NYSUT President Melinda J. Person is advocating for reforms to the state’s badly flawed teacher evaluation system.
In this op-ed, which appeared in The Journal News, Poughkeepsie Journal, Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Utica Observer-Dispatch and other newspapers, she calls on the governor and Legislature to fix APPR. It’s time, she said, to give districts the flexibility they need to de-link standardized tests from evaluations if they choose, and restore local control to APPR.
As legislators prepare to gavel out for the summer, one piece of pressing education business remains: Albany must finally reform the state’s broken teacher evaluation system and allow school professionals — superintendents, administrators, school boards and teachers — to design better ways to support teachers and help them grow.
Many see the current teacher evaluation system as badly flawed. Parents, especially, have openly rebelled at the seemingly endless array of tests that their children must take just to feed a mysterious mathematical algorithm that ranks and sorts teachers and schools, without providing much else in the way of useful information. Stressed-out teachers and administrators, already burdened with a heavy workload, don’t like the current evaluation system either. Indeed, every teacher and principal can share a heart-breaking story about drill-and-kill testing and how test prep has sucked creativity and joy out of teaching and learning.
The good news is there’s a better way and the governor and Legislature know it.
Rather than the test-and-punish system foisted on teachers years ago by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a newly reformed Annual Professional Performance Review system would allow local control of teacher evaluations. Districts that like their systems would be allowed to keep them. But, if school districts choose to do so, they would be empowered to develop new evaluation systems that focus on professional development and support instead of merely growth on state and local tests.
These new APPR systems would correctly leave it to individual school communities to determine, based on the unique characteristics of their student bodies, demographics and teaching staff, what sort of evaluation system would best support their teachers’ ongoing professional development and growth. These new systems would be required to be aligned with the state’s teaching, learning and educational leadership standards.
I want to be crystal clear: Classroom teachers, like just about everyone else in the workplace, welcome regular evaluations. Fair evaluations, based on mutual trust, can help teachers hone their already formidable classroom skills and allow them to demonstrate mastery of their subject matter and how to teach it effectively.
Instead of the one-size-fits-all approach embedded in the current broken system, new teacher evaluation systems based on local control would allow districts to place greater emphasis on teachers just out of college, for example, or to focus less on the highly regarded teacher with 20 years’ experience and more on a teacher who might need additional professional support.
Several labor-management committees across New York state have already developed templates on what strong, locally developed teacher evaluations systems can look like, featuring research-proven ideas like Peer Assistance and Review.
As the legislative session nears its final days, we call on Albany to take this important step towards toward fixing APPR and ending over-testing — a position supported by statewide organizations representing school superintendents, administrators, school boards and parents.
This is the right moment to put teacher evaluations back in the hands of school professionals in their own communities. Returning teacher evaluations to local control would allow educators — and New York state — to again put the emphasis back on what matters most in our classrooms — teaching and learning.
Melinda J. Person is president of the nearly 700,000-member New York State United Teachers.