Education Reforms: A Big Disappointment to Some Experts

Teachers College at Columbia University (Natasha Josephine Payes/NY City Lens).

Teachers College at Columbia University (Natasha Josephine Payes/NY City Lens).

Among the big details in the New York state budget that passed last week was a change in how teachers will be evaluated. In short, it gives less weight to principals and more to outside evaluators and standardized tests. And education experts are not sure they like it.

Before the legislature passed the new budget, the factors that went into a teacher’s evaluation were 20 percent students’ test results, 20 percent local measures (a criterion used to help teachers with their instruction) and 60 percent qualitative measures such as an administrator observing a class. Cuomo has proposed the following: 50 percent of the evaluation will be based on students’ standardized test scores and the rest on observational measures conducted by a principal and an independent evaluator.

Some advocates and experts were pleased. “While there’s still more to do this session on charters and the education investment tax credit, and more to ensure every child has access to great schools, Governor Cuomo fought hard to make meaningful reforms to tenure, arbitration policies and teacher evaluation criteria and his vision and hard work paid off,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY, an advocacy organization for public school students.

Although some education experts like Sedlis praised Cuomo’s educational reforms, a number of others are dissatisfied.

“My sense is that this deal was struck at the eleventh hour, which happens in Albany,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor of education and sociology at Columbia University Teachers College.

This new evaluation plans calls for the removal of local measure assessments, said Pallas. What makes matters worse, critics like Pallas say, is that the observational measures—now divided between a third party and a principal—give substantially more weight to the independent evaluator instead of the principal, who is more familiar with his teacher’s instruction and students.

“It only takes one or two students to disrupt a class. If an independent observer comes to class that day, the teacher is screwed,” Pallas said.

Madhabi Chatterji, an associate professor of measurement, evaluation, and education at Columbia’s Teachers College, said standardized tests are not good indicators of effective pedagogy simply because the exams were designed to test students’ knowledge, not to test teacher’s effectiveness. Furthermore, what’s featured on a standardized test isn’t always aligned with what is taught in English and math classes—general domain subjects.

“A comprehensive measure that includes classroom observation, students’ test scores, the capacity of a teacher to design assessments, and student and parent surveys may be better indicators of effective pedagogy,” said Chatterji.