For parents and taxpayers pushing for school reform and debating the merits of teacher-evaluation systems, the state has unveiled an important new tool to simplify the solicitation of opinions.
It's an online initiative that comes on the heels of newly released guidelines for school districts to follow in implementing teacher evaluations.
It's hoped that parents and advocates who have been demanding accountability in our schools will get involved in education reform.
In a state where many levels of bureaucracy is the rule rather than the exception, we applaud the undertaking. Much too often, New York state has put up barriers to gaining citizen input, but in this case it has eliminated some of the hurdles that people have found frustrating over the years.
The state is now offering an expanded version of www.nystudentsfirst.com, which includes an interactive map tracking the implementation of the evaluation system in 696 individual school districts. It also includes a state-by-state comparison showing that New York's evaluation system is one of the toughest in the country.
Site visitors can sign up to receive information and alerts about their school district's progress in the process and how to contact their district regarding its progress.
School districts need to reach an agreement on teacher evaluations before the Jan. 16, 2013, deadline set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The evaluation model is based on multiple measures of performance, including student achievement and classroom observation. The state has $700 million riding on a "real and effective teacher evaluation system" through the federal Race to the Top program.
Here are some details of the plan, as provided by the state:
▶ Teacher performance: 60 points. A majority of teacher-performance points will be based on classroom observations by school administrators. The balance will be evaluated through more observation, child and parent feedback and student portfolios.
▶ Student achievement in state and local assessments: 40 points. Scoring will be based on 20 percent from state testing and 20 percent from a list of three testing options, including state tests, third-party assessment/tests and locally developed tests.
The premise is that tightening up the scoring system ensures student achievement and teacher performance are both taken into account for teacher ratings, which is a more fair way to assess quality than by basing it solely on test scores, which can be influenced by many factors.
A curve will also be assigned for the first time, a standard for school districts and teacher unions to set allocation points. A teacher will be assigned one of four ratings. The commissioner of the State Education Department has to approve local evaluation plans — and can disapprove those that are deemed insufficient.
We urge school communities to get involved in the process. The state website makes it easier.