Use of Test Scores as Tenure Factor Banned for New York School Districts

Published June 1, 2008

Local school districts in New York will not be able to use students’ standardized test scores as a factor in determining which teachers receive tenure, at least for the next two years.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein battled teacher unions but lost in April, when lawmakers decided to limit school districts’ authority to set standards for tenure.

“The current system takes the important decision of granting tenure far too lightly and is simply unconcerned with whether the teacher is actually effective in the classroom,” said Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. “The result of this system is that bad teachers are equally protected under the system as are good teachers.”

Bloomberg agreed.

“This makes New York the only state in the nation that blocks local districts from using student data to evaluate teachers–and in this case, there is no honor in being first,” Bloomberg said in an April 9 statement. “It is nothing more than a special-interest protection for the few teachers who shouldn’t get an automatic lifetime appointment to the classroom, and our children will–once again–get the short end of the stick.”

Budget Battle

Before the change, state law said tenure should be based on, among other things, “evaluation of the extent to which the teacher successfully utilized analysis of available student performance data and other relevant information when providing instruction.”

Hammering out new tenure language was the final issue holding up approval of the state’s budget in early April. Legislators finally agreed on wording stating “the teacher shall not be granted or denied tenure based on student performance data.”

“We should remember that using test scores in tenure decisions would have been a change from the status quo,” Winters explained. “It was directly aimed at New York City, which is the only system in the state of which I am aware that was considering such a change. [This decision] will further handcuff Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein from making much-needed reforms to the city’s school system.”

Broad Basis

Teacher unions, led by the New York State United Teachers, contend student test scores are designed to test students, not teachers. They say other factors, such as skills in managing the classroom, involving parents, and creatively presenting material, should be examined instead to give a broader picture of each teacher’s abilities.

“There is no independent or conclusive research that shows you can accurately measure the impact of an individual teacher on a student’s academic achievement–much less using student test scores, particularly those given midyear, to do it,” United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in an April 9 statement. “No one is afraid of accountability, but the measures have to be fair and accurate.”

“Student scores on standardized tests provide valuable information about a teacher’s performance,” Winters countered. “Test scores certainly do not tell the entire story about a teacher’s effectiveness, but if used properly, they can help schools identify those teachers we most want to keep in the classroom.”

Christin Coyne ([email protected]) writes from Virginia.