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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

APPR May Lead Some Superintendents To AARP

The relentless demands and challenges of the state mandated APPR: Annual Professional Performance Review, has prompted some superintendents to think about the benefits of AARP: American Association of Retired People. Why might so many of the superintendents who sported puzzled and frustrated expressions at a conference examining APPR possibly indulge in flights of fantasy involving retirement?

I recently attended the Fall Conference of the New York State Council of School Superintendents held in Saratoga Springs, NY. It was an enriching experience for me and an opportunity to gain valuable information and insight on the many complex issues that confront school system leaders. Among the topics that attracted large audiences were sessions devoted to the work-in-progress referred to as APPR.

Let me start with a declaration. I am very supportive of the intent and direction of the APPR. The planned product is noteworthy in many respects. While I understand and applaud certain elements of the decree, I am uncomfortable with the manner in which it has unfolded. It's the process leading to implementation that is disturbing. In fact, due to the intervention of the New York State United Teachers' organization in the form of an injunction, and the subsequent threat of an appeal by the New York State Education Department, the process governing the implementation of the APPR is not entirely clear at this point in time. The state department of education may appeal the ruling and thereby subject the APPR to additional twists and turns.

The original accord that produced the APPR may very likely have been propelled by a desire (and dire need) for the state to attract the federal funds that were offered as the prize for those states competing in the Race To The Top tourney. New York was ultimately selected for a share of the jackpot money on the basis of a point system that rewarded those states that met criteria which included, among other components, higher standards and more meaningful evaluation systems for teachers and principals. The bounty was in the form of $700,000,000. Half of this money now funds much of the state education department efforts in curriculum and training, while the remaining portion was distributed to school districts across the state - principally the "Big 5" districts of Yonkers, New York City, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. Green Island will receive about $3,800 each year for four years.

While the expectations shaping the intent of the APPR may be appropriate, the rate of change is suspect and has seemingly outstripped the capacity and practicality of school districts to successfully assimilate the education law. For example, how does one account for a teacher who is absent for an extended period of time during the year for a maternity leave? Do you deduct the percentage of time absent from teaching from the performance of the learners or do you extract the individual scores on test items that were taught during her absence? You can't very well attribute the impact of a substitute toward the evaluation of the teacher when the potential consequences are so significant. What about elective classes and the many other subjects that presently lack a state generated assessment or any comparable exam? What assurances are there that the state will manufacture an assessment that reflects growth and attempts to create associations between teacher influence on individual learners as opposed to current achievement tests that measure endpoint performance levels without respect to the level at which the learner was performing at the first day of school? There are some learners who are capable of taking a state Regents exam after one month of school and passing the test. So, they acquire seat time and endure the remaining part of the year and pass the exam when administered in June and that teacher is considered a success. Conversely, there are teachers who manifest Herculean efforts and engage a child in active learning and stimulate more than a year's academic growth but, because the child began the year well below grade level their final exam score still falls short of grade level and the teacher is considered less than effective. (Note: a future Blog will explain our adoption of the Northwest Evaluation Association's growth model of assessments this year in Heatly to employ data to better inform our instructional decisions and design) What teachers will lunge at the chance to teach the neediest, underperforming learners if the price they pay for their valor is the threat of being labeled as underperforming teachers?

There is also a requirement for training the administrators who will be responsible for evaluating teachers. They must be certified in this endeavor beyond the professional certification they already posses as a precondition for the administrative job they currently have. Training costs both time and money. In addition, several of the state approved evaluation instruments designed to assess teachers and principals have price tags that accompany their adoption by districts. There may also be a fee for training staff members above the cost for the assessment tool. These are financial obligations borne by districts at a time when budgets have been reduced for the last few years. The APPR is another unfunded state mandate that burdens local school districts.

On top of all this, many of the elements that comprise the APPR are subject to bargaining between the school districts and their respective teacher and principal unions. This process is not one that can be effectively conducted in short order. Nor does it appear that districts and unions have demonstrated expediency in resolving the matter. Lingering in the minds of parties to this process may a sense trepidation or "wait and see" - the question of whether there will be more changes forthcoming that will alter the APPR and undermine what's been done.

I'm not calling for the elimination of APPR or promoting a stalling tactic either. I do believe that the major thrust of the law is well intended. However, if it is as crucial as the proponents of the law claim, then let's take a step back and make sure we have the conditions and support necessary for successful implementation. Better a little late but right, than quick and discordant.  

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