that our teacher development and evaluation system is high quality and works best for students, teachers and school communities as a whole," said Devora Kaye, spokeswoman for the Department of Education. "Learning to implement a brand new system of teacher development and evaluation at this time would not be best for students and school communities."
The state's new rules were approved after Gov. Andrew Cuomo complained that too few teachers received the lowest ratings under the previous evaluation system; he pushed the state to give more weight to student test scores. Many teachers, school superintendents and parents then cried foul, saying the process was rushed.
(Here are the new regulations with an outline of the changes over the last few years.)
“Commissioner Elia has made it clear all along that districts need to get this right. We’d rather have them request a waiver and work to get this done than to rush into an agreement,” said Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the state’s education department.
Evan Stone, the co-founder and co-CEO of a teacher group called Educators 4 Excellence, said his group wanted the city to take the time needed for a smooth transition.
"We have heard from teachers citywide, and what too often gets overlooked is their reasonable interest in pursuing new and improved policies but their understandable frustration over constant change," he said in a statement. "We should take the time to do this work right."
The commissioner, who took office in July, addressed other concerns about the evaluations and testing on Monday afternoon at the New York State School Boards Assocation's annual convention, held in a midtown hotel.
She emphasized that she's already granted hardship waivers for small school districts from a provision requiring them to hire outside evaluators to observe their teachers at work. She also promised the state's third through eighth grade math and reading tests in April would be shorter than this year's test.
Elia, who is currently leading a review of the Common Core standards, reiterated her support for higher standards. She said tests can help teachers address their pupils' weaknesses. In a nod to the 200,000 students who opted out of this year's tests, she also said she understood the concerns of many teachers and families.
"Parents in the state have a right to not to have their children participate in assessments," she said, adding that she hoped families would support the tests once they see that they aren't meant to hurt teachers.
Elia urged parents, teachers and superintendents to participate in a survey she's conducting of the standards that will go up on her department's website later this week. Recommendations will then be made to the Regents in January, to be adopted later in 2016.
Several audience members asked Elia why she couldn't just halt the use of both the standards and the Common Core tests until she's done with her review. Michael Hynes, superintendent for the Patchogue Medford school district on Long Island, said it feels like "the road is being paved as we're moving forward."
Elia said the federal government wouldn't allow her to suspend the standards or tests.
"But I can tell you I will be very vocal in what I think is appropriate," she said, adding a note of encouragement. "I also know that as a leader you really can make a difference in what's happening in your districts."