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Lawmakers vote to cut tie between state test scores and teacher ratings

At a Meet the President event for District 79 members in Manhattan on Jan. 24, UJonathan FickiesAt a Meet the President event for District 79 members in Manhattan on Jan. 24, UFT President Michael Mulgrew discusses how the union’s work helped flip the state Senate and led to both houses of the Legislature voting overwhelmingly to end the requirement that state test scores be used in evaluating teachers in New York State. In a huge victory for the UFT, both houses of the state Legislature on Jan. 23 voted overwhelmingly to end the requirement that state test scores be used in evaluating teachers in New York State.

“This bill would not exist without us flipping the state Senate,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Our progress shows the power of a union, when members act collectively in pursuit of a common goal. Working together, public school educators and parents are helping to bring sanity, common sense and good educational policy back to New York State.”

It was a dramatic turnaround from eight months ago, when the same bill was held hostage by Senate Republicans who demanded the lifting of the charter cap and more money for charter schools in return for passing it.

UFT election volunteers in the city, working in concert with NYSUT members in the suburbs and upstate, got voters to the polls in November to elect more Democrats to the state Senate. In the 24 hours leading up to the critical vote in Albany, many UFT members responded to union text messages by calling their state senators, assuring the landslide vote in favor of the legislation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has to sign the bill into law; he included a version of the bill in his executive budget proposal in a show of support.

Under the new legislation, the question of whether to use state standardized tests in teacher ratings will become a subject of collective bargaining in each school district. The new guidelines apply not just to state English language arts and math tests in grades 3–8, but also to social studies and science exams and high school Regents.

The requirement that teacher evaluations be based in part on state ELA and math exams to rate teachers in grades 3–8 was adopted in 2015, but the public outcry against high-stakes testing and its use in teacher evaluations led the state to impose a three-year moratorium the following year. The moratorium was scheduled to end in June, though the state Board of Regents had already signaled that it would seek an extension while it researched alternative methods of teacher evaluation.

In June 2018, Brooklyn UFT members rallied outside state Sen. Martin Golden’s office in Bay Ridge to protest his opposition to the teacher evaluation bill.

“This is really important to me,” Thomas Pascarella, a chapter leader and 5th-grade special education teacher at PS 48 in Bensonhurst, said at the time. “We are not a number and our students are not just numbers — tests are not what make us teachers or make students learners.”

Andrew Gounardes defeated Golden on Nov. 6, 2018, to represent the 22nd New York Senate District, one of the key races that paved the way for Democrats to gain control of the state Senate.

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