May 2015 Issue - APPR/Teacher Evaluation
April 27, 2015

Our fight rages on for a fair teacher evaluation system

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

The governor's new teacher evaluation law is nothing short of malpractice - and the work to find the right approach now shifts to the Regents and the Legislature.

"Let's be absolutely clear: NYSUT rejects this evaluation system," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee.

"It is an unworkable, convoluted plan that undermines local control, disrespects principals and school administrators, guts collective bargaining and further feeds the testing beast."

The deadlines imposed under the new law are totally unreasonable. The Regents must have regulations in place by June 30; school districts are supposed to have a state-approved APPR plan by Nov. 15, or risk losing their promised state aid increases. Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch has said she wants to administratively extend the time districts are being given, so that they may have until Sept. 1, 2016 to put their plans in place.

As NYSUT moves forward on a number of fronts to fix what the governor has broken, the union is calling on the Regents to step up and do what they can to mitigate the damage.

The first call of action: NYSUT is urging the Regents to hold public hearings in their judicial district areas to solicit input on what's needed to fix testing and evaluations - before they consider pending regulatory provisions. On the first day after NYSUT put out the call for public hearings, more than 22,000 email messages were sent to Regents.

Soon after, Tisch announced plans for an "APPR Learning Summit" on May 7 in Albany. It would include stakeholder groups representing teachers, superintendents, principals, parents and school board members. The event is invitationonly, but the day-long summit will be live-streamed.

SED has also set up a special email address to take in comments: eval2015@nysed.gov.

NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino said scheduling the Albany hearing is a good first step for the Regents to gather essential feedback. NYSUT members should continue reaching out directly to their local Regent. The union is committed to working productively with the Regents, many of whom were just elected after two incumbents were ousted by the Legislature.

In a letter to Tisch after the budget was approved, Fortino shared the union's year-long work and recommendations of its own task force on teacher evaluations.

"While some of our recommendations would require additional changes in the law, our positions in favor of multiple measures, local control and limiting the impact of state tests are within your current authority," Fortino wrote. "We believe there is room for the Regents to deemphasize standardized testing and emphasize teacher development to improve student learning."

Specifically, NYSUT is calling on the Regents to adopt regulations that limit the impact of state tests, maximize local control and help teachers grow throughout their careers. Districts need to have real options for local assessments and a system that recognizes the value of professional conversations between principals and teachers by limiting the input of independent evaluators.

NYSUT strongly opposes the law's requirement for "independent" evaluators to perform at least one observation. "This will add bureaucratic red tape and cost while overriding community control," Fortino said.

"Observations should be handled by building principals and, where negotiated, peer evaluators, who are more attuned to local needs."

Fortino also urged the Regents to limit the weight of any student growth model - and to improve it by adding factors that provide a better measure of poverty, district fiscal capacity and student demographics.

At a time when many states are de-emphasizing state testing, editorial boards around New York state and national figures are questioning why the governor is moving in the opposite direction.

As Cuomo's approval ratings are steadily sinking, polls show voters do not think student test scores should weigh heavily in teacher evaluations and they definitely want less standardized testing.