A funny thing happened on the way to rebooting state teacher evaluations

State teachers union says: No, thanks

by Cathy Woodruff

On Board Online • February 19, 2018

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

Just minutes after Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia briefed the Regents on a survey that launches a comprehensive review of New York's teacher and principal evaluation system, leaders of the statewide teachers union said they won't encourage members to participate.

Leaders of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) say the state should simply scrap any statewide method for evaluating educators.

"We feel like teachers have made it really clear how they feel about the system," said Jolene DiBrango, executive vice president for NYSUT. "We feel we need to restore it to local control with no state mandates of any kind."

Created in 2010, the state's Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) was last revised in 2015 and includes students' state test results as a factor in ratings of teachers and principals. After teachers objected and parents had their children boycott the tests, APPR was "unplugged" from negative consequences for educators resulting from those test scores. A moratorium runs through the 2018-19 school year.

On Feb. 6, the State Education Department posted the online survey as a first step in gathering feedback from teachers, principals and district administrators most directly affected by the current evaluation system.

"This survey is just the first blush of looking at where we are," Elia said.

Elia's tentative schedule would complete the process in time to implement a new system for the 2019-20 school year. She said it may be necessary to extend the moratorium in order to complete the process.

NYSUT's lack of enthusiasm for the survey and pledge to push for a "fix" of the evaluation system this year are at odds with Elia's vision.

"I would hope that teachers would take the opportunity to tell us what they think," the commissioner said.

Elia likened the APPR review plan to the processes used for developing the Next Generation Learning Standards and completing an accountability plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Both projects took more than a year and incorporated multiple layers for gathering feedback and collaboration by workgroups made up of educators and other stakeholders.

Elia said repeatedly - speaking to the Regents, reporters and school board members at NYSSBA's Capital Conference - that she would not predict where the process will lead or how long it will take.

"The reality is we just have to start the work and see where we go," she said.

"We aren't going to do it fast, because when you do it fast, people say 'You didn't listen to me,'" Elia said at the Capital Conference.

The survey for educators is slated to remain open at least through March 7. As the process continues, an SED spokeswoman said, more opportunities will emerge for school board members and other stakeholders to weigh in.

The current schedule calls for two workgroups to collaborate between April 2018 and early 2019 on gathering more feedback and crafting initial recommendations.

An Evaluation Workgroup is to explore issues related to the structure of teacher evaluations, what measures should be included and how they should be weighted, if at all. An Assessment Workgroup will look more specifically at questions of whether "student performance measures" should be considered and, if so, what they should be.

DiBrango said NYSUT was not involved in writing the survey and does not consider it "well crafted." She said "it would be our recommendation that (teachers) consider very carefully whether or not they would like to take the survey."

She was non-committal on whether the union would participate in the new workgroups, as it did for the news standards and ESSA.

"I would like more information on what these workgroups would entail," DiBrango said. "Certainly, if there's an appropriate way to make sure our voices are heard, then we would want to be there to talk about that."

In setting the stage for the evaluation review, Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa noted lingering stress from the contentious political process that surrounded adoption and implementation of APPR.

"It created a really toxic landscape," Rosa said. "The issue on the list for all of us is trust. We can't afford any hiccups."

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