New York’s largest teachers union is suing the state Board of Regents over the state’s new system for evaluating public-school teachers, a move that could derail plans by the city and hundreds of other school districts to start basing reviews on how well students perform on standardized tests.
In court papers filed in state Supreme Court late Monday, New York State United Teachers claimed that education officials violated the law when they gave school districts the option of assigning significantly more weight to state assessments in their annual reviews of teachers.
Under the law, teachers could lose their jobs if their students continually fail to improve their scores on state standardized tests.
The union, a labor federation representing hundreds of thousands of teachers, claims that the regulations handed down by the Board of Regents run afoul of the evaluation law, which lawmakers approved last year and is set to take effect in July.
The union’s suit is asking a judge to put the evaluation plan on hold until courts rule on whether it’s legal.
The state law laid out that 40% of a teacher’s evaluation score would be based on student achievement measures. The union last year resisted the legislation, which was a key component of the state’s winning bid for more than $700 million in federal “Race to the Top” grants.
New York told the federal government that the reviews would start this coming school year, beginning with most math and English teachers in grades four through eight. If the legal dispute postpones those plans, it’s possible the special grant money could stop flowing to New York.
The union claims that the law intended for the state assessments to account for no more than 20% of a teacher’s review. The remaining 20%, according to the union, was supposed to be based on other kinds of assessments, the terms of which would be subject to collective bargaining between districts and local unions. In May, though, the state school officials said districts could adopt an evaluation policy in which state assessments account for the entire 40%, instead of just 20%.
Unlike some other districts, New York City’s education department is expected to create its own assessment measures for that other 20%. But a ruling against the state could still disrupt the city’s plans to start using test scores as a basis for grading teachers.
A spokesman for the state education department said the rules complied with the law and create an “objective and expedited means of removing ineffective teachers from the classroom.”
“We feel very strongly that in putting it out there as an option, we were fulfilling a responsibility to school districts in a fiscally challenging moment,” said Merryl Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents. “I’m hoping that the matter will get resolved quickly, but you never know.”
School districts are supposed to collectively negotiate the terms of a grading system with their local unions and adopt a final plan as part of new contract agreements. That means in the fall, the law kicks in for about 300 local unions—representing about 60% of the state’s public teacher work force—whose contracts expire in July.