Utica school board President Christopher Salatino might not need to win the race for the New York State Assembly’s 119th district to see part of his platform enacted.
The Assembly passed a bill with only one no-vote earlier this month that would end the mandatory use of state math and ELA assessments in third through eighth grade in teacher and principal evaluations.
Salatino fully supports severing evaluations and assessment scores.
“It’s just not fair, especially in a district like Utica where a large percentage of students are English as a second language or students with IEPs (individualized education plans),” he said.
Those students will skew the test results, presenting unfair challenges for teachers if their job performance is based on test scores, especially given the inadequate state funding the district receives, leading to large classes, he said.
“I think the diversity we have makes our district so great, but on the other hand, it creates an issue like this,” Salatino said.
His view is a common one in the area, backed by New York State United Teachers, many — possibly most — local teachers, other school board members and Salatino's opponent in the Democratic Assembly primary, Marianne Buttenschon.
“The goal is to ensure our students receive the best education possible. This mandate (to use assessments in evaluations) did not assist in achieving this goal. There needs to be input at the district level in the evaluation process,” Buttenschon said.
Education has traditionally been a local issue, she noted, and that makes sense because the state’s school districts are so diverse.
Although a companion bill in the Senate remains in committee, a spokesman for state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, a bill co-sponsor, said the senator hopes to see it move along before the session ends in five weeks, but that other issues and the desire for input from others, including the education commissioner and Board of Regents, could cause problems.
In 2015, the state adopted a new system to evaluate teachers and principals that required the use of state assessments in that process. That mandate has been one factor in the decision of many families to opt out of state testing. It proved so controversial that the state’s Board of Regents placed a four-year moratorium, ending at the end of the next school year, on the use of assessments in evaluations.
The new bill would make any kind of state-created or administered tests, including Regents exams, optional measures to be used in teacher and principal evaluations. It would also keep the results of third-to-eighth-grade assessments out of students’ permanent records.
“The primary concern for me, as a teacher and a parent, is the curriculum narrowing that occurs when evaluations are tied to standardized testing,” said Holly White, a seventh and eighth grade English teacher in the Hamilton Central School District. “When teachers’ job security is tied directly to their students’ performance on one test, they will, by necessity, spend much of the year focused only on skills and knowledge that will be tested.”
White also expressed concern in the discrepancy between low scores on state assessments and higher scores on Regents exams, a discrepancy she blamed on design flaws in the earlier assessments and in a lack of motivation for students taking the third-to-eighth-grade assessments. And that makes those assessments a particularly unfair measure of teacher effectiveness, she said.
Not everyone agrees, though, that state assessments shouldn’t be used in teacher evaluations.
“Teacher evaluation should be a tool to identify our strongest educators as well as those who need additional support,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust-New York, in a released statement. “To be meaningful, it must include whether students are achieving academic growth, among multiple measures.
“The current effort to permanently undermine New York’s teacher evaluation system takes us backwards, masks inequity and will lead to more and unnecessary testing. There is already a moratorium in effect and changes to the current system should be considered as part of the process the New York State Education Department has already outlined rather than by short-circuiting it.”
Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth).