Home / Opinion / Majority: Don’t tie teacher pay to tests

Majority: Don’t tie teacher pay to tests

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll oppose Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to base 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations on how their students perform on state exams.

Cuomo has declared this is the year to bring “dramatic reform” to New York’s education system. He has proposed changes designed to “strengthen teacher evaluations, reward excellent teachers and transform the state’s failing schools.”

The centerpiece of his plan is an overhaul of teacher evaluations. He maintains the current systems used by schools are “baloney” because, for example, nearly 99 percent of high school teachers are rated effective, yet only 38 percent of New York high schools students are college-ready. (In Monroe County, 0.5 percent of more than 8,600 teachers were rated ineffective last year.) Cuomo would eliminate local exams—“to reduce the over-testing of students”—and base 50 percent of the teacher evaluation on state exams, up from 20 percent.

Among his other proposals: tenure would be granted only when a teacher achieves five consecutive years of effective ratings; a district would be allowed to remove a teacher after two ineffective ratings; and any teacher who receives a “highly effective” rating would get $20,000 bonus.

Cuomo has tied his reform plan to his budget proposal, and 72 percent oppose this linkage. The budget proposal contains a $377 million increase in state aid to schools, an amount that would be hiked to $1.1 billion if the Legislature passes his plan.

Among the critics of the governor’s plan is the New York State United Teachers union, whose president, Karen Magee, described it as “intellectually hollow rhetoric that misrepresents the state of teaching and learning.”

NYSUT criticized Cuomo for making the $1.1 billion aid increase “contingent upon lawmakers approving a vicious ‘reform’ agenda that would gut tenure and collective bargaining, double down on high-stakes testing and shortchange public higher education.”

Nearly 575 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted March 24 and 25.

Do you support or oppose Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to base 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations on how their students perform on state exams?
Support: 35%
Oppose: 65%

Should a $1.1 billion increase in state aid to schools be contingent upon passage of Cuomo’s education plan?
Yes: 28%
No: 72%




Cuomo’s agenda unfairly targets teachers for poor student performance, especially in urban, poverty-stricken districts. A teacher can be highly effective, even if his students cannot pass the exams, because they arrive in the classroom so far behind that it is impossible for anyone to catch them up in one year. Tremendous progress can be made, but it may not result in higher test scores. The problem is poverty, not poor teachers. Also, rewarding “highly effective” teachers with $20,000? How are we going to pay for that? It will only serve to pit teachers against each other. Not healthy for schools.

—Mary Lou Wilson, Fisher Yates Communications


End state aid to schools and return to 100 percent local funding. State “aid” has led to state control and manipulation of school districts. School boards say their hands are tied, because they must do this or that in order to receive state funding. It’s time to bring power and control back to each local district.

—Todd VanHouten


Cuomo’s plan is based on his hedge fund friends wanting to get their hands on education money. The state tests are flawed. They are above children’s developmental level. Do you realize that kindergarten students are expected to know what a hexagon and parallelogram are? What a tremendous waste of resources for districts to pay for all of this testing. Of course Pearson Corp. is making millions. They refuse to release their tests for the amount of errors on them. Remember “Pineapplegate”? They fixed that by putting a gag order on teachers. School districts have been starved by Cuomo’s policies.

—Dawn Hohmann, RCSD science teacher


No other certified profession is held hostage to the whims of politicians the way teaching is.

—Christine Corrado


Gov. Cuomo should end his war on teachers. And he should adopt an education plan that is more likely to succeed—one that supports excellence in teaching and tackles poverty.

—Brian Kane


The issue is not failing schools and bad teachers throughout the state—it is failing schools in our large metropolitan areas. The problem is not the teachers but poverty. The social issues need to be addressed if you want to have improved school performance.

—Steve Heveron-Smith


Teacher turnover rate is about 23 percent in the first five years of teaching. In addition, in New York, teachers are required to obtain a master’s degree and get professional development to maintain their certification. This—and not a “baloney” rating system—is why so many teachers rate effective. When principals or directors are evaluating, they want the best people in their building. The fact is, teachers are all for an evaluation system that is a true measure; 50 percent based on Pearson tests that don’t take child development into account is a very poor measure.

—John Tuttle, Rush-Henrietta Central School District


What will another $1.1 billion do for the schools? We’ve had never-ending increases in school and education spending for decades and what are the results? Increasing dissatisfaction with school performance! How about disbanding the federal and state departments of education (and all their unfunded mandates), eliminating Common Core and turning control of education over to the local communities and school boards, where it belongs. Our local monies get sent to Washington and Albany and then we have to either beg or conform to standards being set there in order to get part of our money back. How about leaving it here in the first place? Maybe the best government is the most local. At least it is more accountable and easier to influence!

—Keith Robinson, Diamond Packaging


The over-emphasis on standardized tests is unacceptable to parents and teachers. There is zero research to establish that these tests are reliable in measuring teacher performance and impact on student learning in any useful way. Why increase the weight of measures that don’t work? Changing the “weight” of standardized tests to 50 percent would take employment decisions out of the hands of local school boards. These proposals are bad for students, schools and teachers.

—Tom Gillett, NYSUT


Since when did Gov. Cuomo become an expert in the field of education? Yes, get rid of the state exams! The students have to practice review of these tests for weeks just so they can understand the questions being asked. Why not get rid of either the Regents or the Board of Education? You would think, with two organizations overseeing the schools, New York should have the best schools in the United States. Why not make some real changes and redevelop the curriculum to a more “project-based, hands-on method of learning.” Not every student is interested in learning by spitting back facts. Bring back learning in the trades. After high school, they could become apprentices in their field. Getting paid and learning on the job. These students would be able to find work right away, make a decent salary and not have the tremendous debt that most students end up with after their college degree. Students should not be judged a failure because they didn’t go to college. Students should be judged on whether they are productive citizens of


—Jennifer Apetz


Our school system has fallen apart due to the lack of parental involvement, from what I have seen since graduation in the ’80s. I was taught to respect the teachers. I can tell you that there is not much of that respect from most of the students or parents. A teacher’s hands are tied without the support of the parents. How can you penalize the teachers when you give them no authority and expect so little from the parents?

—David DeMallie


Stop beating up the teachers! It seems that everyone is an expert on education these days. If Mr. Cuomo or any of these “experts” had spent one day teaching a class they might have an ounce of credibility, but they don’t. I taught in public schools for six years and never worked harder in my life! Today, teachers have to deal with clueless school boards, transitory superintendents, dysfunctional parents, violent students, drug addiction, the threat of lawsuits and legislators who know supposedly know more about teaching than teachers. Gee, I wonder why young people are reluctant to pursue an education degree these days!

—John Gleason, Gleason Fund Raising Consultants


Any informed person understands that these tests are not a valid way to evaluate students or teachers. If Cuomo actually cared about education he would rely on experts in the field, but it has been clear for a long time that he has a very different agenda—one that includes starving schools of funding unless he gets his way.

—Mike Zobel


There are countries where teachers are respected; unfortunately, the United States of America isn’t one of them. And now New York seems headed toward an anti-teacher corner created by anti-union folks. Teaching to achieve high test scores serves neither the student nor the schools. With classroom discipline requiring more of a teacher’s time, and parents looking for a scapegoat when “Jr.” doesn’t know anything but TV shows, I don’t support making 50 percent of a teacher’s rating come from a single number. If we rated political figures based on that basis we’d pretty quickly empty Albany. I am not a teacher, but I am a grandparent, and I vote “No” on this entire proposal.

—Wayne Donner, Rush


Cuomo sent his children to private schools and does not understand our public school system. Teachers’ pay should not be based upon test results where the teacher does not control the environment the child is coming from the day of the test. There are so many non-teacher related variables that may affect how a child performs on a test—the child may be ill, may not have gotten enough sleep the night before, or may have gotten into an argument with a parent, sibling or another child on the bus on the way to school. The impact of the environment the child lives in is not taken into account. Additionally, there is a system in place for dealing with ineffective teachers. The problem probably isn’t ineffective teachers as much as it is ineffective administrators who do not follow the procedure in place to either improve the performance of ineffective teachers or terminate them. Going after the teachers may score political points, but it misses the mark. Cuomo should start with evaluating superintendents and administrators who are supposed to weed out ineffective teachers. Cuomo’s proposal makes no sense and is not based upon empirical data.

—George Schell Jr.


This is a tough issue. The governor’s top-line evaluation is logical. How can so many students be failing while teachers are evaluated so highly? Yet, in my heart of hearts, I think that too many people are trying to stand between teachers and their students. The governor’s statistics should cause us to be concerned. But his solution doesn’t take into account the other socioeconomic factors that limit the success of the urban poor. Separately, I don’t support the increase in the school budget for a different set or reasons. Rochester City School District receives nearly $20,000 per student per year from Albany. Or, put another way, $500,000 for a classroom of 25 students. Teachers are still underpaid and many have to buy school supplies for their students. So, where is all that money going? Let’s get an accounting of the wasteful habits of school administrators (and maybe reduce the number of administrators) before we shower more money on the district.

—John Calia, Fairport


Nobody ever explains the method for grading teachers like I would get for how I’m going to be graded for a class I take. Show me the sources for the scores for the teachers and the math to figure out their score. Since nobody is interested in talking about it, I imagine that both sides are exaggerating.

—Damian Kumor


Although I’m not a big fan of the teachers’ unions, it’s simply unrealistic to rate teacher performance on student test results. Common Core should be used as a diagnostic tool to target remediation for both students and teachers. In fact, I believe the entire antiquated education system needs to be retooled to meet the needs of the 21st century. We need smaller class sizes, much greater support from parents and the community (neighborhood schools), better in-school student support (social workers and psychologists) much more support for teacher development and on and on. Money and evaluations alone won’t solve the problem and everyone pointing fingers at everyone else is not a solution either. I know Gov. Cuomo is frustrated and the teacher unions are angry, but we all need to take a step back and do a thorough and objective assessment, define realistic expectations and look forward, not backward.

—Frank Orienter, Rochester


If the unions are against it, the proposal must be good for the students and taxpayers. There has to be a way to get rid of bad teachers. It should be at least partly objective. The “big lie” from union leaders is: “We want what is best for the students.” The union’s sole purpose is to protect the teacher. In every situation the union will fight to protect the union member, no matter how bad the performance, no matter how many children are hurt by the poor teaching. Progress in education slowed to a crawl, when the teachers got a union.

—Dennis Ditch


I do not think that 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations should be based on how their students perform on state exams nor that $1.1 billion increase in state aid to schools be contingent upon passage of Cuomo’s education plan. As in any field, there are some teachers who are not doing a good job. Their evaluation should impact them only. Today’s teachers do not have an easy job. They give of their own time, their own money and most go out of their way to help all of their students. This sometimes includes helping with food and clothing. They are always under the microscope for everything that they do. How can good teachers be blamed for students who do not show up for class, do no homework and then do not pass tests? The advertisement on television showing Cuomo sitting at the table with one of his children may happen in his home and did happen in mine, but most students who do not do well do not have that advantage. Help needs to start at home. The teachers are not at fault, just someone to blame.

—Mary Ann Kellman, mother of two wonderful teachers


The governor opens his argument with a false premise. It’s simply not true that New York schools are failing. In fact, some of the top-rated schools in the nation are located in New York. The governor has no credentials in the field of education and no private sector management experience. He is wrong about the cause of performance problems in our urban schools; his performance evaluation process deserves nothing but a failing grade. The man is not qualified to be meddling in our education system. The urban districts that are struggling will suffer further under the governor’s proposal, as no teachers will apply to teach in districts where the influence of poverty, disengaged parents and/or limited resources are guaranteed to impact test scores. School districts have historically been under local control. Ceding that control to the state puts all the children of New York at risk.

—Juli Klie, Veritor


The current system is obviously not working when only 0.5 percent of teachers were rated ineffective. Common sense and personal experience tell you that number is too low. Tenure should be eliminated, and the teacher observation system should be overhauled like Michigan’s was. Getting a $20,000 bonus for doing your job is ridiculous and unaffordable! However, great teachers should be paid a salary that is based on their performance, not their years of service.

—Karen Zilora, Creative Scanning Solutions Inc.


Obviously this is a “damned-if-you-do, and damned-if-you-don’t” issue. One thing is sure, there is no denying that a 99 percent approval rating with a less than 42 percent graduation rate is not sustainable.

—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield


I did almost fall out of my chair when I saw a proposed $20,000 bonus for “highly effective” rating, but that aside, I remain concerned about high-stakes testing and tying someone’s ability to make a living based on how children do on these tests. Family circumstances, socioeconomics and the poor structure of schools make teaching so difficult, sometimes I can’t imagine why someone would want to teach for a living nowadays. Because a child does not want to learn or a family is not engaged … does not mean a teacher is ineffective in the same way a class full of strong students who do well on an exam does not make a teacher effective or “highly effective.” At this point students have all the information they need through their phones, tablets and laptops to tell them how to use a noun, adjective, verb or solve for x. In my opinion, the truly effective teacher is one who integrates the technology available and new channels of learning, along with combining proven teaching and behavior methods. In addition, they contribute to a child staying in school, keeping them interested about future prospects and helping them improve and move on to graduate. Neither side has the perfect solution, so at least discussion continues to take place to find some answers.

—Keith Newcomer


Classical government approach; one size fits all. We do not need to force teachers from transferring knowledge to be learned to focusing on how to pass a state exam. The approach contradicts how the human mind and cognitive abilities to learn actually work. The governor and New York would be better served by allowing teachers to “teach” and stop being anything else but a teacher. We are administrative heavy. When you have too much administration, they have too much time on their hands and instead of effectuating teaching quality time in the classroom, more often than not they dream up unnecessary work for teachers to justify their job. Less is more with education administration. Less bureaucrat administration will drive focus and tangible priorities. In addition, why not have 50 percent of administration performance be based upon the same outcome as teachers? How about 50 percent of the governor’s salary at risk also?

—Dave Rusin, Pittsford


In addition to state tests, let’s also assign half of each teacher’s evaluation to each of the following: Student Attendance (percent present and ontime); Adequacy of classrooms, textbooks, and other facilities, Survey of parents, Class size (percent less than 18/25 for elementary/secondary), Student behavior (percent of non-disruptive students in classroom), Parental engagement in students’ learning (percent who discuss school work with child on a daily basis), Students’ level of hunger (percent who receive three healthy meals/day), Observation by trained supervisors (assessment of teaching skills), Homework compliance (percent students arriving at school having completed the assigned practice/homework) Availability of academic specialists, etc. Since half of the teacher’s evaluation is based on each item, failure in any category denotes an inadequate teacher. The governor should be happy.

—Dorver Kendig, Webster


Cuomo has a habit of identifying a problem, then proposing solutions which make absolutely no sense. The SAFE Act was supposed to deal with gun crime, but not one item in it would have prevented West Webster or the school shootings that Cuomo cited as reasons for passing it. Now it’s yet another failed New York law creating more problems than benefits. The teacher evaluation proposal is in the same vein—yes public schools like Rochester’s are failing, but blaming it on the teachers is wrongheaded and his solutions are counterproductive. Teachers cannot control who walks into their classrooms, whether their parents made sure they did their homework, got enough sleep or are otherwise prepared to learn. Somehow when Cuomo gets involved with big picture issues he jumps off the tracks over and over, resulting in public policy debacles that do more harm than good. Maybe he should take a chill pill and try working cooperatively with people rather than treating everyone as a political enemy when he walks into the room.

—B. Sarbane


3/20/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.



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