October 3, 2017

An educator seeking to overturn an unsatisfactory annual performance rating must meet is very high standard of proof


An educator seeking to overturn an unsatisfactory annual performance rating must meet is very high standard of proof
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,192

M.H., a tenured teacher of mathematics employed by the City School District of the City of New York received an unsatisfactory annual rating following four unsatisfactory observation reports. M.H. appealed the rating to the Chancellor’s Committee Chairperson. The Chairperson conducted a review at which M.H. was represented by an advocate from the relevant collective bargaining entity.

The Chairperson recommended that M.H..'s appeal be denied and that the unsatisfactory rating be sustained. The Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education adopted the Chairperson recommendation. M.H. appealed the Chancellor's decision to the Commissioner of Education.

After addressing a procedural issue, the Commissioner considered the merits of M.H.'s appeal, noting that the standard of proof required to overturn an unsatisfactory rating is very high and in the absence of a showing of malice, prejudice, bad faith or gross error, the Commissioner will not substitute his or her judgment for that of the Chancellor.

M.H., said the Commissioner, "... failed to meet her burden of proving that the unsatisfactory rating was based upon malice, prejudice, bad faith or gross error," explaining that the record indicates that the assistant principal conducted three formal observations of a math lesson taught by M.H. as well as one walk-through evaluation.. In the last observation report made by the assistant principal, the assistant principal concluded that:

(1) The lesson taught did not match the lesson written on the board or prescribed in M.H. ’s lesson plan;

(2) M.H. posed questions in which the answers were embedded;

(3) M.H. failed to implement previous recommendations, made in previous observation reports to “engage the students by creating a physical setting that promotes teamwork”; and

(4) there was no “share/summary” presentation, as observed in during the last observation.

The Commissioner said that in the course of the walk-through evaluation, "the assistant principal concluded that [M.H.] continued to struggle with questioning techniques", noting that earlier she had provided M.H. with a document called “Asking Better Questions” and that M.H. had failed to incorporate any of the suggestions contained in that document. 

As to M.H.'s argument that the observation reports were not based on “facts,” “statistics”, or “appropriate supporting data,” M.H. cited no legal requirement that evaluations of personnel must be based on such criteria, and the Commissioner said she found nothing inappropriate about the procedure utilized by the district. 

Although M.H. did not participate in a pre-observation conference before each observation as required, the Commissioner said that she did not find that such noncompliance prohibited imposing an unsatisfactory rating based upon the observations of the assistant principal and further found that the observations and conclusions of the assistant principal supported the unsatisfactory rating imposed on M.H..

Concluding that M.H.'s unsatisfactory rating was supported by the evidence in the record, and that M.H. "has not met her burden of proving malice, prejudice, bad faith or gross error attributable to the respondent," the Commissioner dismissed M.H.'s appeal

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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