December 2013/January 2014 - APPR/Teacher Evaluation, Testing/Assessments and Learning Standards
December 18, 2013

Put on the brakes: Moratorium on high-stakes consequences provides time for much-needed course corrections

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
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Caption: NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, center, attends a rally with parents and educators outside Mineola High School to call for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences linked to state tests.

The drumbeat demanding a moratorium on high-stakes consequences from state standardized tests is getting louder and stronger.

In Day of Action activities around the state on Dec. 9, educators, parents and community members urgently sounded the call for state policymakers to make much-needed course corrections and focus on teaching and learning - not testing.

In forums and legislative hearings, hundreds of community members have said "enough is enough." Thousands more have sent online messages via NYSUT's website urging the Board of Regents and state education commissioner to listen to parents and educators and stop rushing Common Core implementation.

(Find the action letter at www.nysut.org/dayofactionletter.)

Editorial writers around the state are joining the choir: The Albany Times Union recently compared SED's reform effort to turning a figurative battleship.

moratoriumInstead of getting caught up in waves, the editorial says, parents, students and teachers are feeling as if they're caught in a tsunami.

"There is no shame in acknowledging that a plan needs fine tuniing," the Times Union editorial said. "Without course adjustments, you're bound to get lost at sea. Consider the cargo - our children's future - that's a risk we can't take."

While SED officials continue to barrel full speed ahead with Common Core implementation and testing, NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said the union remains focused on a three-year moratorium.

"A moratorium will give us the time and the space to do it right," Neira told local union leaders at a recent NYSUT Policy Council meeting.

"We need to take the stress out of the system and take a good look at what needs to be fixed. We need to turn the anger and frustration into engagement."

Neira noted a three-year moratorium will give state policymakers and educators the time to take a hard look at testing practices, including:

  • reducing the state's over-reliance on standardized tests;
  • increasing the use of meaningful and authentic assessments;
  • ensuring state assessments are age- and grade-appropriate;
  • mandating full transparency for test questions so parents and educators can use them to help students improve; and
  • requiring privacy of student test data, preventing third-party, for-profit vendors from using student data without parental consent.

The question is whether SED has the will to make administrative changes and whether the governor and Legislature have the will to go back and change the law, Neira said.

While advocating for regulatory and legislative relief, NYSUT is also stepping up to take a hard look at how the state's APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) system needs to be revised.

The reality is the state's over-emphasis on standardized testing has grown due to the way SED is regulating the new teacher/principal evaluation law.

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Kenmore TA President Peter Stuhlmiller, a NYSUT APPR Workgroup member, says districts need relief from SED regulations regarding APPR. Photo by El-Wise Noisette. 

"We're looking for regulatory relief in SED guidelines," said Kenmore TA's Peter Stuhlmiller. "Our problems have been with how SED is taking the statutory requirements and making them into regulatory dictates."

Stuhlmiller is one of about 20 local union leaders serving on NYSUT's APPR Workgroup to identify how the state's teacher evaluation law should be changed. The APPR Workgroup was formed in response to a resolution approved by delegates at NYSUT's 2013 Representative Assembly.

"We want you to use your experiences to guide us on where we go from here," Neira said at the workgroup's first meeting in December. "What have we learned in this first year?"

Workgroup participants agreed they want a teacher/principal evaluation system that is fair, concrete, appropriate and manageable.

Vestal TA's Joseph Herringshaw suggested that state lawmakers are eager to act on legislation to curb the excessive standardized testing. "Lawmakers are saying it's clear they need to unwind what SED has done," Herringshaw said. "We need to capitalize on that."

Other participants said their districts are struggling to come up with local measures for teacher evaluations that are not dependent on state tests. Half Hollow Hills TA President Richard Haase noted that grade 3-8 teachers and special education teachers seem to be disproportionately impacted under the current evaluation system.

Catalina Fortino of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City said teachers are overrun with excessive paperwork and concerned about the appropriateness of testing the youngest students and those with special needs.

Tomia Smith, president of the Massapequa Federation of Teachers, said the poverty issue needs to be addressed if student test scores are going to be used in teacher evaluations.

In addition to forming the workgroup,

NYSUT has surveyed local presidents on APPR implementation and held more than a dozen focus groups with parents and members.

"We're doing what SED should be doing - that is taking a step back and looking at where we are and where we need to go from here," Neira said. "We need to look at lessons learned and make the necessary changes to ensure a fair comprehensive system that is about professional growth, not a composite number."