We Need To Solve APPR, But This Isn’t The Way
Rethink the existing law. Restore local control.
By Mark Cannizzaro
We have just come through another testing season and we still don’t have it right. Concerns about the length of the exams and their validity continue. Their inappropriate use to evaluate educators via the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) has led several state lawmakers to push a bill to decouple these exams from the APPR. I’m glad there’s finally an understanding that to date no statistical model of test scores yields a reliable measure of an educator’s performance. And they recognize that evaluating teachers based on subjects and grades they don’t teach makes no sense. However, this bill isn’t good enough and it might even make things worse.
Let me take you back to how we got here. The APPR process began in 2010 when states were required to create an evaluation system to apply for federal Race-to-the- Top funding. NYC already had a comprehensive principal evaluation system, developed in conjunction with CSA, that included student performance, surveys, closing the achievement gap for ELLS and students with special needs and personalized goals. It was far from perfect, but it held administrators accountable in a more reasonable way than we’ve seen since. At the same time, teachers were evaluated using the “Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory” model. Again, not a good measure but better than what we have now.
The statewide APPR was problematic from the beginning. It focused on grades 3 to 8 ELA and Math assessments for elementary and middle schools, and Regents exams and graduation rates for high schools. Yet only 17 percent of elementary and middle school teachers directly teach students in those areas and not all high school teachers teach Regents courses. Unbelievably, everyone – regardless of grades or subjects taught – was rated on those tests. Initially, only 20 percent of standardized test scores were required by law to be used for APPR scores. But NYCDOE decided to use 40 percent. Then Gov. Cuomo raised the stakes to 50% and added the new scoring matrix.
There we were with poorly designed assessments that were used for the wrong reasons. Instead of serving as diagnostic tools to help students learn, they deprived them of much needed classroom time and subjected them days of mind-numbing prep and anxiety. Just as bad, half of educator evaluation scores were based on these tests. Sometimes, the questions were so ludicrous, they’d make the nightly news.
Then, more than three years ago, exasperated parents rose up, 20 percent of students around the state opted out of the tests and New York became the vanguard of the anti-testing movement. A moratorium was passed so that ELA and Math tests in grades 3 to 8 – though still required to be given under federal law – could not be used in evaluations.
The new bill that’s been moving through the Assembly and Senate in Albany would make the state tests optional for evaluations, but they would still have to be administered. The decision about what tests would be used for evaluations would be decided at the local level in contract negotiations. While this might help to quell the opt-out movement, Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) would still account for 50 percent of educator’s score and districts would be left with two bad choices.
If the bill passes, districts could opt to use standardized and Regents exams as “group measures,” which would be efficient but wouldn’t address the problems of validity and reliability. Or districts could create or purchase assessments designed for all grades and subject areas so that teachers would be evaluated on assessments for the grades and subjects they teach. This would greatly increase the number of tests. It’s nonsensical and inhumane to test children even more just so we can evaluate and label adults.
Think about it: Creation and administration of additional assessments is likely to reduce instruction time further. Unfunded mandates could emerge, including the purchase of third-party assessments from vendors. Testing and scoring schedules would proliferate. The logistics and the validation of each teacher’s results would fall directly on principals and APs.
In the best of all possible worlds, the way out of this is to repeal the existing ersatz teacher/principal evaluation law. It has not demonstrated a positive impact on teaching and learning. Local control would be restored to school districts for all teacher and principal evaluations. With full repeal, testing does not necessarily have to be part of evaluations at all. But if tests were used in the evaluations, they would be kept to a minimum and reflect the realities of the community. One-size-fits-all cannot possibly apply to the 700+ school districts of New York State.
But we understand that full repeal may not occur at this point in time. CSA still advocates that the legislature rethink the bill and mandates locally negotiated teacher and administrator evaluations that have been thoroughly thought through by all stakeholders and approved by the state commissioner of education and the Board of Regents. Most important, we also recommend that an educator’s MOSL score is kept to no more than 20 percent of the overall score.
Then multiple measures of evaluation can be taken into greater consideration and educators can be held more broadly accountable. A high premium on standardized tests is perilous. It can lead to manipulation, narrow the curriculum and still fail to hold educators accountable. In taking this more gradual approach, perhaps the psychometricians can continue their quest to develop a valid metric tied to exam scores.
Let’s get this done. We have been tinkering for far too long. We need an evaluation system that holds us accountable for what we control, focuses on professional growth and doesn’t require more effort to implement. The well-meaning bill now in the State Legislature is like a bandage on a broken leg. It is only a gesture. Much more needs to be done or we will be talking about this year after year.
Mark Cannizzaro is president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators