November-December 2018 Issue
- APPR/Teacher Evaluation
October 23, 2018

Poughkeepsie teachers challenge district’s unfair APPR ratings

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Poughkeepsie teachers line up to formally appeal their unfair APPR ratings. Photo provided.

In a powerful show of activism, hundreds of Poughkeepsie Public Schools Teachers Association members showed up at school district offices to protest evaluation ratings torpedoed by poor results on a single test.

The line snaked out the door as members waited after school on two late September days to officially file time-stamped appeals.

In all, more than 275 of PPSTA’s 380 members were rated either “developing” or “ineffective,” putting them at risk of being placed on punitive Teacher Improvement Plans, or TIPs. The stakes were even higher for untenured teachers.

It was the high school English Language Arts Regents that slammed the Poughkeepsie teachers. Under an APPR plan pushed by a former superintendent, the district used the passing rate on the 11th grade Regents Exam as a group measure.

Poughkeepsie local president Stephanie Green makes sure the paperwork is in order. Photo provided.

“We told them using a group measure based on a single assessment was a recipe for disaster, years ago,” said PPSTA President Stephanie Green. “We questioned it all the way to the State Education Department, but we were told it was not negotiable."

The high-needs district chose the 11th grade ELA Regents Exam because it included a high number of students and usually about 70 percent passed it, Green said.

But this past year, after the state changed the 11R ELA grading scale and only 48 percent of the students passed the exam, the single test result sunk nearly every teacher’s rating.

Green said a small number of secondary teachers, whose ratings were tied to their own students’ Regents exam scores, were not affected by the group measure.

“It’s hard when your rating is tied to test scores of students who aren’t even in your classroom,” Green said.

“And it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the people who are teaching 11th grade ELA. They literally cried the first year."

When the unfair ratings were issued in the first weeks of school, Green said it was crucial to get information out and build solidarity.

“We made sure everyone knew their right to appeal and how to do it — even the exact language to do so,” Green said. “We also made it clear that we needed everyone in the pool — that, in the grand scheme, this affected everyone.”

Green was stunned by the turnout.

Aside from the fact that virtually every aggrieved teacher showed up to file their challenge, Green was heartened to see so many other PPSTA members turn out to show their strong support for their colleagues.

“We had people who were rated ‘highly effective,’ and even people who were out on maternity leave,” Green said. “It really turned into a rallying event.”

With support from NYSUT labor relations specialist Jeff Benton and staff in NYSUT’s Research and Educational Services Department, Green met with district officials, including the new superintendent and legal counsel. “The superintendent agreed with us that APPR should be used to help staff grow, not to punish,” Green said.

The district and union are hammering out a solution to the appeals issue to ensure that no one is harmed by this year’s situation.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango praised the Poughkeepsie local’s activism on behalf of its members and noted how important it is for districts to listen to the voice of the teachers’ union when designing evaluation systems.

“The APPR needs to be returned to local control so that teachers are at the table to create evaluation systems that support them and help them grow,” DiBrango said. “Now is the time for legislators to make changes to the law.”