explainer

New state evaluation framework leaves much up to local districts

Teachers can expect unannounced observations to factor into their annual ratings under the terms of the evaluations agreement that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today.

The unannounced observations are one of several ways that the State Education Department and state teachers union, NYSUT, agreed to flesh out the state’s 2010 evaluation law, seen as so open-ended as to stymie implementation.

The agreement, which Cuomo is set to turn into law through the state budget amendment process, resolves some major points of contention while continuing to leave many elements of districts’ evaluation system subject to local collective bargaining. Districts and their unions have until the end of 2012 to turn the framework into a local evaluation system, or risk losing state aid.

The framework hews to the broad contours of the 2010 teacher evaluation law: 20 percent of ratings will be based on a calculation of student growth based on state test scores; 20 percent will be based on other assessments that are decided locally; and 60 percent will come from subjective measures such as observations, also decided upon locally. Teachers will still receive a score between 0 and 100 and a rating ranging from “ineffective” to “highly effective.” But there are new constraints.

In a major win for the state, teachers whose students show no academic growth will get an “ineffective” rating, even if the rest of their evaluation is strong. The evaluation law had not provided for such a circumstance.

The 20 percent of ratings that are supposed to come from local assessments had been the most obvious point of contention between SED and NYSUT. Last year, NYSUT sued the state after Cuomo pressed the Board of Regents to double the weight of student test scores in teachers’ evaluations. Today’s agreement does allow districts to use state test scores for the local assessments — as long as their calculation of student growth isn’t based on the same formula as the state’s.

For example, districts could crunch the state’s numbers to show the growth of students in high-needs groups, or they could calculate an entire school’s test score climb to complement that of a single teacher’s students. Districts can also elect to use assessments produced by third-party vendors or create their own assessments, something the city had been working on when teacher evaluation negotiations fell apart at the end of December. Today’s agreement gives the state the right to vet the rigor of local assessments.

Richard Iannuzzi, NYSUT’s president, said the agreement announced today adequately constrained the role of test scores.

“While there is a place for standardized testing in measuring teacher effectiveness, tests must be used appropriately,” he said in a statement.

The agreement also clarifies the role of observations in a teacher’s rating. Previously, the evaluation law didn’t actually say that teachers would have to be observed as part of the evaluation process. The new framework guarantees that at least 31 percent of the ratings is based on at least two observations by principals. One of those observations must be unannounced, something that teachers unions have long opposed.

The agreement also bolsters the role of the state education commissioner. Now, the commissioner will have the right to reject local evaluation systems on grounds other than whether they simply comply with the state law. Systems that appear to crafted outside the spirit of the law — to make evidence of student growth a crucial component of teacher ratings — are also subject to rejection.

And the commissioner is also getting the right to evaluate teachers if he or she suspects their districts are not doing a good job.   The provision is meant as a safeguard against the current reality, in which virtually all teachers across the state receive “satisfactory” ratings each year even as student achievement results suggest that schools have a great deal of room to improve. State officials said they had no goals for the number of teachers who receive low ratings under the new system and did not anticipate stepping in to issue new evaluations for individual teachers in most cases.

Today’s agreement represents a substantial narrowing of the world of possibilities under the state’s evaluation law. But much of what will actually make up teachers’ ratings remains up to negotiation between local districts and their unions. Both the local assessments and the subjective measures other than observations must be bargained. Negotiations will direct what observation model principals when watching teachers in their classrooms. And, of course, districts and their unions will have to agree on the appeals process for teachers who get low ratings. That element had been the sticking point in New York City, and a separate deal on that front announced today won’t go into effect until all of the other pieces fall into place.

For the hundreds of school districts across the state that had actually come to an agreement on new teacher evaluations, the framework is sending them back to the negotiating table. Their deals will remain in place for the remainder of this school year, but next year they will have to set new evaluation systems that match the state’s updated framework.

headcount

New York City school workforce grows, driven by 40 percent rise in teaching assistants

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
A teaching assistant worked with a pre-K student in East Harlem in 2014.

New York City’s public-school workforce grew 8 percent over the past decade, according to a new report, driven largely by the rising number of teaching assistants who work with preschool students and students with disabilities — two populations whose numbers have risen even as overall student enrollment declined.

The education department employed about 131,200 people this June — an increase of 10,200 workers since July 2007, according to an analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office released Tuesday. The expansion comes even as student enrollment in district-run schools fell by 1.5 percent, or some 15,300 students, during that same period, the report notes.

While the number of teachers remained basically flat during that time, the department added nearly 8,600 additional teaching assistants, or “paraprofessionals,” as they’re known within the school system — an increase of over 40 percent.

“This is a story about the use of paraprofessionals — that’s the main thing,” said Yolanda Smith, a senior IBO analyst who prepared the report.

The majority of the paraprofessionals who were added during that period work with students with disabilities. Teachers union officials attributed the increase to a citywide effort since 2012 to place more students with disabilities in classrooms alongside their general-education peers, often with the support of a paraprofessional. (An education department spokesman said students are assigned paraprofessionals based on their unique needs.)

Nearly 2,000 of the paraprofessionals hired over the past decade work in pre-kindergarten classrooms, which are required to have both an assistant and a teacher. The number of assistants spiked after 2014, when Mayor Bill de Blasio rapidly expanded the city’s pre-K program.

Full-time paraprofessionals with a high school degree earn a starting salary of around $22,000. While the number of paraprofessionals focused on special-education and preschool students grew during this period, those assigned to general-education classrooms declined by roughly 1,100.

At the same time, the ranks of other school workers expanded 22 percent during this 10-year period. Those more than 2,200 additional employees include nurses, occupational and physical therapists, and “parent coordinators,” who answer families’ questions and help organize school events.

The number of teachers, principals, and assistant principals barely budged over that period, adding just over 500 additional workers. Union officials noted that there was a teacher hiring freeze from 2009 to 2014, but said that in recent years any new hires were essentially balanced out by teachers who retired or chose to leave the system.

Education department spokesman Will Mantell said in a statement: “We’re focused on recruiting and retaining talented staff that meet the needs of New York City students and families.”

Human Resources

A minimum salary for Colorado teachers? State officials may ask lawmakers to consider it.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

As part of a broad plan to increase the volume of high-quality teachers in Colorado, state officials are considering asking lawmakers to take the bold step of establishing a minimum teacher salary requirement tied to the cost of living.

Officials from the state departments of education and higher education are finalizing a list of recommendations to address challenges to Colorado’s teacher workforce. Pressing for the legislation on teacher salaries is one of dozens of recommendations included in a draft report.

The report, assembled at the request of the legislature, also proposes a marketing campaign and scholarships to attract new teachers to rural areas.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Education said they would not discuss the recommendations until they’re final. However, the department earlier this month briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed recommendations in advance of the Dec. 1 deadline for it to be finalized.

The impending report — based on thousands of responses from educators, students and other Colorado residents in online surveys and town halls across the state — is a sort of first step for the state legislature to tackle a problem years in the making. Since 2010, Colorado has seen a 24 percent drop in the number of college students graduating from the state’s traditional teacher colleges. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment in those programs.

Residency programs, which place graduate students in a classroom for a full year with an experienced teacher, and other alternative licensure programs have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. But those programs produce far fewer teachers and can’t keep up with demand.

Colorado faces a shortage of teachers in certain subjects, regions and schools, and circumstances vary. Math and science teachers are in short supply: Only 192 college students in 2016 graduated with credentials to teach those subjects. The same year, 751 students left with a degree to teach elementary school.

And rural schools have had an especially hard time finding and keeping teachers.

Here’s a look at what the state departments are considering recommending, based on the presentation from education department officials to the state board:

Provide more and better training to new — and veteran — teachers.

Colorado schools are already required to offer some sort of induction program for new teachers. This training, which lasts between two and three years, is supposed to supplement what they learned during college.

For the last two years, the state education department has been pushing school districts to update their programs. The recommendations in the report could kick things up a notch.

The education departments are asking for updated induction requirements to be written into statute and more money to be provided to districts to pay for the training.

The draft report also calls for more more sustained training for veteran teachers, including competitive grant programs.

An additional suggestion is to create a program to train teachers expressly to teach in rural classrooms.

Increase teacher compensation and benefits.

This will be a hard pill to swallow. According to the presentation to the state board, the education departments want to call on lawmakers to set a minimum salary for teachers based on the school district’s cost of living.

The presentation to the board lacked specifics on how lawmakers and school districts could accomplish this. One board member, Colorado Springs Republican Steve Durham, called it a “mistake” to include such a recommendation.

Keeping up with the rising cost of living is a challenge. A new report shows new teachers in the state’s three largest school districts couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

“We hope the report itself is going to talk a lot the cost of living — that’s what we heard from our stakeholders across the field,” Colleen O’Neil, the education department’s executive director of educator talent told the state board. “They literally were not able to meet the cost of living because their salaries did not compensate them fairly enough to find housing.”

Other suggestions the report might highlight to improve teacher compensation include loan forgiveness, housing incentives and creating a differentiated pay scale for teachers — something teachers unions staunchly oppose.

Help schools better plan for hiring and send teachers where they’re needed.

One short-term solution the state is considering recommending is allocating more resources to help schools plan for teacher turnover. This includes providing incentives for teachers to notify school leaders about their plans to leave the classroom earlier.

The education departments are also suggesting the state increase the number of programs that can help teachers get licensed in more than one subject at a time. Other ideas include offering scholarships to potential teachers to complete licensing requirements for content areas that are lacking viable candidates — likely math and science — and providing transportation and technology stipends for rural teachers.

Make the teaching profession more attractive.

Teachers “feel they’re not treated like professionals,” O’Neil told the board. So the education departments want the legislature to allow them to partner with private entities to launch a marketing campaign to lift the profile of teaching as a career in the state.

The education departments also hope the legislature considers creating more opportunities for middle and high school students to consider teaching as a viable career path. This could include reinvigorating the state’s Educators Rising program, a program for high school students interested in teaching.