Summer 2011 Issue
June 28, 2011

NYSUT sues Regents, State Ed to block teacher evaluation regs

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

Charging that the Board of Regents and State Education Department commissioner have violated state law and exceeded their authority, NYSUT has filed a lawsuit asking the court to overturn problematic portions of the teacher evaluation regulations starting this fall.

"Unfortunately, by approving regulations that would circumvent collective bargaining and usurp local autonomy, the Board of Regents and State Ed ignored the very law they helped negotiate, as well as the expert advice of their own task force of practitioners," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi. "New York was poised to take the lead on a path to a thoughtful and comprehensive evaluation system developed in collaboration with teachers and other stakeholders. Instead, the Regents chose politics over sound policy and the cheap way over the right way."

The lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court in Albany on June 27, alleges that the Board of Regents, Chancellor Merryl Tisch and SED Commissioner John King acted beyond their authority by adopting regulations that are contrary to the statute approved by the Legislature and signed into law in May 2010.

Specifically, the Regents' regulations would allow school districts to double the weight for state assessments, or allow the use of student results on a single test to count for up to 40 percent of a teacher's annual evaluation.

The law clearly states that "20 percent is to be based on student growth data on state assessments ... or on comparable measures of student growth," and 20 percent on "other locally selected measures of student achievement that are determined to be rigorous and comparable across classrooms ... and are developed locally" through collective bargaining.

"Clearly this goes beyond the intent and letter of the law," Iannuzzi said. "Both the chancellor and the commissioner of education have previously cited flaws in the state's standardized tests, one of many reasons why the law explicitly limited their use in evaluations and requires the use of 'other' locally determined multiple measures of student achievement."

The Regents' 11th-hour changes in the regulations approved in May sparked outrage from a vast array of educators and testing experts, including open letters of opposition from nationally recognized researchers and New York state teachers of the year.

"Using standardized tests as 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be bad for students and teachers alike," said Richard Ognibene, 2008 New York State Teacher of the Year, who joined eight other teachers of the year to decry the regulations. "Testing is an important part of our profession, but it is only part. What we do in schools is incredibly complex and much of it cannot be measured with a #2 pencil."

In addition to the Regents' over-reliance on standardized tests, the lawsuit questions the legality of other provisions:

  • The Regents' regulations illegally address appeals procedures for teachers rated "ineffective" for two consecutive years, while the law specifies the appeals process is subject to collective bargaining;
  • The regulations improperly mandate the proportion of a teacher's evaluation that is to be based on classroom observations;
  • The regulations improperly limit how many points can be based on evidence of a teacher's professional growth;
  • The regulations empower the SED commissioner to order a corrective action plan that may require districts to use "independent," trained evaluators;
  • The regulatory scoring bands give disproportionate weight to standardized test results so a teacher could receive a composite rating of "ineffective" based on the results of a single standardized state test, no matter how well he or she performed on every other performance measure. This is contrary to the law's intent that the rating score "incorporates multiple measures of effectiveness."

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, in addition to Iannuzzi, are Islip Teachers Association President Gary Fernando; Jennifer Romer, president of the East Greenbush TA; and Shelly Packer, president of the Greenburgh Teachers Federation.

Each of the local union leaders would be subject to the new evaluation procedures and are involved in contract negotiations with their local districts.

NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said the statewide union and its locals are moving forward with collaborative efforts to employ collective bargaining to uphold the law and establish meaningful and fair evaluation systems. In an effort to help districts proceed with ongoing negotiations, Neira said the union is sharing its field-tested work with five labor-management teams involved with NYSUT's Innovation Initiative. The teams are piloting a comprehensive teacher evaluation model that is fair, rigorous and encourages professional growth.

NYSUT submitted its Innovation Initiative teacher practice rubric to SED for approval as one of many options available to all school districts to meet new APPR regulations starting this fall.

"While the Regents' actions are contrary to the language and intent of the law," Neira said, "we're still committed to a system that will strengthen instruction, support local autonomy and model best practice by using multiple measures to assess student learning and teacher effectiveness."