APPR Update

As reported before the break, the Common Core Task force released their report on December 10th, which included a recommendation for a moratorium on the use of  Common Core tests in teacher evaluations. Four days later, the Regents adopted an emergency regulation which accepted that recommendation and states that there will be “no consequences for teachers and principals related to 3-8 ELA and mathematics state assessments and no growth score on Regents exams until the start of the 2019-2020 school year.”  Most recently, NYSED released a FAQ about the transition which gives guidance to districts on implementing and negotiating APPR in the face of the new regulations.

On one hand, the recommendations in the report are a positive sign – the persistent push-back from parents and educators has forced the Governor and State Ed Dept. to respond and to acknowledge that the system is broken. It is an opening that, with sufficient effort, we can turn into positive change. But as NYSUT’s statement says, “there is more hard work to be done,”  and unless we come together to do that work, these new regulations will wind up doing more harm than good. Here’s a quick summary of what that harm is or may be:

More, not fewer, tests

Commissioner Elia insists that there will be “no additional testing,” but this is just not accurate. The regulations require that all teachers be given a growth score based on student achievement, so districts (like ours) which do not already have final exams in all grades would need to create (or use commercially produced) final exams, thus adding additional testing to the year. Because it will be necessary to create “pre-” and “post-” local tests, students in grades 3-8 may find themselves taking three times as many tests each year. For now, districts that have been granted a waiver for 2015/16 do not need to add additional tests (allowing those teachers to be evaluated solely by observation), but that would be for this year only (nearly all districts in the state, including SWR, applied for, and were granted, waivers). Also, although the statement in the first paragraph seems to make it clear that Regents exams cannot be used for evaluations, the FAQ document appears to say otherwise (see question 9).

More, not fewer, test-based ratings

Although they don’t count for students or teachers, the state tests will still be given, and teachers will still be getting a score based on them. The score just can’t be used for employment decisions (e.g. tenure, dismissal, putting a teacher on a TIP).  In other words, teachers whose scores were based on state tests will now be getting two evaluation scores, a “transition score,” which does not include state tests, and an “original composite score,” which does. So if your students don’t do well on the state tests, you will still have the pleasure of being labeled as developing or ineffective – although the rating can only be used for  “advisory” purposes (whatever that means).  It will also be shared alongside the transition score if parents request a teachers’ rating.

Students (and teachers) are still being assessed on Common Core

As noted, the moratorium is on STATE common core tests. But the requirements continue to call for testing, and since our math and ELA curriculum is still based on the common core, then obviously our local tests will need to be as well (unless we’ll be testing students on something other than what we’re teaching them). So even though the commission found serious flaws with the Common Core that necessitate it being revisited and revised over the next few years, it will still be used for evaluation.

A false sense of security

The way the press has been reporting this story, along with misleading statements from Commissioner Elia (e.g. “Now that we’ve put the use of assessments for evaluations on hold…”), make it seem that, at least for the time being, things are just fine. Obviously, they are not, and the big fear is that just as we need to get people involved and active, they will become complacent and will not push for the legislative change that is needed. Along with the the issues above, we need to remember that all the other negative aspects of the Education Transformation act (diminished due process, unrealistic tenure requirements, school takeovers, etc) remain in place.  The longer this law stays on the books, the more difficult it will become to swing things back.

 

A strong, organized, push will be necessary to bring people together to fight for change. We hope that people respond. We will keep you posted.

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Newsday’s Survey and What it Means

A Newsday editorial piece today reporting on the results of their survey about opt-outs contained a very interesting finding:

Of those whose kids skipped the tests, three-quarters said the biggest reason was not wanting the tests tied to teacher evaluations.

Some observations:

First, we need to be careful not to read too much into this. We know that polls are unreliable, and we can’t pick and choose results that confirm what we want to hear. The article itself acknowledges that the survey is unscientific, there were only 300 respondents (and they were skewed toward opt-outers), and (as one of the commenters complains) the closed-ended choices for listing reasons were limited and did not allow for parents to provide their own reasons for opting out.

That said, even with all those caveats, it is heartening to read that there are parents out there who recognize that basing teacher evaluations on student test scores is not just bad policy, but policy bad enough to warrant standing up to. We hear this from local parents, but it’s good to know it’s a feeling that’s shared across the Island (again, even if this survey can’t tell us the true number).  There is a constant refrain that teachers unions are looking out for teachers at the expense of the children, but of course, as this issue shows, what’s right for us and what’s right for our students are not in opposition, but in synchronicity. It benefits no one – not the students, not the communities, and obviously not teachers, to have good educators fired (or living in fear) due to the zip code in which they teach or due to statistical anomalies beyond their control.

If you look at the page of reader’s letters on opting-out, quite a few contain disclosures like “the writer is an educator” or “the writer’s wife is a teacher.” A cynical reader could extend this further and wonder if perhaps most of the respondents who named teacher evaluations as their main reason for opting-out were, in fact, teachers.  To which I would respond, that’s probably not true, but so what if it is?

The folks in the anti-teacher crowd frequently lose sight of the fact that teachers are parents, taxpayers, and are the people who are most knowledgeable about the field of education. The refrain is constant – we are supposed to stay on the sidelines in this argument because we are too biased. And how do we respond to that? All too often by giving in and staying on the sidelines. That has to end.

Despite the doubtful validity of this data, we can, and should take this as an important sign. We can – and should – leave the opt-out part of this debate with the parents, but we ALL must be part of the larger picture battle. We have to be united against the forces that are trying to destroy public education and that means making public statements. Yes, we need to continue to send emails, and faxes, etc, but we need to be out there in public –  supporting the parents, supporting our students, and supporting each other.

There will, no doubt, be more rallies this year. Please, make a commitment to attend at least one .

More on the Regents, APPR, and Testing

As noted, previously, the Regents approved extending the temporary APPR rules at yesterday’s meeting.  As reported in the Democrat and Chronicle, The new regulations “add an appeals process for teachers whose students showed poor growth on last year’s state exams but performed well the previous year. In order to appeal, the teacher much have received a positive rating — either ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective’ — on the observation portion of their rating.”

The law also requires NYSED to re-examine “the statistical tabulations used to calculate student growth on the standardized tests” and to “require state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to craft a letter to Cuomo and lawmakers, outlining the various areas of the evaluation law that are ripe for improvement.”

Additionally, as reported in the New York Times, (via Perdido Street School) Commissioner Elia announced at the meeting that they will be reducing the length of the tests: “some multiple choice questions would be shaved off the math assessments and a number of passages would be cut from the reading exams taken next year. A spokeswoman for the Education Department said that the tests would be shortened for students in each grade, and that they would be trimmed further in 2017.”

Once again, these are all good things, but they are all-half measures without any real teeth that don’t address the underlying issues.  As the Times article says:

The announcement on Wednesday on test length, however, seemed unlikely to quiet critics.
“Half a disaster is still a disaster,” said Loy Gross, a co-founder of the parent activist group United to Counter the Core, who added shortening the tests was just tinkering around the edges of a very large problem.
“And no,” she added, “it’s not going to appease parents who will continue to opt their kids out of tests.”

News Update

APPR Regulations

According to a Facebook post from PJSTA President Beth Dimino, a majority of the Regents voted to make the new APPR regulations permanent. Beth also reports that “they will draft a resolution tomorrow with changes for the Senate to consider.” For updated info, see this post.

APPR Appeals

In an interview on Monday, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch announced that they will be moving toward a process that will allow teachers to appeal their rating if there appears to be an aberration in their score. Governor Cuomo has voiced his support for this as well.

As it stands, teachers have virtually no recourse to challenge their ratings (they must prove the rating was fraudulent), so this does represent progress. Of course, it’s hard to cheer too hard at this news, since it’s Cuomo and Tisch who are putting teachers in this position in the first place. It’s akin to throwing someone overboard in the middle of the ocean and then making a big show of tossing him a life jacket as you sail away. We’ll see what happens with this, but it’s hard to see this as anything more than a cynical ploy to appease critics without making any substantive changes to the the primary issues.

The main point is, the pressure that the NYSED and the Governor are feeling is pushing them to react. Right now, they are hoping that with a little smoke and some mirrors they can diffuse the situation just enough to keep things they way they want them. We need to make sure we keep the pressure on and let them know we will not accept half measures. The system is deeply flawed and harmful and it needs to go.

Big Issues in Two Long Island Districts

Last November we reported on the situation in Locust Valley, where the BOE is attempting to undercut the Triborough Law and deny teachers step increases.  There’s really no update, but as this article in the Oyster Bay Guardian shows, the situation seems no closer to resolution. The resolution of this situation has TREMENDOUS potential ramifications for all teacher contracts and, potentially all public sector unions in New York State.

You may or may not have heard rumors about the fiscal problems that the Sachem school district is currently facing, but it seems that they are reaching a fever pitch, with talk of drastic mid-year cuts. Superintendent James Nolan responded to the rumors with a statement saying, in part “no decisions have been finalized on potential sources of revenue or potential cuts to reduce expenditures. We are working in synergy with many folks to develop a short-term and long-term plan.”

According to NYSUT Regional Staff Director Peter Verdon,   “The primary factor which has brought Sachem to this point, is the culmination of the State’s punitive and flawed school funding policies – state aid cuts, failure to eliminate the GEA, the tax cap and its undemocratic super-majority requirement.  The repercussions impact all of our members in the public sector- teachers, school related professionals as well as public library employees and those working in other municipalities.

So I fear that Sachem is not merely a cautionary tale, but rather is a “canary in the coal mine.”  If legislative changes are not made we could see more situations like this in the future.  These are changes that NYSUT has sought and which we must all continue to fight for. “

Seattle Teachers Strike

School will begin tomorrow in Seattle public schools as the union reached a tentative agreement with the city. Key terms of the agreement include cost of living increases, increased pay for a longer school day, and that test scores will no longer play a role in teacher evaluations.

Another Fond Farewell

As you may have read, in The New York Times or elsewhere, NYSED has dumped Pearson and awarded the contract for developing state assessments to Questar Assessments, a relatively small Minneapolis based company. 
Some are viewing this as a great first step, but this is a stretch at best.  We’ll get back to that. First the bright side.

 

According to NYSUT, the new agreement includes a “promise to involve New York teachers in every step of the test-development process.”  This addresses a major complaint about these tests – that the questions are clearly not written by people who actually work with children. 

 
With all the talk about “accountability” in education, it’s good to see the term applied in an authentic context. As Karen Magee said, “Pearson offered a bad product and today Pearson got fired. Teachers have called for this for years.”  Pearson’s errors are legendary, and perhaps that will be at least one piece that will improve.
 
HOWEVER…
 
As many of us know, there is a world of difference between teachers being a legitimate part of the process vs. sitting teachers at the table just for the purpose of saying “there were teachers involved.”  NYSED has never said that they agree with educator complaints (the questions are developmentally inappropriate, unnecessarily complex, or invalid measures of the standards), let alone that more teacher input would address these complaints. So there is much reason to be suspicious that bringing more teachers in will actually make the tests any better – NYSED still has final say over the test content. 
 
And as far as errors go, Perdido Street School blog reports that Questar, as a company, is a mess, so we really shouldn’t be expecting better results. “Test scorers treated like cattle, imprecise scoring, managers who can’t answer scorers questions, scanning glitches, incompetent schedulers – sounds even better. Meet the new company for 3rd-8th grade testing. Sounds a lot like the old company, doesn’t it?”
 
And finally, let’s address the idea that this is a good first step. As many bloggers and writers have pointed out, changing vendors does nothing to actually change the laws that require students to spend time taking meaningless tests, force schools to narrow curriculum, and will result in good teachers losing their jobs. In fact, there is a reason to believe that it will have just the opposite effect. Mary Ellen Elia, the new State Ed. Commissioner, said at least some of the right things: “[She] hopes the new assessments will take less time, and that teachers will have access to their students’ results quicker so they can use the information to drive classroom instruction.”
 
But she also had this to say: “I am not a person who believes that children shouldn’t be tested. Life is one big test. We have to get to the point where people are at peace with that.”
 
Anytime someone answers a question that hasn’t been asked, you need to think about what the real purpose is. Nobody is saying that children shouldn’t be tested, but this allows her to position critics as being against all testing, as opposed to inappropriate high stakes tests. You can expect her to use this next Spring to attempt to undercut the opt-out movement. Watch for comments along the lines of “We’ve got rid of the company that was causing errors, we got teachers involved in the process, we’re releasing the data earlier, and we relaxed the gag order, so the only opposition to testing now comes form people who don’t think kids should take tests and teachers who don’t want to be evaluated.”
 
You can also expect her, or others, to use Pearson’s firing itself against us: “We fired Pearson because they weren’t doing their jobs, but teachers don’t want to be held to the same standard.”
 
This gambit will fail. Parents and teachers in New York are way smarter than that.

New APPR Regs Approved By Regents

The Board of Regents approved the new APPR regulations by an 11-6 vote. As the Perdido Street School Blog notes, the dissent evidenced by last week’s letter from seven of the Regents is still evident, the bottom line is that this mess is moving forward.

Here are some of the key points (or read the whole thing here):
  • As the law dictates, state testing (or SLOs) will account for half of the teacher’s total evaluation
  • There will be a minimum of two observations (one principal/supervisor; one independent) with the frequency and duration determined locally; at least one observation must be unannounced. 
  • The independent observer portion must account for at least 10% but no more than 20% of the total observation score
  • The state approved practice rubrics will remain the same (meaning that we can, if we choose, continue to use the NYSUT rubric).
  • However, (again, per the law) artifacts cannot be used as evidence – only elements that are observed during the observation cycle
  • Language is included to address anomalous results (e.g. a teacher who is highly effective on observation but ineffective on student performance) which includes a potential appeals process. Unfortunately, this language is rather vague. 
The next step is for districts to negotiate specific plans that meet this criteria. Plans must be approved by November 15th or districts will lose state funding. 

The Regents did include the possibility of waivers of up to four months, which, if granted, would essentially push the adoption of individual plans back one year. However, it is not at all clear how many waivers will be granted and just how stringent the criteria will be, especially given that Governor Cuomo is on record as saying that such waivers should be the exception not the rule.

Two more important points – one good, one not so much.
  • On the bright side, we’re always glad to show evidence that political action works, if even a little, and here’s one bright spot. The preliminary plan proposed a few weeks ago required a score of 3.0 for a teacher to be “effective” on the observation score, which basically meant that a SINGLE element rated developing against every other element rated effective would label a teacher developing. In response to feedback, the Regents revised the scoring band so that districts can set a range of 2.5 to 2.75 as the minimum for an effective rating.
  • It’s bad enough that the parameters for local negotiation are so narrow that it will be impossible to come up with plans that anyone is happy with, but beyond that, the regulations also make it clear that NYSED can even override our plans: “If a district’s system does not result in meaningful feedback for teachers and principals, the Department may impose a corrective action plan that may require changes to a collective bargaining agreement.” 

An Important Court Victory

While there’s still a long way to go in this case, this is great news. The New York State Supreme Court decided today to allow Sheri Lederman’s case to proceed.


Sheri Lederman is a fourth grade teacher in Great Neck, who has been teaching for 17 years and is very highly regarded. Per the Washington Post: “Her students consistently outperform state averages on math and English standardized tests, and Thomas Dolan, the superintendent of Great Neck schools, signed an affidavit saying “her record is flawless” and that “she is highly regarded as an educator.”

Last year, due to the “convoluted statistical model that the state uses to evaluate how much a teacher ‘contributed’ to students’ test scores,” Ms. Lederman received a score of ineffective on that portion of her evaluation. She responded by suing the State Ed Department, “challenging the rationality of the VAM model being used to evaluate her and, by extension, other teachers.”

The initial response from the NYSED was not to defend the system, but to challenge Lederman’s standing to bring suit. Because she was rated effective overall, the State claimed that she had not suffered any damage and moved to have the suit dismissed.

However, as Diane Ravitch reports: A judge disagreed and determined that an ineffective rating on a growth score is an injury which she is entitled to challenge in Court.

This doesn’t mean she’ll win, of course, only that the case can proceed; the State may still manage to prove that its methodology is valid. But since the lawsuit was first filed there has been a hope that this may help to undermine the whole value added model system, and that hope grew just a little brighter today.

A hearing will most likely be scheduled for the end of the Summer. We’ll keep you posted.