New York delays use of test scores to grade teachers

New York education leaders on Tuesday suspended the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations for four years while the state revises the Common Core learning standards and related testing.

The moratorium approved by the policymaking Board of Regents in Albany was recommended by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Common Core Task Force last week and has been vigorously sought by teachers for much longer.

The measure sets up a transition period during which grades 3-8 math and reading scores will be used only on an advisory basis, rather than as a key component of annual performance reviews that can lead to teacher firings.

In the meantime, the state is expected to fulfill other task force recommendations to rewrite the Common Core learning standards and tests with input from New York teachers.

"Those recommendations opened the door for substantive change and an end to the state's test-and-punish mentality," said a statement from the New York State United Teachers union, which called the moratorium "an initial step."

Cuomo created the task force after an unprecedented 20 percent of New York public school students sat out of this year's statewide tests in protest of the high-stakes assessments and their toll on classroom time.

Anxiety over the tests has grown since their alignment to the higher Common Core standards that have been adopted by most states with a goal of better preparing students for college. Scores dropped dramatically with the first Common Core tests in 2012-13 and have changed little since then. About 31 percent of New York students scored proficient in English in April and about 38 percent were considered proficient in math.

At the same time, the state has moved to give more weight to student performance on the tests in mandatory annual teacher evaluations. Without the moratorium, assessments could count for as much as half of a teacher's grade.

A teachers group, Educators 4 Excellence, has argued for a cap of 35 percent for both state and local tests in evaluations, with the majority of a teacher's score to be based on the principal's observation.

Co-founder Evan Stone said in a statement Tuesday, "As New York considers its next step, it's important to remember what teachers really want, a system with high-quality tests and other metrics that can provide reliable and timely feedback for teachers about their work and give them a path to keep improving for their students.

"A delay is something teachers want," he said, "but is only helpful if it gets us to a place where all teachers feel that their evaluations are helping them to grow."

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Thompson reported from Buffalo, N.Y.

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