Is APPR Finally Dead?

Friday, April 27, 2018

by Joseph Romano, LUT Corresponding Secretary

After a pre-budget legislative session that dashed those who support public education, a flurry of recent activity in the state political landscape may have just signed the death knell for APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review).

On the morning of April 26, Democratic primary challenger for Governor, Cynthia Nixon, came out publicly for an immediate repeal of the state’s education law regarding teacher evaluations.

The full story of Nixon’s announcement can be found here.

To spearhead her efforts regarding this issue, Nixon formed a group called “Educators for Cynthia” that includes notable education leaders such as Diane Ravitch.  The group called for an end of the use of all state tests in teacher evaluations.  This would include not only the widely criticized state ELA and Math exams administered in grades 3 through 8, but also State Regents exams administered in secondary schools.

Nixon used the media interest created by her announcement to attack Governor Cuomo, using his own words to remind voters of the Governor’s past views on APPR.

“A couple years ago Andrew Cuomo described teacher evaluation based on high stakes testing as one of his greatest legacies, now he is hoping that parents and teachers have forgotten all about it,” Nixon said in her public remarks.  “Enough of the delays and excuses Governor Cuomo, it is time to repeal the APPR now.”

Whether or not Governor Cuomo was prepared for Nixon’s announcement or not is still unclear.  What is clear is that the Governor’s team was quick to respond.

Within a few hours of Nixon’s announcement, New York State Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, and the Assembly's Education Committee Chairperson, Catherine Nolan, introduced legislation A. 10475 on the floor of the State Assembly.

According to the public statement published by Speaker Heastie, A. 10475 would, “remove the mandate that state created or administered assessments be used to evaluate a teacher's or principal's performance.”  “The Commissioner of Education would be required to promulgate regulations providing alternative assessments for districts that choose not to use state assessments.”

In addition, A. 10475 would eliminate the use of the state-provided growth model in a teacher or principal's evaluation.  When in official use, this model was widely criticized and challenged in court, most notably the 2016 State Supreme Court case brought by Great Neck elementary school teacher, Sheri Lederman.  In that case, the Supreme Court Judge Roger McDonough, did not rule on the state-growth score on a state-wide level because a moratorium had been issued by the state education department prohibiting its official use in teacher evaluations.  However, the judge did find that Mrs. Lederman proved that the state growth score system had provided her with an unfair evaluation and ruled that her score be expunged.

The Heastie sponsored bill in the State Assembly will also repeal many of the rules outlined in education law 3012.d that determine a teacher or principal's overall rating and make permanent provisions that prohibit ELA or math state assessments from being included on a student's permanent record.

The introduction of a significant piece of legislation at this time in an election cycle is, quite simply, out of character with the general order of business usually followed in state congressional politics.  Incumbent State Senators and Assemblymen are generally reluctant to put forth any bills that might jeopardize their position with voters in the upcoming elections. 

However, in this instance it seems clear that Governor Cuomo did not want to risk being outflanked politically on an issue of great concern to parents, teachers and other stakeholders in public education throughout our state.  This despite stating publically through his spokesperson earlier this year that he had no intention of repealing APPR at any time in the near future.

In an interview published by Newsday in February, Abbey Fashouer, a spokeswoman for the Governor, noted that it was the Governor’s intention to stay the course on APPR, keeping the existing moratorium on the use of the scores on state tests in place until the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.  When asked if the Governor was considering any changes to the state education law, Fashouer responded that, “We will revisit the issue at the appropriate time.”

It is perhaps fair to assume that the political pressure being applied by Mrs. Nixon caused the Governor to determine that now was the appropriate time.

NYSUT President, Andy Pallotta announced recently that NYSUT will commence an urgent campaign to push members of the state Senate to vote for legislation A. 10475 during the final weeks of the current legislative session.  According to Pallotta, Governor Cuomo has expressed to him support for the legislation and will help to secure passage of the bill.

Read more about NYSUT’s campaign to support the bill here.

Whether she wins the Democratic nomination for Governor in the primary next fall or not, supporters of public education may end up having Cynthia Nixon to thank for providing the impetus to repeal a law that, in the view of many experts, has stunted the growth and development of public education in New York state for almost a decade.  The Governor and the incumbents in the state Senate and Assembly might attempt to take the credit, but the political reality of the situation is that is those in favor of bringing the law to an end will have Cynthia Nixon to thank for the death of APPR.

But, she may end up being the person we thank for once and for all putting an end to APPR!


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