APPR Summit

The Board of Regents held their “Learning Summit” on Thursday to gather feedback on revised regulations for the APPR plan. As Perdido Street School Blog wrote, it didn’t exactly go as planned. What was supposed to be a forum for generating ideas for moving forward turned into a total beat down on the plan as various constituencies (teachers, superintendents, BOE members, etc) took turns tearing apart the new education law.


For more information, you can click here for NYUST’s take on the event or read this article from WNYC. But if you only have time to read one report, see below for a first person account from SWR parent and Comsewogue teacher Melissa McMullan.

Also, if you haven’t sent your comments to eval2015@nysed.gov yet, please do so (see this page for tips on what to write). Ken Wagner says they’ve received thousands of responses. Let’s make sure they receive thousands more.

A teacher’s perspective: NYSED Learning Summit

by Melissa McMullan
Originally published on thepjsta.org, May 8, 2015


Last week I learned about NYSED’s Learning Summit, that was to be held on May 7th in Albany, in order to discuss implementing the new teacher evaluation system as prescribed by the New York State Education Law enacted on April 1st with the passage of the New York State budget. This “budget” requires that student growth measures account for 50% of a teacher’s evaluation, with the remaining 50% comprised of observations (part of which would be outside observers). The law wrapped within this budget also ostensibly eliminated permanent certification, and now makes not reporting an address change to NYSED and “actionable offense” much like a sex offender. When Newsday called this a public forum, I immediately wanted to know which members of the “public” were invited. I could not find anyone. So I did the only thing I could think of, I emailed the Board of Regents, and requested an invitation.

I received no response – until three days ago. Regent Rosa emailed a response stating that she would forward my request to the appropriate party. The next day I received a response from the Board of Regents’ Secretary stating that invitations had been given to the appropriate stakeholders, there were no seats available, and I could certainly watch the event via simulcast. That night, livid, I fired off a response that indicated it was no surprise, and that, at the very least, we, as teachers, have been consistently shut out from the very process that centers upon our own work.

Wednesday, at 11:44am, I received a response from the Board of Regents’ Secretary, it read, “A seat has just become available and is available to you. Please let me know at your earliest convenience if you will attend.” Elated, I scrambled to write lesson plans for the following day, and gather my family for the four-hour drive north to Albany, searching for a hotel room as we drove. We have been in this fight for a long time. It has been nine years for me. We are not going to win back public schools for our children, without approaching from every angle and understanding the variety of positions.

Today I spent the day, as the special guest of the Board of Regents. It turns out that both Regent Cashin and Regent Rosa were fighting very hard for me to be there. The first thing I learned today, and I learned a lot, is that in general, the Board of Regents is remarkably supportive of teachers, and more importantly, the students we love so dearly. Throughout the day, I was able to hear from superintendents, principals, researchers, teachers, parents and school board members about their varying perspectives on teacher evaluation in New York State. It was an eye-opener.

An overwhelming theme today is the understanding that the New York State 3-8 assessments are flawed. It is undeniable. There is no reliability and validity testing on these tests. Furthermore, they simply were not designed to measure a child’s growth from year to year. A teacher’s growth score is actually based upon how that teacher measures against similarly situated teachers (students with the same socioeconomic class / ability). This means, every year, the distribution follows a normal distribution of scores within each group. Thus, even if every teacher in a group of similarly situated students helped their students show incredible growth, the model requires that some of those teachers are high, the majority is in the middle and some are at the low end. So we have state assessments that at best have never demonstrated reliability and validity (at worst they are developmentally inappropriate), and those assessments are being used to drive an ill-fated teacher evaluation system.

Most panelists agreed that the best component of the teacher evaluation system is teacher observations. When done right, it provides a continuous feedback loop that could ostensibly improve instructional practice. Panelists had some incongruous thought on the outside observer as prescribed by the new law. Some believe it helps provide more objectivity. However, many noted the challenge in time and money this would cause school districts, as well as the potential ineffectiveness of a teacher being observed by a stranger who would not have the kind of relationship with him / her that would support a dialogue that would improve instructional practice.

Aside from the obvious aforementioned issues with the growth score, the much larger issue is the lack of integrity of those scores. Regent Cashin brought up the fact that the American Statistical Society asserts that a teacher can vary a student’s score by 1-14%. Stephen Caldas from Manhattanville College explained that in the state’s own reporting, you will find statistical error of these scores in the 55% range in some areas. This begs the question – what, then, is the value, if any, of the state growth score in measuring teacher performance? Do we have the right to call a teacher ineffective with his tool?

What was most striking to me as a teacher was my own panel when it was introduced. Every other panel filled all six seats at the front to maximize the perspective of each particular group of stakeholders. When teachers were announced, two people went up, Michael Mulgrew, UFT President and Catalina Fortino, NYSUT vice-president. In dismay, I watched as Mr. Mulgrew had his teachers stand up in the audience, but he brought no active classroom teachers forward to discuss their needs in the APPR process. And this is what has been going on for some time. NYSED will say, “we invited them”, and I can say in this case they did, but our own union silenced us.

Those of us like me, the 200,000+ parents who refused to permit our children to take the state assessment made a tremendous impact on the Board of Regents and NYSED. It is very clear that they got the message; we know the assessments are not valid and you will not use our children in this fraudulent practice. Lisa Rudley, from NYSAPE, actually quoted Dr. Rella and said we must ask ourselves “Are the kids okay?”

Lastly, many New York State Assembly members were present. Barbara Lifton, New York State Assembly 125th district, was seated behind me. During a break, she eagerly told me she was present to advocate for teachers. I asked her if she had voted in favor of Cuomo’s budget, and she indicated she had, specifying that she did not want to, but she had no other choice. I emphatically told her a number of times that she caused irreparable harm on teachers and school children. She insisted there was no choice. When I mentioned different aspects of the law, such as notifying NYSED of address changes to avoid being treated like a sex-offender, she appeared shocked, as if this were the first time she heard this. Based upon my conversation with her, it is clear, she did not read the law before she passed it. Claiming that she is advocating for us now is like telling me you are going to find me a good doctor after you broke my leg. We must remain steadfast in holding every single legislator who voted in favor of this budget and its laws responsible for what they did by making sure they do not get re-elected.

In closing, I sat at the Learning Summit with tremendous guilt because I fought for a “golden ticket” and won, while most did not find themselves so lucky. However, I can say in total, this was one of the best days of my career. I sat with the Board of Regents the entire day, and I was given substantial time to share our plight as teachers, and the impact all of this is having on our students. I was also able to speak with Chancellor Tisch alone for several minutes, and explain soup to nuts what had transpired in Comsewogue when our district wanted to contemplate not administering the assessments (yes, the threat to fire the superintendent and entire locally elected board). I explained that we have no use for the current student assessment system, and because of our love and dedication to our students, we are seeking Middle States Accreditation and our own standardized testing that can actually be used to inform instruction.

Teachers, we are on the right track. Mulgrew said we must take back public education. We are in this mess because we allowed outsiders to craft policy for our classrooms. Enough is enough. It is becoming increasingly transparent that all of the deforms they have created are a bust. We cannot allow them to harm our students by permitting them to erode the best practices that we know work. Do not be discouraged. We made tremendous headway by being honest with parents about what we know about the fallacies of the state assessments. We need to continue on this path. Forcing children to take tests for innumerable hours that will only tell NYSED how one teacher fairs against another is an egregious misuse of classroom time. Refusing to allow it will be the undoing of all that has come to pass threatening to decimate public education.


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New York Parents Have Spoken

A question that comes up often is, “what is the goal of all the anti-testing advocacy?” What do parents hope to accomplish by opting-out and contacting legislators?  NYSAPE recently issued a press release, detailing exactly what they think needs to happen next.

NY Parents Have Spoken, Now It’s Time to Fix Cuomo’s Education Budget Debacle
& Establish New Leadership for the Board of Regents

For the past two years, New York State Allies for Public Education has warned elected and appointed officials about serious concerns related to excessive high-stakes state testing based on flawed and experimental learning standards, as well as the collection and sharing of private student data.

This past week, the national attention focused on the parent uprising taking place in New York State. Spurred to action by the refusal of both the Governor and the NYS Education Department’s failure to respond to legitimate concerns, thousands  of parents fought back to protect their children.

At this time, estimates indicate parents of close to 200,000 students this year have refused New York State’s Common Core testing agenda and the final figures are expected to be even higher.

The educational program of the state is in chaos.  Leadership is more important than ever. On Sunday, April 19th the Editorial Board of The Journal News declared, “The stunning success of the test-refusal movement in New York is a vote of no confidence in our state educational leadership” in calling for Chancellor Merryl Tisch to step aside.

New York State Allies for Public Education, a grassroots coalition of over fifty parent and educator advocacy organizations from all corners of the Empire State, stands with the Editorial Board of The Journal News.

Chancellor Tisch must step down. The only way for the Board of Regents, Assembly, and Senate to regain trust of their constituents is to call for the Regents to empower a new leader to fix within its authority, the Cuomo budget legislation fiasco and the misguided Regents Reform Agenda.

“Parents have been left with no choice. We will submit our refusal letters, which is our parental right, on day one of school, next year and every year and if those in power will not listen, we will free our children from a test driven, developmentally inappropriate education,” said Jeanette Deutermann, Nassau County public school parent and Long Island Opt Out founder.

“For the past two years Chancellor Tisch has repeatedly ignored parents at forums throughout the state. She is incapable of leading the state in a new direction because she believes what is happening is just fine and her latest plea for asking for more time is just a distraction from the real issues. Her repeated calls for critics to “calm down” indicates her unwillingness to change course.” said Lisa Rudley, Westchester County public school parent and NYSAPE founding member.

“On Chancellor Tisch’s watch, the work of the State Education Department has been outsourced to a privately funded ‘Regents Fellows’ think tank. It is not surprising that the reforms put forth by this think tank advance the agenda of the wealthy ‘yacht set’ and corporate-linked groups that fund the Regent Fellows: The Robin Hood Foundation, Gates Foundation, and even Chancellor Tisch herself.  When you replace a public service with a private organization that advances corporate agendas, New Yorkers know that is corruption,” said Anna Shah, Dutchess County public school parent and Schools of Thought Hudson Valley, NY founder.

“While the Governor has demonstrated blatant disregard for the will of the people by doubling down on the use of high stakes testing, the State Education Department and Chancellor Tisch similarly ignored parent concerns regarding inappropriate test content by forcing children to read passages on last week’s ELA tests that were up to four years above grade level followed by vague and confusing questions,” said Jessica McNair, Oneida County public school parent, Central NY Opt Out co-founder, and educator.

Fred Smith, testing specialist, NYC public schools retired administrative analyst, and Change the Stakes member said, “Instead of transparency and disclosure of complete and timely test data that would open the quality of the ELA and math exams to independent review, Tisch has ruled over an unaccountable testing program that flies at near-zero visibility–in a fog of flawed field testing procedures, age-inappropriate poorly written items, the covert removal of test questions after they have been scored, arbitrarily drawn cut off scores, and the misapplication of the results to reach unsupportable conclusions about students, teachers, and schools.”

“As seen with the budget debacle earlier this month, New Yorkers know when the ‘Albany Fix’ is in,” Eric Mihelbergel, Erie County public school parent and NYSAPE founding member. Mihelbergel went on to say, “We know that the opt out movement will ultimately invalidate the data and render these test scores useless. When some schools have opt outs as high as 70%, we know that any claims that opt out is “random” and that only a small sampling of test scores will yield usable data is illogical.”

To ensure clarity for all, NYSAPE calls for the following from the NYS Legislature & Board of Regents and will release a more comprehensive list in the near future:

1.      A dramatic reduction of testing in grades 3rd – 8th, along with reasserting New York State’s authority to determine the education of its children ​by calling on the US Congress to reduce testing requirements and return to grade span testing. As former President Bill Clinton said we don’t need annual testing, “I think doing one [test] in elementary school, one in the end of middle school and one before the end of high school is quite enough if you do it right.”

2.      Chancellor Tisch must immediately step down.

3.      An independent review of the NYS career and college ready standards to ensure that standards are research based and appropriate. Establish a taskforce including parents, educators, and stakeholders to study the Common Core Learning Standards and make recommendations to adjust and adopt NYS standards.

4.      Adhere to a public and transparent process for selecting a new NYS Commissioner of Education.

5.      Fix the Cuomo budget legislation debacle by passing legislation that decouples student test scores and restores local board of education control over teacher evaluations.

6.      Pass legislation that REQUIRES parental consent to share ANY identifiable student data beyond school district administrators.

We want to restore our classrooms with a well-rounded education and drive testing compliance factory reforms out of our classrooms forever.