With so many moving parts and so much uncertainty, NYSUT is urging the State Education Department to extend its Dec. 1 deadline for school districts to apply for teacher evaluation variances.
“We’ve raised concerns and are hopeful the Regents will take the issue up at their Dec. 14 meeting and continue to accept variances,” NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango told NYSUT Policy Council members this week.
Local union leaders reported wide variation in how districts handle the state-required Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR) amid the pandemic. Some administrators are holding off on observations and evaluations, while others are currently rating teachers based on remote instruction. One leader called it a “smack in the face” to be negatively rating educators who are doing the best they can when schools are shifting back and forth between remote, hybrid and in-person learning.
“We rely on you to give us the boots-on-the-ground reports to shape our advocacy,” DiBrango said.
Local union leaders compared notes and discussed possible variance requests. For example, the union and district could reduce the number of observations (if more than two are required); revise the student performance measure or change unannounced observations to announced. NYSUT Director of Policy and Program Development Dan Kinley noted it’s important for union leaders to consider whether their local rubric includes measures that cannot be observed in a virtual setting.
Any changes to APPR plans or the request for variances must be locally negotiated. The Regents and SED do not have the power to halt APPR this year. That would require an executive order from the governor or a new state law approved by the Legislature and governor. Districts will still have to follow state law on minimum APPR requirements, however, many district plans currently require more.
At the Regents’ November meeting, SED officials acknowledged that many school districts are concerned about teacher evaluations because they use state assessments to measure the student performance category for APPR. The board has not yet decided whether state assessments will be held this year but have made it clear that if any tests are administered, they must be in person in school buildings. Last school year’s state exams were canceled due to the pandemic. SED has already canceled the January 2021 Regents exams.
APPR flexibility was one of several issues discussed at the Policy Council meeting. Leaders also expressed deep concerns about the social-emotional toll the pandemic is having on both students and staff; state guidance on COVID-19 testing and tracing policies for schools; and mounting budget difficulties and deficits.
Throughout the pandemic, local leaders noted the union has been an important source of information and support. “Members are leaning on each other and helping each other,” said Schenectady Federation of Teachers President Juliet Benaquisto.