Evaluation System Finds Few Teachers 'Inadequate' ; Buffalo's New Tool Falls Short on Some Measures

Article excerpt

Buffalo public school students consistently miss the mark, with the vast majority unable to read or do math at grade level. Most do not graduate on time.

But another group in the city schools almost universally meets the expectations the district has set for them: the teachers.

Only 48 out of the 3,191 teachers evaluated under the district's existing system in 2010-11 were considered "inadequate" and in need of an improvement plan.

"I think that's a high number," teachers union president Philip Rumore said. "Usually the weeding takes place during the [three- year] probationary period for new teachers."

But the results of the existing evaluations point to the need for a new system that the federal and state governments are demanding for teachers and principals, Interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon says.

"Everyone is adequate," she said of the current teacher evaluations.

The state and federal governments want new teacher evaluations that tie student growth to the evaluations in order to make teachers more accountable and ultimately improve student outcomes. The intent of the law is to tie a teacher's evaluation to students' growth in the subject they teach. Many teachers and union leaders counter that such changes will tie teachers' fates too closely to student test scores and further erode creativity in the classroom.

But a Buffalo News analysis of proposed changes to the Buffalo teacher evaluation system found that a teacher could still be considered adequate even in a high school class where only one- fourth of students pass the course.

This new evaluation agreement with the union is applicable only for 2011-12, and applies only to teachers in the six low- performing schools currently receiving federal improvement grants: South Park, Bennett, Riverside and Burgard high schools; and Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute and International School 45.

Under the new system:

*Teachers would independently negotiate with their principal their annual goals for the local measure of student achievement, meaning the measure of "adequate" would vary from one classroom to another.

This appears to run contrary to the state education commissioner's regulations, which indicate that locally determined measures of student achievement must be "comparable across classrooms." The same measure is supposed to be used "across a subject and/or grade level within the school district."

*Students who are absent more than 80 percent of the time would not be counted toward the student growth portion of a teacher's evaluation.

The one-sentence reference to student attendance is buried in the glossary of a revised version of the existing guidelines for the principal's observation of a teacher -- a document that is not designed to address student growth measures at all.

State officials have sent signals that they do not believe exceptions should be made for students with low attendance.

*The majority of every teacher's evaluation -- 60 percent -- remains based on the principal's observation of that person teaching. In some cases -- those whose subjects that are not tested by the state -- the classroom observation will account for 80 percent of the evaluation. For elementary teachers whose subjects are not tested by the state, student growth will be measured by schoolwide progress in math and English in fourth to eighth grade.

*A teacher who receives a poor evaluation would have 60 days to request an appeal. This is significantly longer than in some other districts. Under Syracuse's revised evaluation plan, for instance, teachers are given five days to request an appeal.

Buffalo's proposed teacher evaluation plan is silent on the issue of making allowances for teachers with a high percentage of special-education students or students whose native language is not English. …