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Three Quarters Of NY School Districts Apply For Teacher Evaluation Rules Waviers

(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Three quarters of school districts in New York State have applied for waivers from the new teacher evaluation rules set out by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature in March. The news comes amidst lots of changes, including the leadership of the state Board of Regents.

According to the State Education Department, 420 of the state’s more than 700 school districts have been granted waivers. That means they can delay implementation of the controversial new teacher and principal evaluation system, which relies more heavily on standardized tests, for another year. 106 applications for a waiver are still pending. 19 school districts were initially denied waivers but have been asked to resubmit their paperwork and may still get permission for a delay.

The actions essentially roll back rules pushed by Cuomo, and approved by the legislature, as part of the state budget in March.

Carl Korn, a spokesman for the teachers union, New York State United Teachers, said the timeline was “unrealistic.”

“The process of designing a new evaluation system was complicated and convoluted and involved many moving parts,” said Korn, who said it’s “no surprise” that districts and their teachers unions “simply ran out of time.”

The new teacher evaluations allow districts to develop their own standardized tests, if they want to, to evaluate teachers. Korn said the state education department has not had the time in the past six months to approve those alternative tests.

Tim Kremer, with the New York State School Boards Association, said it’s a turning point in what’s become a battle between schools, teachers, parents, and New York’s elected leaders over standardized testing and its effects.

“I think there was some political statement taking place here.” Kremer said. “People are saying, ‘Enough of this. We keep changing the rules, then we have to go negotiate.’”

The mass granting of waivers to delay the new teacher rating system comes as political leaders, including President Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, are shifting away from an emphasis on standardized testing. The President and Duncan said recently they are dialing back on testing, and they admitted that the administration helped contribute to the over-testing of students.

And the Board of Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch, announced this week, several months before her term is up, that she won’t be running again. Tisch lead the push toward greater emphasis on standardized testing as well as a fast track to adopt the new Common Core learning standards. At the Regents’ monthly meeting, Tisch addressed critics who said she botched the roll out of Common core.

“Some people say it was too much at once, some even say it was implemented poorly,” Tisch said. “I say, we disrupted stagnation, we disrupted complacency, and we tried to imbue the system with urgency.”

Cuomo, who championed the new teacher evaluation system, and who has feuded publicly with teachers and their union, has also taken a step back. He created a new commission to reevaluate Common Core.

“We must fix it, and we must fix it now,” Cuomo said in a recorded announcement.

Cuomo also appointed a new deputy secretary for education, a schools superintendent from Westchester who is a Common Core critic.

Korn said a widespread boycott of the standardized tests last spring, where 20 percent of parents opted their children out of the tests, has also fueled changes.

“The pendulum on standardized testing is clearly swinging back,” said Korn. “Back in the right direction.”

Schools can re-apply for the waivers again next year, which could delay the implementation of the new ratings system for teachers as well as principals, for yet another school year.

Before that happens, though, Cuomo’s commission is due to issue its report in December, and the State Education Commissioner is also doing an independent review of Common Core and related issues. So it’s possible that the new rules could be reversed.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.