“All Politics is Local,” The Saga of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), Assessing Teacher Performance and the Underside of Law-Making in Albany

Mike Schmoker, the author of Focus, wrote a prescient article in Education Week, “Why I’m Against Innovation in Education” at the same time that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg announced yet another richly funded innovation,  “The State of the Art Ideas for Schools,” Schmoker writes,

I’m against innovation in education—as currently conceived and conducted. I’m not against small-scale educational experimentation, where new methods are tested, refined, and proved before they are widely implemented. But I’m against our inordinate obsession with what’s new at the expense of what works—with exceedingly superior (if much older) evidence-based practices

 “Inordinate obsession” is the appropriate term; education policy has been driven by billionaires, economists, statisticians and psychometricians, experts on one field setting policy in another field. A prime example is the work of Raj Chetty, who uses “big data,” statistical tools to analyze huge datasets. Chetty and others, in “The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood” concludes that high Value Added teachers have a substantial positive impact on students into adulthood; however, warns that VA should not be used for teacher evaluation

… our study shows that great teachers create great value and that test score impacts are helpful in identifying such teachers. However, more work is needed to determine the best way to use VA for policy. For example, using VA in teacher evaluations could induce counterproductive responses that make VA a poorer measure of teacher quality, such as teaching to the test or cheating. There will be much to learn about these issues from school districts that start using VA to evaluate teachers.

 In spite of Chetty’s caveat states across the nation hopped on the “assess teachers through student test results” bandwagon. The NYS Board of Regents held a summit, experts from across the nation, expressing opinions on the use of student data as assessment tools. The experts warned that the use of Value-Added was ill-advised; teachers teach different kids each year, as well as different grades and different subjects, the errors of measurement, plus/minus ten, twenty, thirty percent makes the data useless. Another vampire idea, a refuted idea that refuses to die; popping up again and again.

The New York State Race to the Top application, in exchange for $700 million, included a multiple measures plan, teachers rated by a combination of supervisory observations and student test scores. Without going too far into the weeds, the current system, called a matrix, combines supervisory observations and student learning objectives (SLO) also referred to as measurements of student learning (MOSL).

Three years ago the governor agreed to a four year moratorium on the use of student test scores and this year the commissioner was in the early phases of constructing an alternative plan. The commissioner has used a consultative process, task forces or work groups, the names are interchangeable, to propose changes in state policies.

Apparently the state teacher union (NYSUT) had been working with the Assembly leadership to craft a plan, a bill was introduced the day before the state teacher union convention and passed, with only one negative vote a few days later. The commissioner was clearly stunned, and not happy. While changing the law is the responsibility of the legislature, the commissioner is the leader, the CEO of the state education establishment amd would expect to be part of the bill drafting process.

A summary of the changes and the opinions of the stakeholders, read here .

The bill passed in the Assembly was introduced as the Senate, a “same as” bill, and, sponsored by the Senate education chair; however, not so fast. Chalkbeat, the online education website muses over the future of the bill.

Senate Majority leader John Flanagan has a dilemma, the bill is popular with parents as well as teachers, the Long Island Opt Out Facebook page proudly boasts 25,000 members, a number of them in Republican senatorial districts. Flanagan needs cover for his Republican colleagues, and his presser speculates over whether the bill will increase the number of tests, clearly an appeal to Opt Out parents.

Since it was first introduced, the State Education Department, the New York State School Boards Association, and the New York Council of School Superintendents have raised concerns that the legislation as written could inadvertently open the door to even more testing than we have now.  Nobody – not students, not parents, not teachers, nor myself or my legislative colleagues – wants that outcome.  With this in mind, we are performing an extensive review of this legislation to determine the best path forward. 

The School Boards Association also questions the bill, a bill that requires negotiations with the collective bargaining agents

We are concerned that if enacted, proposed APPR legislation that has passed the Assembly would result in additional student testing. 

Unless the state wants to forfeit federal ESSA funds, it still must administer grades 3-8 ELA and math state assessments. Under the proposed APPR legislation, students could have to take both the state tests as well as alternative assessments that would be used for teacher and principal evaluation purposes.

In addition, we have serious concerns about the requirement in the legislation for school districts to negotiate the selection of alternative assessments through collective bargaining. This represents a step backward, as school districts presently have the authority to determine assessments used in teacher evaluations.

School boards would rather see unions disappear than work with them in a collaborative manner.

The leader of Long Island Opt Out sees the proposed law as a “small step,” and is agnostic.

Jeanette Brunelle Deutermann

Admin · May 2 at 6:31pm

I want to be clear on what went down/is going down with the new APPR legislation. First and foremost, this legislation does absolutely nothing for children. Not that all legislation has to be centered around children, but I just want to ensure that if you hear ANY INDIVIDUAL or ORGANIZATION proclaim that it is, they are lying. All this does is take away the REQUIREMENT for districts to use 3-8 scores in evaluations, the way it used to be before the moratorium. After this law is passed, districts will continue to be forced to use test scores as 50% of their evaluation, but now in addition to local computer assessments, the science test, or regents tests being a choice, now 3-8 assessments are back on the list. A minuscule positive detail – they don’t HAVE to use 3-8 tests (as they would have had to use as the moratorium comes to an end). Those involved in creating this bill are celebrating this as a huge win. A more appropriate response would be “very sad that this is all our elected officials could muster.” Some have said “but it’s a step.” I guess that all depends on what shoes you’re wearing.

 The legislature will plod along, adjournment around the end of the third week in June and won’t return, except for an unusual special session, until January, 2019; the governor has until the end of the year to sign bills that pass both houses.

Will the Republican leader bring the bill to the floor for a vote? Will the governor sign the bill?

Flanagan has a conundrum,

  •  Should he try and extract a quid prop quo from the Democrats in the Assembly – signing the bill in exchange for, let’s say, raising the charter school cap in New York City, or, approving pre-K classes in the Success Academy charter schools? Actions probably resulting in dollars from the charter school political action committees.
  • Should Flanagan, sub rosa, try and get NYSUT, the teacher union, not to vigorously oppose fellow Republicans in the November general election? Unlikely
  • Should he simply “say no,” it’s a bad bill, without changes palatable to the commissioner and the school board association? In other words use the commissioner and the school board association as cover.

Or, oppose the bill and try and trash the teacher union as being self-serving.

And, will the governor sign the bill without an endorsement from NYSUT?  The small number of union locals that endorsed Zephyr Teachout four years ago might decide to endorse Cynthia Nixon this time, clearly engendering the animosity of the governor.

The end of the legislative session is called “the big ugly” for a reason.

Oddly, this is not an issue in New York City. The City and the Union agreed upon a system of using SLOs and MOSLs and a sophisticated set of alghorisms that satisfies their needs. Under the last year of Bloomberg 2.7% of teachers received unsatisfactory ratings, under the current matrix, less than 1% of teachers received ineffective ratings. The question of the number of observations will be part of the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.

Maybe a sentence that should be posted above the Albany legislative chambers:

“No mans life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Gideon J. Tucker, NYS Surrogate, 1866

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One response to ““All Politics is Local,” The Saga of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), Assessing Teacher Performance and the Underside of Law-Making in Albany

  1. Lawrence Block

    The obvious questions – after adverse ratings of teachers, followed by replacements, does student achievement rates increase? Is there a correlation between teacher ratings and student achievement? Is there an association between the curriculum employed and student achievement? Would the use of tests, that assess the actual content and skills that are taught in the classroom, be a more effective method of measuring student learning? Is there a relationship between supervisory observations and student learning outcomes? Sometimes rejecting complex and multiple measures and using assessment models that are closest to the classroom makes perfect sense.Keep it simple – not so stupid.

    Like

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