APPR/Teacher Evaluation
July 02, 2024

APPR — It’s a done deal!

Author: Kara Smith
Source:  NYSUT Communications
APPR is a done deal!
Caption: President Melinda Person (left) joined SED Commissioner Betty Rosa (middle) in March to hand deliver copies of the bill to the offices of legislative Education Committee Chairs Sen. Shelley Mayer and Assemblymember Michael Benedetto.

Patience is a virtue. And for educators across New York state, that virtue has been sorely tested over the past decade by the state’s flawed APPR system. But in late June Gov. Kathy Hochul ushered in a new era of teacher evaluation when, with the stroke of a pen, she signed into law the APPR reform package supported by NYSUT and a coalition of partners including the NYS Council of School Superintendents, the NYS School Boards Association, the NYS Parent Teacher Association and the State Education Department.


“Today 700,000 NYSUT members are celebrating a victory that will transform classrooms across New York,” said NYSUT President Melinda Person who joined SED Commissioner Betty Rosa in March to hand deliver copies of the bill to the offices of legislative Education Committee Chairs Sen. Shelley Mayer and Assemblymember Michael Benedetto. “After more than a decade-long fight, the state is finally returning teacher and principal evaluations to local control.”


Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo changed the teacher evaluation system in the 2015-16 state budget, linking teacher test scores to student performance on a state standardized test and imposing a one-size-fits-all teacher observation rubric to rate educators.


“This is about restoring the daily joy of teaching and learning, and it is about evaluating our educators like the professionals they are,” Person continued. “We thank the governor for signing this law, which rejects a punitive, test-focused model, and embraces the creativity, growth and career development that is vital for healthy schools.” 


The reforms are welcome news for teachers like Kimberly Popken, Poughkeepsie Public School Teachers Association president, and Stephanie Green, PPSTA’s former president. Both remember when, back in 2018 when Green headed the unit, more than 275 of the local’s 380 members were rated either “developing” or “ineffective” due to Poughkeepsie’s APPR plan which uses the 11th grade English Language Arts exam to evaluate all district educators — from K-12. Administrators chose the exam, despite union pushback, because traditionally it had a 70 percent pass rate. But thanks to grading scale changes that year, only 48 percent passed sinking nearly every teacher’s rating and putting them at-risk of punitive Teacher Improvement Plans or, for untenured teachers, dismissal.


“I teach French, but I was evaluated on an 11th grade ELA exam,” said Popken noting that educators challenged the scores with a two-day mass appeal, which was successful for many teachers. But despite union efforts to negotiate change in 2019, the same faulty evaluation system remains in place.


“If you’re saying that APPR is a tool for teacher growth, then how can … an 11th grade English exam tell me what worked or didn’t work for my students,” said Green, a third-grade teacher at Morse Elementary. “How do I get better if my evaluations are based on an 11th graders score?”


The system also places unfair strain on the high school English department whose members bear the weight of colleagues’ scores on their shoulders, continued Green.


“The reforms are long overdue and I’m thankful that we can finally get back to the process of improving student learning and teacher performance,” said Popken noting that decoupling teacher evaluations from student test scores could help with recruitment in high-need, inner-city districts like Poughkeepsie where many students face challenges due to poverty. “When you’re surrounded by districts where most students don’t have those issues, it makes working in schools like ours less attractive.”


Green hopes the reforms result in teachers’ experience and professionalism being heard and respected. “We want to make things better for the teaching profession, students and the community,” she said. “We can’t do that unless we have an evaluation system that’s not punitive, that supports educators and helps them in their profession.”


The new APPR system doesn’t require student performance measures, must be bargained collectively and be locally developed and must include multiple measures aligned with state teaching and leadership standards. A four-level numbered rating system with four indicating exemplary performance, replaces the former HEDI scores of highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. Districts have up to eight years to institute the new evaluation system.


“This bill would not have been possible without the resolute advocacy of our members, our legislative allies and our statewide education partners,” said Person. “Together we raised our voices to make momentous change, and together we will continue to support the essential work of educating the next generation.”