By Kevin Hart
A state Supreme Court judge handed down a victory for hundreds of thousands of New York educators last week when he ruled that the New York Board of Regents over-stepped its authority when it tried to introduce teacher and building principal evaluation regulations that would have undermined a recently-passed law and local collective bargaining rights.
In an August 24 ruling, Albany County Supreme Court Justice Michael C. Lynch stated that the Board of Regents could not ignore a teacher and principal evaluation process signed into law in May 2010 that established guidelines for how standardized tests could be used in evaluations.
New York State United Teachers, an NEA affiliate, supported the passage of the 2010 law in order to help New York secure $697 million in federal Race to the Top funds. The law stated that 20 percent of teacher and principal evaluations could be based on student growth on standardized state assessments. The other 80 percent would be based on locally selected measures and more traditional evaluation methods, such as observations. The locally developed measures would be agreed to through the collective bargaining process.
Schools were to begin using the new evaluation system this fall. But in May, the Board of Regents adopted regulations that would have allowed local districts to base as much as 40 percent of teachers’ and principals’ evaluations on standardized test scores, seemingly in direct opposition to the state law. A host of education experts, including researchers, decried the move, claiming that the assessments were not reliable enough to constitute such a significant portion of an evaluation.
NYSUT filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in June, arguing that the regulations contradicted the state law and undermined local autonomy and collective bargaining.
“New York was poised to take the lead on a path to a thoughtful and comprehensive evaluation system developed in collaboration with teachers and other stakeholders,” NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said at the time. “Instead, the Regents chose politics over sound policy and the cheap way over the right way.”
The court agreed with NYSUT, with Lynch ruling that the state law had a “specific exclusion” against basing 40 percent of a teacher’s or principal’s evaluation on standardized test scores, and that the regulations advanced by the Board of Regents would circumvent parts of the evaluation process that were intended to be collectively bargained.
“This decision upholds the role of practitioners and the value of collective bargaining,” Iannuzzi said. “We are pleased the judge has upheld the statute as NYSUT interprets it. Today’s ruling is good for students and for teachers.”
Iannuzzi added that the union remains committed to collaborating on developing fair, objective and transparent evaluations that use multiple measures, as prescribed by state law.