July 29, 2010
Principals gave unsatisfactory ratings to 1,813 teachers, 17 percent more than in 2009, according to data the city released today. They also denied tenure to 234 teachers this year, 80 percent more than last year. And principals nearly doubled the number of teachers given an extra year before their final tenure decision is made.
In total, 11 percent of the 6,386 teachers up for tenure this year were denied or delayed, compared to 6.6 percent last year. It’s an even more dramatic jump from 2006, when tenure was denied or delayed less than 1 percent of the time.
By far, the leading cause principals cited for giving a U-rating was quality of instruction and student care. Attendance problems were the second-leading cause of low ratings, followed closely by the nebulous “personal and professional qualities.”
Still, the vast majority of teachers were rated satisfactory and received tenure after three years in the classroom. Just 3.66 percent of teachers up for tenure did not receive it, and about 2.2 percent of tenured teachers received a “U-rating,” which can put teachers on the path to dismissal.
“What we see in the numbers today is that principals are making proactive decisions to retain teachers as well as to evaluate and deny some of them tenure,” said Deputy Chancellor John White. “Principals are basing these decisions on years’ worth of information.”
Most of the teachers who received U-ratings had received one in the past, White said, showing that principals are not assigning the damaging rating capriciously.
The new numbers come after nearly three years of a sustained push to usher more weak teachers out of the system. Principals are encouraged to give weak teachers low ratings before they earn tenure, and a team of lawyers helps principals assemble the evidence needed to enable the city to fire low-performing tenured teachers, although their efforts have netted only a handful of dismissals.
This past year, the city also started using student test scores to advise principals about how to make certain tenure decisions. Of the 6,386 teachers up for tenure this year, about 700 taught for two years in subjects where students take state tests. The city ranked those teachers according to how much their students advanced, then advised principals to give tenure to top teachers and to deny tenure to those on the bottom. In the end, only one of the 96 teachers in the top tier was denied tenure, compared to 14 of the 81 teachers in the bottom tier. Half of teachers in the bottom tier had their probation extended.
Using state test scores to drive teacher evaluations is a problem, considering that state officials now say the scores have been hugely inflated, said Michael Mendel, a teachers union vice president.
“The DOE should immediately review and reconsider the cases of those teachers denied tenure on the basis of the now-discredited state test results,” he said.
White said test scores were only one factor principals considered when making tenure decisions. Still, he said, the city remains committed to using test scores in teacher evaluations, especially because state law now requires it.
As the state’s and city’s data collection becomes more sophisticated, principals will have even more information about how successfully teachers are helping students learn.
“I think we will see more thoughtful decision-making because there will be greater evidence of growth,” White said. “If that level of rigor results in fewer teachers granted tenure, then good. But it will also result in better teachers retained and better quality of instruction in our classrooms.”
Of the 200 principals eligible for tenure last year, seven did not receive it. Nearly a quarter more had their probation extended.
Nearly a third of probationary teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers who have been working as substitutes after their permanent positions were eliminated, were denied tenure. The city has said teachers should be fired after four months in the ATR pool.