Parents, teachers, administrators, school board members and national experts offered a wide range of opinions on how to move forward with a new teacher evaluation system, but virtually everyone agreed on three things: the governor's deadline is clearly unrealistic; the increased focus on testing must be scaled back; and the Regents need to do everything they can to allow flexibility and local control.
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In fact, so many speakers urged the Regents to "be bold and courageous" in mitigating the very worst aspects of the new law, it practically became a laugh-line.
The Regents held the all-day, invitation-only Learning Summit, dubbed "Evalapalooza" on Twitter, to gather recommendations on upcoming regulations that will govern a new teacher/principal evaluation system. Under the state budget approved just last month, the Regents have until June 30 to approve regulations. School districts - unless they can get a hardship exemption - are supposed to have state-approved evaluation plans by Nov. 15.
Numerous speakers urged the Regents to define "hardship" in the broadest sense so that districts will have the time they need to get it right this time. They also called for the Legislature to amend the law so that districts will not lose state school aid increases if they are unable to get a state-approved evaluation plan by the Nov. 15 deadline.
NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew were among those to urge the Regents to view the true purpose of evaluation as a tool to develop great teachers - not as a political football or punitive "gotcha" system that revolves around standardized testing.
"Our children are more than a test score and our teachers are more than a rating," Fortino said.
Fortino made a strong case for keeping what's good in the current evaluation system such as the currently approved rubrics, differentiated Teacher Improvement Plans, comprehensive training of evaluators and an appeals process that provides a system of checks and balances.
If teacher evaluation is to be about strengthening teacher practice, the observation process must be at the heart of it and must include multiple measures, Fortino said.
She said the provision requiring a so-called independent evaluator will be costly and difficult logistically for many districts. She suggested the Regents could mitigate this requirement by minimizing the weight of the outside evaluator to less than one percent. The union supports observations by the building principal, or a peer evaluator, with weight percentages determined through collective bargaining.
Mulgrew urged the Regents to use their authority to mitigate the worst aspects of the new law. "If we do not pull it out of the hands of the political process, it's going to get worse," he said. "Yes change is hard. But keep changing it and it gets worse. This should be a learning process."
Numerous panelists made the case for SED to allow districts to keep using existing rubrics, saying an enormous amount of time, training and energy have gone into using three or four key rubrics, including the popular NYSUT Teacher Practice rubric.
Other evaluation provisions worth "saving" would be prohibited under the new law: using an educator's goal setting, lesson plans, student surveys, and other artifacts. Administrators suggested finding ways to continue including these items in evaluations, perhaps as part of observations.
"We need to maximize, not minimize, allowable evidence," said Carol Conklin-Spillane, principal of Sleepy Hollow High School.
Jim Viola, director of governmental relations for School Administrators Association of New York State, urged the Regents not to expand what's already not working.
"Don't amplify the parts of APPR that are problematic, such as state-developed growth scores," Viola said. "We don't want principals, teachers and students to be collateral damage for a system that is rushed and forced ..."
Parent representatives urged the Regents to de-emphasize the use of test scores as part of the evaluation system. "There are real questions about the validity of these scores," said Natasha Capers, a parent of two boys in New York City. "My children are not test dummies" in a crashing vehicle.
"The law needs to be amended to decouple test scores from teacher evaluations and we need to reduce the length and time spent on state tests," said Lisa Rudley, a Hudson Valley parent and co-founder of the New York State Allies for Public Education. She said the parental opt-out movement will only continue to grow, unless this harmful testing climate is stopped.
Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said the nearly nine hours of testimony show "the complexity of what's ahead and the need to be thoughtful."
Vice Chancellor Anthony Bottar, who helped moderate the event, noted the summit would not be the only avenue for public input. He said individual Regents will conduct smaller events in their respective districts in the coming weeks and the State Education Department is collecting comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. NYSUT has been encouraging members to offer comments and suggestions at that website.