The Death Knell for APPR?

Monday, April 1, 2024
For those on the front lines of the fight against our current state teacher evaluation system, what happened on Wednesday, March 20 was a moment some 14 years in the making.
Following serious deliberations amongst several public education stakeholders, New York State United Teachers President (NYSUT) President Melinda Person, and New York State Education Commissioner, Betty Rosa, jointly delivered to state lawmakers new legislation that would reform the state’s teacher evaluation system and return decisions on how to assess the work of teachers to the local districts who employ them. To mark this momentous occasion, Person and Rosa personally handed the bill to the Education Committee Chairpeople in the state congress, State Senator, Shelley Mayer and State Assemblymember, Michael Benedetto. 
Photo above: NYSUT President, Melinda Person (center left), and State Education Department (SED) Commissioner, Betty Rosa (center right), walk from the State Education Building to personally deliver the APPR bill to state lawmakers.
“If you value the love of teaching and learning in our public schools, if you think our educators should be treated like the professionals they are, if you think that teaching to tests has gone too far, then this is a great day,” NYSUT President Person said.
To view a NYSUT video with more comments from President Person, State Assemblymember Benedetto, State Education Department Commissioner Rosa and State Senator Mayer, click on the image below.
How Did We Get Here?
In 2010, a law was enacted that made major changes to how teachers and principals in our state would be evaluated. The law required local districts to conduct an Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) of each teacher and principal that resulted in a rating of “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing,” or “ineffective.”
From the first days of the introduction of the law, local school districts began reporting back to the state education department regarding the many flaws in the APPR system, not the least of which was that the new APPR system was an unfunded mandated that created a substantial financial burden for local school districts. Of course, the greatest concern about the law stemmed from the inclusion of Student Growth Measures in determining a teacher’s APPR rating. So-called “Growth Scores” were determined for many teachers and principals based on state exams that utilized developmentally inappropriate standards and was calculated using a formula that was based on math that simply did not check out. For instance, Growth Scores of Ineffective were being assessed to teachers whose students achieved 96% mastery on the state exams simply because that same teachers’ students achieved 97% mastery the previous school year. A growth model paradigm was established that, at a certain point, was simply not achievable.
Nevertheless, in 2015, the New York state budget included provisions that increased the importance of state standardized test scores in the APPR system. Teachers’ student performance scores became less reliant on the grades students received in their own classes and more on state exams that were only loosely based on the subjects they taught and students in their own classrooms. For example, a 3rd grade Art teacher would receive a student growth score based off the state English Language Arts (ELA) and Math exams taken by the 4th graders in their school.
In the Fall of 2015, NYSUT went to court to challenge the usage of state standardized test scores in APPR and the method by which student growth scores were calculated. In the Lederman v. King ruling, judge Roger D. McDonough, J. ruled that the State Growth Score system was invalid and could no longer be used in a teacher’s APPR score. This ruling came during a period of increased public resistance to the poor implementation and improper use of state assessments, not just in teacher evaluations but throughout the public-school curriculum. The “Opt-Out” movement, led by many stakeholders in public education was in full force and the state-wide public outcry compelled lawmakers to make changes.
Sonia Romano, age 8, participating in an Opt-Out rally in Garden City in March of 2016
In December of 2015, the Board of Regents voted to implement a four-year moratorium on the consequences of using the state’s grades 3-8 ELA and math assessment in APPR, while the State Education Department worked on revising standards and reforming the state assessments. This moratorium has been extended each year to the present day. During this transition time, school districts and local bargaining units negotiated transitional APPR plans that use alternative measures of student performance to show student growth. In the Levittown District, scores on the five New York State Regents exams students are required to take for a Regents diploma are used to determine a district-wide score for student performance. In implementing the current moratorium, the state made the gap even greater between the grade level of students whose test scores were being used and the subject matter being assessed on those tests. We currently have elementary school music teachers receiving student performance scores based on the results of 10th and 11th grade students on a high school Global History Regents exam. Needless to say, the score received by teachers in the current APPR system does little to improve teaching or inform future instruction. A change to this system is long overdue.
What Will the New Law Do?
The APPR reform legislation presented to state lawmakers on March 20 is the product of the combined efforts of several prominent organizations in New York State, including NYSUT, the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the New York State Parent Teacher Association, and the New York State Education Department. If passed in both houses of the State Congress and signed into law by the Governor, the legislation would, first and foremost, return the APPR system to local control. Each school district in the state would be able to create a plan that meets the professional assessment and professional development goals in their communities. Districts could determine for themselves whether to continue to rely on scores on high-stakes tests to evaluate teachers or create legitimate processes within their schools to improve teaching and student learning outcomes.
President Melinda Person and the State Education Commissioner jointly deliver new legislation to the Legislature's education leaders, Senator Shelley Mayer and Assemblymember Michael Benedetto, that would rewrite the flawed teacher evaluation system and restore local control.
In a press release about the proposed legislation, New York State Parent Teacher Association (NYS PTA) President Helen Hoffman and Executive Director Kyle Belokopitsky said, “NYS PTA is thrilled to see movement away from the current flawed and punitive system of evaluation, towards a model that truly supports educators in meaningful ways and recognizes the professionalism and work teachers and principals do each day in the classroom and school building. We are exceptionally proud of the work that Educational Conference Board members have accomplished this past year, working hand in hand with the State Education Department, to craft a new system that supports teaching, learning, and most importantly — our students. We look forward to swift introduction and passage in the Legislature, and know that parents and families will continue to partner with educators to make every child’s potential a reality as we Support Kids, Raise Awareness, together.”
Once the bill is enacted into law, districts would be required to negotiate with unions to adopt a plan consistent with the new law within eight years—by the start of the 2032-33 school year. Plans would remain in force until a successor plan is negotiated and reviewed by the State Education Department. Under the new law, there will be no threats of state aid penalties based on APPR scores or student scores on state standardized tests.


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