Regents factored out of teacher evaluations

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While Exams may play a large role in the lives of Townsend Harris students, until recently, the same could be said of their teachers.

Originally, 40% of a teacher’s evaluation score concerning efficiency came from a student’s standardized test score. 20% would come from state assessments such as the Regents exam and the other 20% would come from local exams including the New York City English Language Arts Performance Assessment. However, on December 14, the Board of Regents came to the decision to put a moratorium on the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations until the 2019-2020 school year. This development towards the end of the dubbed “test and punish” period has ignited discussion among both students and faculty.

In the previous system, any non-core subject that lacked a standardized test would be coupled with that of another subject.  Teachers who taught physical education, art, or language would in part be scored on the exams of an English class they had no part in.

Principal Anthony Barbetta described, “I agree with the [idea] that student test scores [shouldn’t] contribute to a teacher’s evaluation. For instance, physical education teachers are graded off of the English regents. The assessments did not correlate with the teachers.”

Mr. Barbetta further elaborated that this lack of correlation was one of the system’s flaws.

Spanish teacher Diana Villaverde agreed, saying, “The system we had in place for factoring teacher’s scores was a bit unfair because it’s basically not a teacher’s subject and they’re not teaching that group of students.”

It would come as a surprise to most that originally Governor Andrew Cuomo had been planning to raise the percentage from 20% to 50%. However, after the findings of his task force led by former school chancellor Dennis M. Walcott, it was visible that the system resulted in inaccurate ratings. Teachers were rated  on a scale of “ineffective,” “developing,” “effective” and “highly effective.” The system resulted in inaccurate ratings because of biased results where 96% of teachers were rated either effective or highly effective while “a little over 1 percent” were rated ineffective in 2014.

The new policy will include state test results for “advisory purposes” rather than playing such a large determining factor in grading a teacher.

Principal Barbetta responded, “I am totally opposed to the 50% honestly, because there is more to a child than a test score.”

Science teacher Shi Bing Shen stated, “I don’t know if the new policy will help or hurt the evaluations of the teachers in our school yet.”

Substitute teacher Kim Nitchman echoed Ms. Shen’s opinion, adding, “I think that it [removal of the regents score from teacher evaluations] makes perfect sense. It’s a much better choice because the problem was that it caused teachers and students to be stressed over tests, causing teachers to teach toward the test.”

“Teaching to the test” is something that has been brought up by many teachers. In the old system, classroom time would be dedicated to test prep at the cost of anything else that would be taught in favor of ensuring that a teacher and students score would be the best. Harrisites offer another outlook in the fact that teachers cannot be held entirely responsible for student test scores.

Sophomore Hannah McCluskey furthered this by describing, “Teachers should not be evaluated on student test scores because no matter how much they teach their students, how much a student actually studies and pays attention is out of their hands. Just because a student is unprepared doesn’t mean a teacher should be condemned for that.”

Junior Daniell Morales stated, “It is a student’s decision whether or not they wish to improve themselves within a specific subject.”

Some fear the complete uncoupling of student testing with teacher evaluation, such as  Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch,  who although was an original supporter of the system, voted against the moratorium. Mr. Barbetta concluded,“In New York, I think it’s a pause. I don’t think there will be such a heavy emphasis on the exams moving forward… hopefully we’ll come up with something better than that.”