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.

Reject The AFT’s Premature Endorsement of Hillary Clinton

The AFT endorsement of Hillary Clinton was extraordinarily premature and inappropriate without specific commitments from her that she will be a strong supporter of public education.  No matter your opinion of her overall as a candidate, it is crucial to send her an important message. Please take a few minutes and click each of the links below.

  • Send a message directly to Hillary Clinton and let her know that as a teacher, regardless of the AFT endorsement, you will not giver her your vote unless she makes public statements against privatization of public schools, federal requirements for annual testing, and using test scores to evaluate teachers, as well as making a firm commitment to protecting union rights in this country.  Click here for the contact form on her web page. 
  • Send a message directly to the AFT and let them know they made a mistake. Endorsements should never be given against the wishes of the rank and file, and should always be contingent upon firm commitments from candidates that they will work for the best interests of public education once elected. Visit the AFT Election page, and look for the box in the right sidebar titled: “What are your thoughts about the endorsement process?”
  • Sign the petition telling the AFT to rescind their endorsement.

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.

Meet the new boss – worse than the old boss?

As you probably know from the article that Dr. Cohen forwarded today, the NY Board of Regents has selected former Hillsborough County Florida Superintendent MaryEllen Elia as the new State Commissioner of Education.

While Newsday tries to paint her as pro-teacher, calling her “A former Florida schools official, who voiced strong support for embattled teachers,” and quoting her as saying “… what we have to do is change the negative stance to a positive approach . . . to shift the conversation from ‘What do we need to do to get rid of teachers?’ but ‘What can we do to support teachers?,'” other sources paint a very different picture of Ms. Elia,
  • As Diane Ravitch reports, “Elia was fired by the Hillsborough Board of Education last February in a 4-3 vote. The business community was upset. But critics complained about micromanagement, a top-down style, lack of transparency, and complaints from parents of students with special needs. One board member who voted to dismiss her “accused Elia of creating a workplace culture of fear and bullying, and failing to pay enough attention to minorities, including Hispanics.” Others, including parents, said that her disciplinary policies had a disparate impact on African American students.”
  • The Perdido Street School blog notes that she is a reformer who is pro-testing and Common Core and supported a program that would fire 5% of teachers every year.
  • Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, writing in the Times Union, says “It looks like you have to be fired and incompetent in another state in order to be hired to run our educational system in New York State.”
With the addition of several new pro-public education oriented Regents this year, there was some hope that perhaps King’s replacement would be someone more supportive of public schools. Unfortunately, that now looks like a pipe dream. While King often seemed to be nothing more than Chancellor Tisch’s puppet (at the forums last year one could almost see her pulling the strings that made his mouth move), his replacement looks to be very much her own person. Unfortunately, that person is one who is pro-testing, pro-reform, pro-school choice, and not supportive of teachers. 

Remember Representative Democracy? Those Were The Days!

While we continue to teach the idea of representative democracy to our students, it’s a concept that seems to be completely lost on many of the actual people we send to Albany to represent us.


Case in point: Senator Ken LaValle. As we know, statewide polls overwhelmingly showed opposition to the Governor’s plan. And while polls in-and-of themselves aren’t enough, he had meetings with constituents who explained and provided evidence why he should oppose the proposed reforms. Nonetheless, LaValle voted with his cronies instead of his constituents.

And now, history repeats.

Newly appointed, but so far un-indicted (at least as of this posting) Senate Majority Leader Flanagan introduced a bill to make the tax cap permanent. Now, the fact is, polls do show strong support among most groups for keeping the tax cap. Of course, during the years it’s been in place inflation has been low and school districts have used reserves to help minimize the impact, so taxpayers most likely don’t have a good understanding of the long-term impact it may have. This is certainly a case where there may be more to the story than just poll numbers, so of course you’d expect REPRESENTATIVES like Senator LaValle to reach out to the residents of his district to find out what they think, right?

Well the good Senator did reach out to his people. He sent out an email touting the tax cap along with a link to click IF YOU SUPPORT IT.

Not a questionnaire asking what you think and why, not a mechanism to solicit feedback. Just a simple message – if you support the tax cap I wan’t to hear from you, and if you don’t, I don’t care.


Nice.

Well, since there are a lot of people who very much oppose making the tax cap permanent, he needs to know that. Please call or write Senator LaValle to let him know that keeping spending to an arbitrarily low number that is less than or equal to the rate of inflation is not sustainable, and will cause many school districts to eventually become insolvent. This is not good law and he should not support it.

Kenneth P. LaValle (lavalle@nysenate.gov)

District Office
28 North Country Rd Suite 203
Mount Sinai, NY 11766
Phone: (631) 473-1461
Albany Office
Legislative Office Building, Room 806
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-3121

Preliminary APPR Regulations

The Board of Regents has released their preliminary recommendations for the New APPR regulations. Unless the bills currently in the Senate or Assembly go through, the final draft of these regulations are due June 30th and must be put into place by November 15th.


I don’t have a full summary yet, but you can see the full presentation here.

Some quick points:

  • It requires two observations of at least 20 minutes in duration for un-tenured teachers or teachers who were previously low rated.
  • Observations for tenured teachers who were previously rated effective must be at least 10 minutes in duration 
  • At least one observation must be unanounced
  • It sets the “outside evaluator” portion of the observation component at 20%
  • Observations can be live or via video (live or recorded)


Read more about it from Capital New York, and read NYSUT’s response here.

New Bills in the Assembly and Senate

APPR
We previously mentioned a senate bill introduced by John Flanagan that is ostensibly designed to undo some of the April 1st education law, but is actually useless, distracting, and potentially damaging


Another bill, A7303, being promoted by Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan, goes a bit further, but does it go far enough? 

You can read the text of the bill here, but the highlights are:

  • It pushes the deadline for the Regents to finalize APPR regulations to November 15th
  • It pushes the deadline for districts to revise their APPR plans to the following year.
  • It separates state aid from approval of APPR plans
  • It requires more test questions to be released
  • It would require the formation of a committee to insure that test questions are grade level appropriate and appropriately measure the standards
  • It makes the outside evaluator optional rather than required.*

These are all positive things. And NYSUT has endorsed the bill, saying it “takes a significant step toward protecting students by reducing inappropriate state testing while recognizing that teacher evaluations must be fair and objective.”

But critics of the bill, such as this parent and blogger, point out that the bill does nothing to actually reduce testing, and doesn’t fix, but simply pushes off, the use of VAM junk science to rate teachers. 

On the one hand, pushing the deadline back a year give more time to work toward the goal of overturning the whole thing. However, it may also be that once another year has passed, what has been put into place here will become the new normal and the fight will have shifted to staving off the next, new, even worse thing. 

Tax Cap
Getting back to newly anointed appointed State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a bill now in front of the Senate would make the tax cap permanent.

Unfortunately, polls show that a majority of New Yorkers favor the tax cap. Is this because they haven’t yet seen the incredibly corrosive damage that this will do to the public school system once it’s been in place for a few years (especially if inflation heats up in the future)? Or do they just not care? Probably a combination of the two.


* None of the articles I’ve read mention that this law would make the outside evaluators optional, but that’s what I’m reading from section 3, lines 34-45