Wait to craft im­proved teacher eval­u­a­tions

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - PERSPECTIVE - By Ti­mothy Kre­mer

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.

Photo il­lus­tra­tion by Jeff Boyer / Times Union

Peo­ple gather May 14 in West Capi­tol Park for the New York Poor Peo­ple’s Cam­paign rally.

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