Are NYS Teachers Making the Grade?

October 22, 2013 Updated Oct 22, 2013 at 11:36 PM EDT

By WKBW Admin

October 22, 2013 Updated Oct 22, 2013 at 11:36 PM EDT

BUFFALO (WKBW) It's a reversal of normal roles. Now, New York State's teachers are being graded.

Preliminary numbers from the State Department of Education ranked 49% of the state's educators as highly effective, 41% as effective, 4% as developing, and 1% as ineffective.

"These results illustrate what we've said all along, that the evaluation system is not intended to be a 'gotcha' system, but rather a support for professional development and continuing improvement by teachers," NYS Education Commissioner John King told Eyewitness News over the phone Tuesday.

These rankings are based on a combination of local criteria, including observations by administrators, as well as student achievement on state tests and student growth.

"The whole idea behind it is to show growth year to year. The state has a fair amount of date on the students from previous years and they've basically developed a fairly complex metric to come up with that growth score," Cheektowaga Superintendent Dennis Kane said.

But that isn't enough for Eric Mihelbergel, a parent and member of the New York State Allies for Public Education. He says the current evaluation system forces educators to teach to tests and observations instead of focusing on educating their students.

"It's shifting and moving towards a teacher centered teaching environment, where what parents want is it to be a learner centered learning environment. We want teachers to be focused on the learner and what's best for them rather than focus on the teacher and what's best for the teacher," he said.

These are the first numbers to come out of the new teacher evaluation process, with superintendents and the State Department of Education taking a "wait and see" approach as to what these numbers will mean over the long term.

So how can more than 90% of the state teachers be rated effective or higher, and the graduation rate still sit at 74% statewide and much lower here in Buffalo?

The way the scores are calculated, only a fifth of the teacher's score is based on how students perform on tests, meaning there is plenty of room for improvement in both teacher effectiveness and student achievement.