The Future of APPR

It’s looking like there are, once again, changes on the horizon for APPR. They may be slow in coming, and they may or may not be significant. But if we can push hard enough, we may be able to achive meaninful improvements by the end of this legislative session

Slow Progress
Last Monday, both Chalkbeat and Newsday posted articles about potential changes to New York’s current teacher evaluation system (also known as 3012(d), part of the Education Transformation Act). Neither article gave the full picture, so in case you only saw one (or neither) here’s a short summary.

Chalkbeat reported on an announcement by Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia that NYSED will once again be revamping the teacher evaluation system. The process, which will begin in the Spring of 2017, will convene a committee of “teachers and experts to review the state’s evaluation law as well as national models.” The recommendations will be presented in Fall 2017, developed the following year, and implemented for the 2019-20 school year.

Meanwhile, according to Newsday, the Board of Regents formed a workgroup to explore “the validity of the state test system and its links to teacher evaluations.” That group is set to begin its work next month and report its findings early next year.

What it Means
Given the overwhelming research showing that the tests themselves are flawed, and that the use of tests in evaluations is not valid, it is almost certain that the Regents’ workgroup will come back with a recommendation to dramatically scale back the use of test scores in evaluations or, more likely, to decouple them completely.

Presumably, NYSED will try to incorporate the conclusions from the workgroup into their revised evaluation plan, but they don’t have legal authority to do very much.

As has been mentioned before, and as both articles point out, significant changes to the evaluation system (such as de-coupling test scores from APPR) can only be made by the legislature. So one of three things will ultimately happen.

  • The worst case scenario is that they come up with new plan that fits within the law, which means we’ll once again be re-negotiating APPR in two years without any meaningful improvements.
  • They might come up with a plan that fixes all, or some of, what’s wrong with APPR, but the legislature doesn’t budge on 3012(d), so the whole thing is meaningless.
  • The best case scenario, of course, is that they come up with a plan that addresses some, or all of the flaws in the evaluation system and are able to use their clout and the force of public sentiment to get the legislature to make it a reality. (Ideally, the legislature would not codify a new plan as into law, but would repeal the law dictates how teacher evaluations are done).

There is reason to feel optimistic for the third scenario. We have had a number small gains recently, and the mere fact that NYSED is pursuing this path after the Governor had already indicated that teacher evaluations were not to be part of the task force, means that they are feeling the pressure.

Quite clearly the opt-out movement is a big part of what’s happening here, but it is not the whole story. That we are talking not only about the tests, but also how they are used to evaluate teachers, means that phone calls and faxes, NYSUT lobbying,  legal action taken by NYSUT and individuals like Sheri Lederman, and our presence at rallies around the state, are all having an impact.

The pace of progress is maddeningly slow, but we are moving in the right direction. We must, we can, and we will, keep up the pressure.

A Huge Leap Forward
In contrast with the glacial progress referred to above, four bills put forth by legislator Todd Kaminsky would, in one fell swoop, undo a huge amount of the damage that has been done by the Education Transformation Act. These bills would:

  • Decouple teacher evaluations from test scores and direct the Regents to create a new evaluation system created by a committee of certified New York State teachers.
  • Reduce the role of standardized tests, shorten the tests, and increase transparency.
  • Provide alternative paths to graduation for students who cannot pass Regents exams
  • Repeal the section of the law that allows the state to take over struggling schools (or turn them over to private entities)

These bills should be a no-brainer. There is popular support for all of these ideas, and nearly every legislator who spoke out about the 2015 Education Transformation Act either opposed it because of these elements or expressed regret for the fact that they felt they had to vote for them in order to get the budget passed. But, of course, in politics, nothing is that simple.

As noted previously, the cynical perspective is that Kaminsky (who voted in favor of the budget last year) only introduced these bills to squeeze out a few extra votes in his bid for disgraced State Senator Dean Skelos’ seat in last week’s special election. If that’s the case, it seems to have worked; although the results have not been declared final, Kaminsky appears to have won by just a few hundred votes.

Was this just a political ploy? First of all, no matter what we think of politicians as a group, we should at least acknowledge the possibility that they can, at least on occasion, change their minds and do the right thing for the right reasons. Second, even if it was a ploy, who cares?

The bills are out there now, and with enough support they will be brought to the floor and voted on. It is now up to us. It is critical that everyone contact their State Assemblyman and Senator to tell them to get behind these bills.

Please take action now. We can hope that the Regents and NYSED do the right thing and get this mess cleaned up by 2019, or we can put pressure on our elected officials to do the right thing right now.

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