By Jason Zwara:
As recently as last week, Governor Cuomo had yet to wade into the potential controversy surrounding public disclosure for teacher evaluation ratings. After New York City got caught up in a media firestorm following the full disclosure of teacher ratings, including teacher names, the State has been under pressure to restrict disclosure, especially after a court ruling would mandate full disclosure without an intervening law. On Monday night Cuomo introduced a bill grounded in compromise. On Thursday, the last day of the legislative session, the Senate quickly passed the bill, with the Assembly following suit several hours later; both houses passed the bill by wide margins.
The new bill strikes a balance between the two competing interests: allowing parents to be fully informed about their children’s education, while protecting the privacy of teachers and avoiding a media frenzy exploiting the data. With broad bipartisan support, Governor Cuomo’s bills allows parents to become better informed about their children’s education, while still allowing significant public disclosure to promote thorough, meaningful research and analysis.
Under the new amendment to the State’s educator evaluation law, parents and legal guardians have a right to view evaluation data for individual teachers at the school their child attends, upon request. School districts have the obligation to inform parents of their right to request such information, and a duty to help parents and legal guardians understand the data. One notable shortcoming, however, is that parents would be limited to requesting information only on the teachers in their children’s schools, not in other schools in the district. This limits, for example, parents’ ability to research teachers their child may have in the future.
Public disclosure of individual educator evaluations is prohibited. The law makes up for this, however, by requiring districts to release aggregate evaluation data in useful and constructive ways. Districts must release aggregated data in a number of forms, including: 1) broken down aggregate data by grade, and class and subject; 2) by percent of teachers who improved, worsened, or stayed in the same rating category from the previous year; and 3) the annual granting and denial of tenure based on evaluation ratings. NYSED must also release statewide compendiums of aggregate data, broken down by: 1) school district for principals, individual schools for teachers; and 2) by region, district wealth, district need category, student enrollment, type of school, student need, and district spending. This restricted disclosure encourages useful, meaningful analysis of the data, while preventing exploitative, ‘public shaming’ use of evaluation data.
All told, Governor Cuomo’s law strikes a good balance: it gives parents full access, should they request it, to evaluation data, allows the public to make adequate use of the data, and prevents another scenario like the one that played out in New York City. With the close of the legislative session, Governor Cuomo should be greatly pleased with the work the State has done with education this term.
The next step must be taken locally. Buffalo must be proactive in setting up procedures for compiling the necessary aggregate data, for educating parents of their right to request evaluation information, for teaching parents what the data means, for verifying parent requests, and for ensuring the data is widely disseminated among the public.