New York State School Boards Association

Big APPR changes for NYS teachers, but test results still count for districts

by Cathy Woodruff

On Board Online • January 11, 2016

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

Taking a cue from the governor's Common Core Task Force, the Regents are using their regulatory authority to unhitch student performance on state tests from teacher and principal evaluations for four years.

The Regents approved emergency regulations at their December meeting to remove grade 3-8 math and English language arts exam results from the calculations used to rate teachers' overall effectiveness. Also, principals will no longer be evaluated based on student "growth scores" drawn from Regents exams. The Regents can vote to make the regulations permanent in February.

While Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) ratings incorporating student test results will continue to be calculated, the use of those ratings will only be advisory for individual educators. They may not be used in making decisions regarding tenure, improvement plans or other employment issues.

Grade 3-8 test results will remain relevant in other ways. They will continue to be a factor, for example, in federal accountability measures under the new Every Student Succeeds Act and in the state's receivership process for identifying schools as "struggling" or "persistently struggling." State test performance also will help districts identify which students need Academic Intervention Services to help them catch up.

But, for teachers, the most controversial aspect of New York's evaluation system has been shelved, for now.

"This (state-test-related component of APPR) caused a fair amount of anxiety in the field," said Thomas Burns, district superintendent with St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES. "Having the state growth scores not count toward the evaluations should minimize that. This allows everyone to take a breath and work on other components of the education reform agenda that more directly impact students on a day-to-day basis."

The revised regulations provide that, until the 2019-20 school year, teachers and principals will receive "transitional" APPR scores based only on measures of effectiveness unrelated to specified state tests, including those for grade 3-8 students, included in the old formula (in Education Law Section 3012-c) and in a new matrix-type system (in Education Law Section 3012-d). Those measures include classroom observations and, depending on the details of individual APPR agreements, can include student learning objectives and other locally decided elements that do not rely on results of state tests.

It's not yet clear whether school districts can simply increase the value of classroom observations to replace the elements based on state tests or whether they will need to return to the bargaining table to iron out the details of exactly how the other performance measures will be plugged into existing APPR plans. A spokeswoman for the State Education Department said the department staff is working to produce legal guidance on that issue.

The moratorium on using state test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, which would continue while the state develops and implements its next version of high-quality educational standards, was among the specific recommendations of a Common Core Task Force appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The task force, which included NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer, said the move would allow time for transition to new state standards, which would incorporate "substantial revisions" to the Common Core standards now in place.

In a cover letter accompanying the task force report, Chairman Richard Parsons said results of tests aligned with the current standards could be used "to guide the process of further reform and to give us a notional indication that we are moving in the right direction," but should not be used "to evaluate the performance of specific teachers or students until the new system is complete and implemented."

If the governor agrees with this approach and says so during his State of the State address on Jan. 13, it will be a sharp departure from his position a year ago. He championed a 2015 law called the Educational Transformation Act, which increased the role of student test results in gauging the performance of teachers.

About 70-plus districts have state-approved APPR plans consistent with 3012-d, and more than 600 have been granted temporary waivers enabling them to use plans consistent with the prior law, 3012-c.

The law still requires school districts to continue negotiating toward completing new local plans in line with 3012-d approved by the state by Sept. 1 or face losing future increases in state aid.

Although it's possible that the State Education Department could advise districts otherwise, "my expectation is we are still subject to those requirements of the statute," said Burns. The moratorium on using student test results for calculating APPR scores "makes those conversations easier, but they still have to happen," he said.

Transitional ratings for teachers and principals still will be based on the four-level "HEDI" scale - Highly Effective, Effective, Developing or Ineffective - used in previous versions of APPR. Even before the moratorium and creation of the transitional rating system, only a small portion of New York's teachers faced the potential loss of their jobs because of poor APPR ratings. In the 2014-15 school year, more than 96 percent of teachers were rated effective or highly effective, overall. Just 3.2 percent were rated as developing and 0.6 percent were deemed ineffective.

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