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A new day for teacher evaluation

New York Teacher
Michael Mulgrew Headshot

Michael Mulgrew

What a difference a year — and an election — makes.

In mid-January, the state Assembly and Senate voted overwhelmingly for legislation that repeals the mandate that state test scores be used in teacher ratings. It awaits the signature of the governor, who included the bill in his proposed budget as a show of support.

The new law will go a long way toward ending New York State’s overreliance on standardized tests and return the issue of how student learning should figure in teacher ratings back to local school districts and collective bargaining, where it belongs.

It’s the same bill that Senate Republicans held hostage last spring, tacking on to it their demands for more funding for charter schools and a lifting of the charter cap. It was a nonstarter for the state Assembly, but it was clear that there could be no movement toward making the necessary changes to the teacher evaluation system without more supporters of public education in the state Senate. Your COPE contributions and volunteer work in the election helped pro-public education Democrats regain control of the state Senate in November.

Between our recent collective bargaining on teacher evaluation and this latest bill, we’re moving toward a system that no longer makes test scores the focal point of teacher evaluations. It’s all part of recasting the evaluation system as an opportunity to support the professional growth of teachers throughout their careers.

But we still have work to do on the observation side. Our new DOE-UFT contract limits the number of observations to a minimum of two informal observations for most teachers starting in the 2019–20 school year. The emphasis overall is on quality over quantity. Evaluations and supervisor feedback will come earlier in the school year as well, so teachers will benefit in real time.

In the old system, too many principals had little idea what observations should consist of or how they should be done. That’s why we insisted in the 2018 contract that both administrators and teachers should receive annual training in how observations should be carried out. The DOE-UFT professional learning team also will provide support to school-based professional development committees to ensure that school PD is aligned to the observations that have been conducted.

With these new provisions, teachers now have the opportunity to be participants in their professional development. And instead of judging and penalizing teachers, principals must focus on supporting their teachers’ professional growth.

This new approach to evaluation takes many teachers and principals out of their comfort zone. It requires conversation and collaboration — and trust.

We don’t want to go back to the old days, when the principal got to choose who was Satisfactory and who was Unsatisfactory based on subjective and inconsistent criteria known only to the principal. The days of using evaluation as a power play over teachers must come to an end if we are to move our schools forward.

We have long needed a New York City teacher evaluation system that does justice to the complex challenges teachers face in their classrooms, which vary widely from school to school. One size does not fit all when it comes to evaluating teachers who teach different subjects to different student populations in different settings.

This is the crux of the challenge now before us. Like every school district, New York City will have to build a teacher evaluation system that addresses its needs. There is no one evaluation system that serves all teachers effectively. You know your programs and students better than anyone, and we need your input to create an evaluation system that is fair and flexible.