School districts are supposed to have new plans in place by Nov. 15 for evaluating the effectiveness of all teachers, unless a district seeks a waiver from the State Education Department. As the new school year begins, Newsday asked superintendents, "What challenges do teacher evaluations present to your district and how do you plan to deal with this, especially for teachers of subjects such as art and music who do not prepare students for state standardized tests?"
ROBERT FEIRSEN, GARDEN CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT
School districts have been handed a near-impossible task by the state government: developing new teacher and principal evaluation procedures based upon regulations and guidance that are at once convoluted and confusing -- and the time available to us is horribly short. Will we be able to overcome the obstacles that lie in our path and actually create plans that provide teachers and principals with meaningful feedback? We will certainly try our best: We have an obligation to let our staff know the standards by which they will be evaluated, and we have a responsibility to our community to assess teacher and principal performance as accurately as possible.
It is not, however, the next few months that concern me the most. Instead, I worry about the long-term future of education, a field whose prospects depend on the quality of new teachers and principals. Politicians and pundits crowd the media with pronouncements about the importance of attracting the best and brightest to work in our schools, yet actions tell another tale. The new APPR [Annual Professional Performance Review] mandates, overly reliant on test scores and focused on formulaic compliance rather than creativity in the classroom, only add to the deprofessionalization of teaching and the notion that educators do not deserve the public trust. Remember, too, that budget pressures have forced school districts to significantly reduce personnel and have eroded the benefits that once attracted outstanding teacher and administrator candidates. With status, compensation, and job security all diminished and job opportunities finally expanding after the Great Recession, why would our most talented students choose careers in our schools? Steep enrollment drops in teacher and administrator preparation programs already tell us the answer. Absent any discussion about the deeper impact of our current approach to teacher and principal evaluation, the future of our great public schools on Long Island stands on a slippery slope.
BILL HEIDENREICH, VALLEY STREAM CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT
This year's state budget includes a series of dramatic and controversial modifications to the educational landscape that will have an enduring impact. Reforms include a redesigned teacher and principal evaluation system and a lengthened probationary period (with ties to evaluations in order to receive tenure).
Intended or not, teacher/principal evaluation systems have turned assessment into a political battlefield, drawing in well-intentioned parents, teachers, school leaders and school boards. It has also made sensible discussion about assessment and assessment results challenging.
This year school districts throughout New York will be spending significant time negotiating a new APPR. I expect that Valley Stream will be among the hundreds of school districts that will apply for a "hardship waiver" as we negotiate a new system with our teacher partners, and, in some cases, attempt to make sense of the nonsensical.
School leaders have a legal obligation to implement the mandates that have been thrust upon local school districts. School leaders also have a moral obligation to make sure that "reforms" are in the best interest of our communities and the students we serve.
With all the commotion surrounding the Common Core, state assessments, evaluation and the pros and cons of opting out, it's easy to forget about the remarkable work that goes on each and every day in our schools to help students learn and develop into intellectually capable young adults ready for whatever the future may hold. This is where our continued focus must be if public education is going to work.
DAVID FLATLEY, CARLE PLACE SCHOOL DISTRICT
Teachers and administrators in Carle Place have begun the negotiation process related to the new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plan. It is too early in negotiations to determine if a "hardship waiver" will be necessary. Of course, our teachers have always been held accountable by our local Board of Education and administrative team through a rigorous process of evaluation and observation.
Under current law, half of every teacher's final evaluation is determined by this observation process. Many folks would argue that this percentage should be much higher. I agree. However, the new regulations require that half of the final evaluation be based upon "annual measured growth" in student achievement. Finding valid and reliable measures of such growth has proven challenging, at best, in traditionally tested subjects. Producing these measures in disciplines such as art and music is even more problematic. We will, however, work with these teachers to develop "Student Learning Objectives" as required by law.
Important research needs to be completed as to the effects of linking teacher evaluation to student achievement. Parents have expressed fears about the potential limiting effect of such a practice and education researchers have concerns about the validity of "value added" measures in a high-stakes testing environment.
While I share these concerns, I know that our professional educators will continue to provide our students with a world-class education. I am proud that the teachers and administrators with whom I work approach their vocations with energy and dedication despite the current political arena.
TIMOTHY T. EAGEN, KINGS PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT
Historically, the state legislative calendar was divided into separate budget and policy negotiations. Over the past few years, Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo has expanded his influence by including several policy items within his budget proposal. The end result has been an unprecedented expansion of the power of the governor's office. Most recently, the governor used this bullying tactic to enact "APPR 2.0." [APPR stands for Annual Professional Performance Review.] Since the law was hastily written and enacted, and guidance from the State Education Department (SED) has been limited, our biggest challenge right now is trying to make sense of the changes so that we can effectively negotiate a new plan and properly train our teachers. The initial regulations were adopted on an emergency basis, so there is still some fluidity in the details. We have been diligently negotiating a new plan, but many details are still unknown. For example, SED has yet to release information on "supplemental assessments," nor has it published the "approved third-party assessment list" for use in preparing SLOs [Student Learning Objectives] for courses that do not end in a state assessment. At this point, I don't have enough information to even speculate on how our APPR 2.0 plan would quantify the growth of students in special area subjects such as art and music.
What is clear is that the students will need to take an assessment on a state list, and that these data will then be used to produce 50 percent of the APPR score for those teachers. Quite frankly, this is crazy!
KENNETH R. BOSSERT, PORT JEFFERSON SCHOOL DISTRICT
Formal observation of teachers and principals is far from a new practice in public schools; however, the requirements included within 3012-d [the state teacher/principal evaluation law, revised in April] add dimensions that are inconsistent with what most instructional leaders, including myself, deem to be best practice.
The requirement to use outside observers to conduct one-time "snapshot" observations derails the core purpose of the evaluation process, which is to improve instruction. Relationships between teachers/principals and their supervisors develop over time; all relevant information should be examined in the evaluation of professional practice, not a single lesson observation.
A similar concern is raised when such a large percentage of a teacher's or principal's overall rating is based on a singular assessment, which may or may not reflect the skill set of the individual being assessed by testing data. Much of what we do in education must be qualitatively assessed. I have yet to review an assessment that can measure effective pedagogy, relationships built with students and parents, or commitment to district and community initiatives.
Coupling successful implementation of 3012-d with state aid is also a recipe for disaster. As we have seen in the recent past, it is inevitable that forced, hasty decisions and concessions will be made, rather than development of a meaningful plan that maintains local control and reflects best practice.
Port Jefferson will negotiate in good faith with its bargaining units. One very real obstacle to overcome is the concerns that "both sides of the table" have when collaborating to develop a plan that complies with all of the regulations contained within 3012-d. When developing meaningful plans for our school district, we always begin with the question: "How will this benefit our students?" Right now, we struggle to answer that question. A better balance must be achieved and local control should not be lost. Therefore, we anticipate seeking a waiver and hope the new commissioner and the Board of Regents will reexamine the task they have set forth.
MICHAEL J. HYNES, PATCHOGUE-MEDFORD SCHOOL DISTRICT
School districts across New York are forced to develop a new teacher and principal evaluation plan by Nov. 15, or seek a waiver from the New York State Education Department. The Patchogue-Medford School District will bargain in good faith over the next several weeks, but it is unlikely any meaningful evaluation plan will be agreed upon during this short period of time. Our district would seek to craft a plan that is in the best interest of our children and the professionals who serve them. How can any school district do this under the current parameters set in place?
The question becomes: 'How do you fairly evaluate all teachers?' The answer is, you can't under this model. What does the State Education Department propose as an answer to evaluate educators who teach art and music? The answer is, nothing that makes sense. Experts have warned these evaluations are meaningless, especially if a district has a high number of parents who opted their children out of the 3-8 ELA [English Language Arts] and math assessments. I'm only scratching the surface.
In spite of this, our district will develop a comprehensive five-year blueprint which will focus on educators collaborating together and administrators concentrating on a capacity-building observation process. We will hold each other accountable as we build our plan together. Most important, we want our children and the professionals who serve our community to thrive in a place where "one size fits all" does not exist.