Wait to craft improved teacher evaluations
You could pick from a long menu of metaphors to describe New York’s dysfunctional teacher and principal evaluation system and be hard-pressed to go wrong. In consumer terms, I’d call it a lemon — and it’s clear to see why it has turned out that way. The design work was rushed. The construction phase was piecemeal and fraught with disputes and delays. Any implied warranty is long expired.
Shaped by eight years of fast-tracked legislation and amendments, the Annual Professional Performance Review system today is a confusing and controversial morass of growth measures, rubrics and observations, blended with an alphabet soup of SLOS and HEDI ratings.
What’s more, APPR is burdensome for school leaders, a source of anxiety for teachers and a toxic turnoff for those considering the teaching profession. Meanwhile, 90 percent of all teachers have been rated effective or highly effective under this system, raising a different set of questions about the value and integrity of the process.
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. Results of those tests never were intended for that purpose — and no number of convoluted formulas for calculating “value added measures” or “student growth scores” is likely to turn those scores into reliable gauges of a teacher’s or principal’s impact on student learning.
Unfortunately, hatred of APPR among educators and parents has eroded faith in standardized tests. While the terms “APPR” and “standardized tests” have become virtually synonymous in New York’s political lexicon, in reality, they are two very different things.
Annual employee performance reviews should focus on identifying the things a teacher or principal has been doing well, as well as areas for improvement and growth. These reviews should lay the foundation for legitimate faceto-face conversations about classroom performance and skills and about personalized professional development. The evaluation process should inform a superintendent’s recommendations for tenure decisions.
State tests are designed to measure student achievement against a relevant
set of learning standards.
These exams should be used to measure student growth and achievement, assess student comprehension and proficiency, and make comparisons among schools serving similar populations.
Standardized state tests also can be tools for working toward educational equity. They can help teachers and administrators track the progress of potentially vulnerable populations, including racial minorities, special education students and English language learners, so we can bring appropriate resources to bear.
New York needs to establish a new APPR system that links the criteria for evaluating teachers with our state’s teaching standards, which were created precisely for the purpose of defining what teachers are 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: subject area content knowledge, preparation and instruction, classroom management, student development and learning, collaboration and continuous improvement.
Since use of standardized test data in teacher and principal evaluations has been so controversial and problematic, we should find alternatives for this purpose. Federal law, however, still requires schools to administer grades 3-8 ELA and math state assessments. Rather than impose another layer of testing, local school districts should have f lexibility to use state tests in APPR evaluations, if they wish, to evaluate whether students are being taught at grade level. Otherwise, students could have to take both the state tests and alternative assessments selected for teacher and principal evaluation purposes.
Finally, school districts should not have to negotiate the selection of alternative assessments used in teacher evaluations through collective bargaining. The employer — the district — should set evaluation criteria.
The four-year moratorium on evaluation consequences for teachers based on student test scores expires at the end of the next school year (2018-19). I see no reason why that could not be extended, if necessary, while the Regents and the state education commissioner review the APPR system. That presents an opportunity to start over, with input from teachers and all stakeholders.
When you’ve got a lemon on your hands, as I believe we do with APPR, it’s just asking for trouble to keep replacing the vexing problematic parts, one by one, with untested new ones. You never know what new complications and pitfalls you may be unconsciously adding to the mix.
It’s time to stop muddling the conversation about teacher evaluation with talk about standardized tests. Let’s use student learning standards as a basis to assess students’ performance and use teaching standards as the basis to evaluate teachers.
Timothy Kremer is executive director of the New York State School Boards Association.
People gather May 14 in West Capitol Park for the New York Poor People’s Campaign rally.