ALBANY, N.Y. April 16, 2014 - The Syracuse Teachers Association today challenged the way the State Education Department set growth scores for students who took last April's standardized tests, filing a lawsuit charging the state failed to adequately take into account the effects of poverty and, as a result, wrongly penalized teachers who work with the most disadvantaged students.
The suit filed in state Supreme Court in Albany by the STA and about 30 city teachers, and supported by New York State United Teachers, argues SED did not properly account for the devastating effects of student poverty on achievement when it set growth scores on state tests in grades 4-8 math and English Language Arts. In addition, the lawsuit said SED imposed rules for Student Learning Objectives and implemented evaluations in a way that made it more difficult for teachers of economically disadvantaged students to achieve a score of "effective" or better. As a result, the lawsuit alleges, the Regents and SED violated teachers' rights to fair evaluations and equal protection under the law.
Growth scores are computed by SED based on student performance on state standardized tests, and then factored into teacher evaluations.
About 80 percent of Syracuse students qualify for a free- or reduced-price lunch. In addition, Syracuse is one of the most under-funded districts in New York state, with city schools receiving $4,455 less per student than they would have received under the 2007-08 state budget agreement. The lawsuit alleges SED's failure to appropriately compensate for student poverty when calculating student growth scores resulted in about 35 percent of Syracuse teachers receiving overall ratings of "developing" or "ineffective" in 2012-13, even though 98 percent were rated "highly effective" or "effective" by their principals on the 60 points tied to their instructional classroom practices. Statewide, just 5 percent of teachers received "developing" or "ineffective" ratings while, in Onondaga County, an estimated 1.8 percent received ratings of less than "effective."
"Syracuse teachers should be heralded for their work helping some of the state's most vulnerable children learn. They should not be unfairly and inaccurately labeled based on state tests that have been totally discredited," said NYSUT President Karen Magee. "SED's formula for setting growth scores does not properly account for many factors - including poverty - that are beyond teachers' control."
STA President Kevin Ahern said Syracuse teachers welcome fair, accurate evaluations that help improve classroom instruction and student outcomes. "Our teachers are highly skilled, dedicated professionals who understand that good evaluations, fairly and accurately done, can be helpful. But SED's failure to properly calculate growth scores has been anything but fair and accurate - and it has resulted in tremendous harm to teachers who pour their hearts and souls into helping their students succeed."
The Syracuse lawsuit follows a similar suit filed last month on behalf of Rochester teachers.
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.
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