All school districts meet state APPR deadline

On Board Online • January 23, 2017

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

Capping a process that came down to the wire, all of the state's school districts managed to negotiate new teacher and principal evaluation plans and see them approved in time to meet a new year's deadline.

Districts needed to begin the year with a state-approved Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plan compliant with Education Law section 3012-d or risk not receiving scheduled increases in state aid. An estimated total of $2.5 billion was at stake, including $1.1 billion for 2015-16 and about $1.4 billion for 2016-17, according to Brian Fessler, NYSSBA's senior governmental relations representative.

"I would like to congratulate school districts, principals, teachers and their union components across the state for their hard work to submit and obtain approval on education APPR plans," Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a written statement.

Individual evaluation plans were approved over a span of about 16 months, with the State Education Department (SED) approving a handful of plans as early as the summer and fall of 2015 and a flurry of last-minute submissions in the closing days of December 2016.

In all, 689 school district plans were approved on time.

The newest APPR plans were required under a law promoted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and passed as part of the 2015-16 state budget early in 2015. As a result of modifications since then, the stakes for teachers and principals are different - and less potentially punitive - in the evaluation plans negotiated under the new law (3012-d) than under the previous iteration (3012-c).

Taking a cue from the governor's Common Core Task Force in December 2015, the Regents used their regulatory authority to temporarily uncouple state test results for students in grades 3-8 from educator evaluation scores through the 2019-20 school year.

The state Board of Regents is expected to propose a new evaluation system for use in 2020-21. It is unclear at this time if their proposal to the Legislature will include the use of state test scores.

For now, ratings incorporating state test results will continue to be calculated, but the use of those ratings is limited to advisory purposes for individual educators.

The Altmar-Parish-Williamstown school district in Oswego County was among the earliest to see their new APPR plans approved in August 2015. Superintendent Anita Murphy said she believes the process in her district already was aided by a district mindset that values evaluations for promoting professional growth, rather than punitive purposes.

"We fundamentally believe that an evaluation is not something to punish or penalize but to help us get better with our craft," Murphy said. "Once people understand the purpose, the plan itself is not difficult."

Altmar-Parish-Williamstown shifted to a simplified observation rubric with fewer components and clearly-defined categories, and all administrators were trained together in how to use the rubric to foster consistency among evaluators, Murphy said.

The district uses independent evaluators hired through CiTi BOCES, but has needed them less in the second year of the plan. "Once we learned that the scores were very consistent with district evaluators, we used them less for tenured teachers," she said.

Rather than creating individual student learning objectives (SLOs) for each student, Altmar-Parish-Williamstown now creates more group goals, which often are measured through task-based assessments, particularly in early grades, Murphy said.

Corning-Painted Post's plan was approved in November 2015, and the Steuben County district is into a second school year using it.

"One of our biggest changes was that we opted to use an outside independent evaluator for our unannounced observations," said Jeff DeLorme, assistant superintendent for administrative services. "That was a very big change for our teachers to have someone from outside the district coming into their classrooms."

Corning-Painted Post's independent evaluator is a shared employee hired through Greater Southern Tier BOCES, which makes the position eligible for reimbursement aid, he said, bringing the cost down to about $40,000.

"That made all the difference," DeLorme said. "It freed up time for our own administrators to be more available to staff, students and parents. The savings in our administrators' time was well worth the expense."

Corning-Painted Post also adopted a much different approach for measuring student growth. The district's new plan relies heavily on student performance on the English Regents exam, typically taken by most students in the 11th grade, unless the educator is teaching a course that concludes with another state Regents exam.

"Every teacher implements English language arts standards across the curriculum," DeLorme said. He and Superintendent Michael Ginalski said the measurement recognizes a collaborative approach to learning and student growth in the district.

Approval of a new plan for Salamanca came on Dec. 18, 2016. The process was complicated by a lot of staff turnover during the negotiation window, said Superintendent Robert Briedenstein.

The new plan requires fewer formal observations for untenured teachers while encouraging more short follow-up observations and walk-throughs by administrators, Breidenstein said.

"It's some of the best professional development work we can do," he said. "This is much more manageable and it will free us up to be in classrooms more often to observe."

Districts originally were required to negotiate and gain approval for new APPR plans by Nov. 15, 2015, or face the potential loss of promised state aid increases.

Then-Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch described the deadline as "unrealistic," however, and the Regents enacted a system of hardship waivers that could extend the deadline for some districts until Sept. 1, 2016. With support from NYSSBA, state lawmakers agreed last June to further extend the deadline to Dec. 31, 2016.

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