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New State Teacher Evaluations Hike Concern

Long Island's school teachers continue to have serious concerns about a new, state-mandated evaluation system that seeks to tie their success to that of their students, leaders of several teacher unions said Tuesday.

They voiced reservations a day after the state Board of Regents voted unanimously to publish draft regulations for the new system, under which teachers and principals would be scored and given ratings from "highly effective" to "ineffective."

Vincent Lyons, Suffolk regional staff director for New York State United Teachers, questioned the proposed procedure's effectiveness.

"Teaching is both an art and a science, and I don't know how you calculate the art component," he said. "Having taught for 30 years myself, it is very hard to put into statistical data what a teacher does every day."

The Regents' final approval could come next month; once approved, the system would take effect in July. The evaluations would begin with about 52,000 teachers and other school workers statewide, and 7,000 on Long Island who work in grades 4 to 8, and eventually expand to about 250,000 teachers and school employees statewide.

Under the new system, 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation would be based on student performance, 20 percent based on improvement from the previous year's state tests and another 20 percent based on tests at the local level. The remaining 60 percent would be based on classroom observations or other work.

Kevin Pollitt, head of the Garden City Teachers' Association, said his district's current evaluation system is similar to the proposed process. Despite that, he and his fellow teachers wonder about the parameters for each rating.

"Where are the cutoffs for 'highly effective' or 'ineffective?' " he said. "Nobody has the answer to that yet. There are a lot of unknowns."

Joe Hogan, president of the Brentwood Teachers Association -- the second-largest in the state -- said the new system is similar to the one President Barack Obama outlined and that his union signed off on to secure funding through the "Race to the Top" initiative.

"I think it is a positive plan and I think once it is all done, it will prove to be invaluable," he said. It is too early to know if parents may ask for their children to be pulled from classrooms led by teachers who are deemed "ineffective," he said.

Hogan said he is concerned about the fairness of the evaluation. "Once that is in place, everything else will follow from there," he said.

Maria Neira, vice president of NYSUT, said it is critical that the profession and the Regents get this right.

"Our concern is the lack of details at this particular point, but we are supportive of the fact that we have to get away from the drive-by evaluations that we currently have," said Neira, who was a member of a state advisory task force on the new system.

She said the current evaluation process is "more of a check-off list" that "doesn't always capture what is going on in the classroom."

Neira said she wants a system that doesn't just ferret out bad teachers, but helps all educators become better.

"This is not a system to identify struggling teachers and get them out, but a system of improving student learning by supporting the teachers you have," she said.

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