Teacher turns down settlement offer in evaluation case

Thursday, February 4, 2016

This article first appeared in Politico Albany, written by Keshia Clukey

ALBANY — The state last week offered a settlement to a Long Island elementary school teacher who is challenging the teacher evaluation system in state Supreme Court. But the teacher, Sheri Lederman, has no intention of taking it, according to her attorney.

Lederman, like many teachers around the state, has seen her rating — based on a combination of observations and student growth on state and local exams — greatly fluctuate over the past few years, going from “highly effective” to “effective” to “highly effective” again.

Represented by her attorney and husband, Bruce Lederman, she took the issue to court challenging the validity of the system, specifically the use of student growth on state exams in the principal and teacher evaluations.

Much has changed since the oral arguments were heard in August, and the state education department, represented by office of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, last week offered Lederman a deal, Bruce Lederman told Susan Arbetter on WCNY’s “The Capitol Pressroom” on Wednesday.

The state offered to make some accommodations on Sheri Lederman’s score if they dropped the case, which, Bruce Lederman said, “we found unacceptable for a variety of reasons.”

He could not expound on the offer. Schneiderman’s office declined to comment.

“Nothing has really changed. Nobody is admitting that Sheri’s score is wrong. They’re just offering a settlement, which we consider somewhat an attempt to sweep this whole thing under the rug,” Bruce Lederman said.

The Ledermans, who have funded the legal battle without aid from any outside parties, are pushing for a change in the system, he said. “We think this is the right thing to do,” he said.

The state Board of Regents in September created an appeals process for teachers and principals to refute their scores, and it approved a new teacher evaluation system that puts more weight on student test scores.

Critics, including the American Statistical Association, have also said student test scores aren't an accurate way of evaluating teachers. Some cases in other states have had similar findings, Bruce Lederman said.

In December the Regents, following recommendations by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Common Core task force, placed a moratorium on the use of student state exam scores in teacher and principal evaluations until the 2019-2020 school year.

With all of the changes, state officials notified the justice handling the case that they thought some or all of the case had subsequently become moot, Bruce Lederman said. “We disagreed.”

The couple is arguing that the moratorium still involves the study of the current model and could continue to use it in the future. Student test scores will still be used to calculate a rating for teachers and principals, but it will not be used in employment decisions. Bruce Lederman said the calculation of the scores and release of their outcomes is “demoralizing.” “Sheri almost quit when she heard she was getting a score of 1 out of 20,” he said.

After a conference on the matter, the state offered Lederman the settlement. “We feel we should continue to challenge it,” Bruce Lederman said. “We’re very cautiously optimistic. I feel, and Sheri feels, very strongly that no rational person could look at her score and conclude that that score makes any sense.”

The justice has requested legal briefs from both sides on the effect of the moratorium on the case. They are due on Feb. 29. A decision is expected thereafter. If the justice decides the case is moot, Bruce Lederman said, he plans to appeal."

Listen to the full WCNY interview here: http://bit.ly/1PAILjF. The interview starts 20 minutes 50 seconds into the show.

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