Gov. Cuomo Wins The Latest Battle Over Special Education
Credit: DonkeyHotey
April 9, 2015

I wrote about this several weeks ago, and the worst has come to pass. Now that the New York Assembly and Senate have passed the budget, we know exactly how Governor Cuomo’s education priorities have been encoded into law, and it's disheartening.

Dr. Daniel Katz is a former high school English teacher and is now the director of secondary and secondary/special education programs at Seton Hall University. He blogs on education issues at, and here's his take:

While his proposed charter school increase is gone (for now) and the proposed tax credit for private school donations is gone (for now), Governor Cuomo got exactly what he wanted in teacher evaluations.

The Board of Regents has to set the final details, but the evaluation framework gives the state’s annual standardized test 50% of the control over how teachers are evaluated on a matrix -- including a teacher’s annual yearly progress on test scores and two evaluations from a local administrator and an “outside evaluator.”

No teacher whose test score rating is “ineffective” can get rated as higher than “developing” overall, and we will have to wait until June to find out how the Regents decide to value the outside evaluation. If districts do not adopt evaluation systems using these components by November, they will forfeit the long overdue increase in state aid to education.

How will this impact teachers who work with students with disabilities? There are 185,000 students with disabilities in New York City, 77% of whom are black or Hispanic and 66% of whom are boys.

Over 22,000 of these students are enrolled in a District 75 school, meaning they are on the autism spectrum, have significant cognitive delays, are severely emotionally challenged, sensory impaired and/or multiply disabled. Teachers in D75 will be held accountable to the same evaluation system, meaning D75 students are tested using the same, developmentally inappropriate, tests as the rest of the students in NY State.

These tests have proven exceptionally difficult for students with IEPs throughout the system, but are especially challenging in D75 given the high concentration of emotional disabilities, cognitive impairment, or multiple disabilities.

In 2013, when the state implemented the new Common Core aligned examinations, only 5.7% of students with IEPs in the entire city were ranked proficient or higher in English and only 8.4% were ranked proficient or higher in mathematics. Students in D75 schools and facilities have the most significant disabilities and struggle far more with these examinations that students with IEPs in the rest of the system.

What does this mean? Technically, teachers are evaluated on the growth of their students rather than on their raw scores, but growth models based on standardized exams are notoriously unreliable because the difficulty of statistically isolating teachers’ impact on the exams under the best of circumstances. When you factor in how these examination formats and content cannot accommodate students with serious disabilities, this is a patently absurd way to evaluate teachers working exclusively with disabled students.

The consequences for students will be even more dire because teachers in D75, instead of using their expertise to craft differentiated instruction that accommodates exceptional learning needs, will need to devote time to teaching them how to take the tests in the first place, regardless of whether or not the content and format are ones that actually demonstrate their knowledge and skills. In essence, Governor Cuomo and his colleagues in the legislature have forced special educators to adopt test preparation as a significant portion of the curriculum as a simple matter of survival.

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