ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Poor students don’t learn as well as rich students, and Rochester teachers shouldn’t be evaluated on how their poverty-stricken students perform on state tests.

Education poverty arrowThat’s the sad argument the Rochester Teachers Association is making in a recent lawsuit it filed against New York Regents and the state’s education department in the wake of 2012-13 state test results.

“The suit, filed in state Supreme Court in Albany by New York State United Teachers on behalf of the RTA and more than 100 Rochester teachers, argues the State Education Department did not adequately account for student poverty in setting student growth scores on state tests in grades 4-8 math and English language arts,” according to a press release on the NYSUT website.

“In addition, (the state education department) imposed rules for Student Learning Objectives and implemented evaluations in a way that made it more difficult for teachers of economically disadvantaged students to achieve a score of ‘effective’ or better.

“As a result, the lawsuit alleges the Regents and (state education department) violated teachers’ rights to fair evaluations and equal protection under the law.”

In other words, kids from low income families can’t learn, and teachers should not be expected to help them learn. What a pathetic, cowardly excuse for poor performance.

The union contends that observation-based evaluations done by principals show 98 percent of Rochester teachers rated “effective” or “highly effective,” while student growth scores (student improvement on standardized tests over a year) resulted in about one-third of Rochester teachers receiving an overall rating of “developing” or “ineffective” in 2013.

The union believes the state isn’t properly compensating for the fact that 90 percent of Rochester students live in poverty. The discrepancy between the principal evaluations and overall ratings serve as the evidence, according to NYSUT.

But many education reform advocates likely would have a much different take on the data. For years, teacher evaluations in most school districts consisted of principal evaluations only, and the vast majority of educators received stellar reviews.

Teachers unions want the public to believe that means all teachers are great at their job, but the reality is teachers typically performed well because the evaluations were scheduled well in advance, so they knew when to put their best foot forward. The reviews represented a one-day snapshot of the best each teacher had to offer, but provided little insight into teachers’ overall effectiveness.

In recent years, states across the country shifted focus to a more performance-driven system, urged in large part by federal incentives through President Obama’s Race to the Top education reforms, to get a better gauge of how teachers actually impact student learning. Many states, like New York, tie teacher evaluations in part to student test scores.

Now the public is starting to see the truth: not all teachers are created equal. The discrepancy between the teachers who received effective principal reviews and those whose students tested poorly represent the teachers who skated by under the old system.

Of course, instead of accepting reality and helping those educators improve their craft, the teachers unions would rather blame the poor performance on student poverty and sue the state to prevent Rochester schools from holding its less effective teachers accountable.

The case also highlights a fundamental difference in the mindset of union officials and real educators: union officials don’t believe poor children have the same capacity for learning as their wealthier peers, while true educators know all students are capable learners with the right combination of high expectations, focused instruction, and encouragement.

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