When the Principal Really is Your Pal
By Jane Weinkrantz
spent a lot of space in this column on praise for administrators, so this
month’s web article may seem a little unusual. However, the grassroots group
New York State Principals has
written a letter so important to our state’s education system and so
eloquent in its message that I really want to thank them publicly. Long Island
Principals Sean Feeney of The Wheatley School and Carol Burris of South Side
High School have composed a powerful argument against New York State’s Race-
to -the Top- motivated whirlwind romance and commitment to APPR, (Annual
Professional Performance Review) the teacher evaluation system that lacks any
basis in research or results and threatens to suck the creativity and enthusiasm
out of our profession while simultaneously deadening the experience of learning
Feeney and Burris did their homework on APPR and refuted the system using facts and research rather than the sweeping generalizations and emotionally charged rhetoric we’ve become accustomed to hearing whenever education reform is the topic. They are not opposed to professional assessment in theory, but they are deeply critical of the state’s current plan. The letter cites studies which demonstrate that tying teacher evaluation to standardized test scores is not an accurate or consistent way to determine teacher efficacy, that the practice of using test scores to measure teacher quality doesn’t improve student learning anyway and that even if using standardized test scores would accurately evaluate teachers and did improve student achievement, the Regents exams and the tests New York has in place for grades 3-8 were never intended for these purposes. It’s kind of like sitting in front of your microwave to keep warm.
Next, the principals address the negative impact APPR will have on
students and student/teacher relationships. Plainview-Old Bethpage has a long
history of encouraging students of all abilities to
“stretch themselves” by taking Advanced Placement and honors courses.
APPR would certainly put an end to this philosophy. With teacher
evaluations tied to standardized test scores, there would be no incentive to ask
students to go beyond the minimum Regents requirements since according to the
letter, “as suggested by
Commissioner King schools might be more reluctant to challenge students upward
for fear that poor test performance might result in teachers being unfairly
penalized.” The primary focus of all schools would be on the core disciplines
assessed with statewide tests. The enrichment students enjoy in second
languages, art, music, technology and electives would diminish, if not
disappear. Although Plainview-Old Bethpage’s mission statement guides us “to
provide an academically challenging and stimulating
environment for all students, and to enable them to realize their full potential
to be happy, ethical and analytical citizens of the world,” if nothing
changes, it is more likely that we will be providing our students with an
academically limited environment and enabling them to receive a narrow and
one-dimensional education driven by test data.
Likewise, with teacher retention dependent on student test scores, how long will it be before teachers regard their students not as minds to be challenged and nurtured, but as potential mines to be cleared in the path to job retention? How much of a bond can you form with someone whose lack of aptitude or interest could lead you to the unemployment line? The letter cites multiple studies to support the contention that “teachers will be subtly but surely incentivized to avoid students with health issues, students with disabilities, English Language Learners or students suffering from emotional issues. Research has shown that no model yet developed can adequately account for all of these ongoing factors.” In other words, students with “pre-existing conditions” will have a harder time finding dedicated teachers willing to risk their jobs to work with them.
Finally, the authors ask a practical question: how can a state that has just passed a 2% tax cap afford all this? The cost of APPR training for administrators, when calculated at $120 per day per attendee, is in the millions. Likewise, the mandates for outside grading and rapid turn-around of scores on state assessments mean school districts will be spending additional resources to have student tests which used to be graded by teachers graded by outside contractors so that they can be used to evaluate teachers. Will someone be grading the outside contractors? The principals’ letter states “according to a recent report by the New York State Superintendents entitled At the Edge, 81% of all superintendents are worried that they will not have the funds to implement APPR in a way that would best serve their students’ needs.”
Finally, the authors offer constructive ideas on how an effective evaluation process might work. Rather than grading individual teachers, they suggest that entire schools be evaluated because “student success is often predicated on the work of many adults in a school as well as out-of-school factors that are actually more responsible for student success.” Next is a call for piloting any evaluation program before making it a statewide mandate. Finally, they recommend the use of broad band terms such as ineffective, developing, effective and highly effective, rather than scoring teachers on a 1-100 scale.
As of this writing, over 745 principals or more than 16% of
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