New York State School Boards Association

APPR is one thing, tests another

by Timothy G. Kremer

On Board Online • May 28, 2018

Timothy G. Kremer
NYSSBA Executive Director

In one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, Macbeth is anguished over the meaning of life, concluding that "it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

The same could be said for the state's mandated Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) system for evaluating teachers and principals. After eight years of tinkering, the current APPR system is a confusing and controversial morass of growth measures, rubrics and observations, as well as an alphabet soup of SLOs and HEDI ratings.

The current APPR system, required by law, is burdensome, a source of anxiety and a turnoff for those considering the profession. You have to know things are bad when the only relief comes in the form of a four-year moratorium!

Never mind that more than 90 percent of all teachers have been rated as effective or highly effective, raising questions about value and integrity of the process.

Can't we get this right, once and for all?

We need an APPR system everyone can trust, and that is not the case. To date, I have heard not one vote of confidence in the current APPR system. In fact, what I hear most often is a longing for the days that preceded 3012-c and 3012-d.

Unfortunately, our current APPR system has been horribly politicized through various forms of state intervention, including the threatened loss of state aid and forced negotiation deadlines.

It is especially unfortunate that hatred of APPR has eroded faith in standardized tests. The two issues have become so intertwined that the terms APPR and standardized tests are virtually synonymous in New York State. Yet, in reality, they are two very different things.

Annual reviews should focus on what a teacher or principal has been doing well plus areas for improvement and growth going forward. They should be the basis for a legitimate face-to-face conversation around a teacher's classroom performance and skills, his or her personalized professional development and, in the case of probationary teachers, it should inform a superintendent's recommendation for tenure decisions. For principals, APPRs should include elements of instructional leadership, staff supervision, school climate and community relations.

Standardized tests, on the other hand, were designed to measure student achievement against what should be a relevant set of student learning standards. They should be used to measure student growth and achievement, assess student comprehension and proficiency, and make comparisons among schools serving similar populations.

Such tests are also tools to help teachers and administrators track the progress of potentially vulnerable populations including racial minorities, special education students and English language leaners, so we can bring appropriate resources to bear. When designed and administered properly, they are a source of valuable data for students, parents and teachers.

I have come to agree with those who say federally-required grades 3-8 English Language Arts and math tests should not be used for measuring teacher performance, as they were not designed for that purpose. However, school districts need some way to evaluate if students are being taught at grade level. That is why NYSSBA has insisted the Legislature give local school districts the flexibility to continue to use state tests in APPR evaluations, if they wish.

It is critical that the law not require districts to negotiate such a decision with their unions. It is the prerogative of the employer to set evaluation criteria.

A four-year moratorium on having any consequences for teachers based on student test scores expires at the end of the 2018-19 school year. The Regents and the commissioner of education are reviewing the APPR system, and that is an opportunity to start over. Since use of standardized test data in teacher and principal evaluations has been so controversial and problematic, they should find alternatives.

In my opinion, New York should establish a new APPR system that links the criteria for evaluating teachers with New York's teaching standards, which are used to define what a teacher is supposed to know and be able to do within their discipline, certification area and grade level. That way, everyone could focus on things that really matter: content knowledge in the teacher's subject area, preparation and instructional delivery, classroom management, student development and learning, as well as collaboration and continuous improvement.

Let's use student learning standards as a basis to assess students' performance and use teaching standards as the basis to evaluate teachers. Does that make sense to you? It does to me.

Macbeth was a tragedy. So is our APPR system. Let's fix it.

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