HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- Local school districts are among the leading third in New York to receive final approval for new, more robust teacher and building principal evaluations known as Annual Professional Performance Reviews.
‘Data driven’ shift
In the course of implementation in districts across the state, the new evaluation systems, required under Education Law 3012-c, are a significant plank of the state Board of Regents’ reform agenda that includes a shift to Common Core Learning Standards and an emphasis on "data driven" instruction.
Speaking as a representative for the local teachers’ association, Hoosick Falls Central School teacher Chris Marsh said at a recent school board meeting that, despite a lot of apprehension, implementation of the APPRs was "moving along quite nicely." With the first marking period done, Marsh said Nov. 15 that staff had increased their rigor and "the kids have responded w’ell."
"It’s a whole school process and I think it’s working out." At HFCS, a dedicated APPR committee has met monthly and staff have had the benefit of working through trial evaluations last spring.
According to a running tally by the state Education Department, 257 of the approximately 912 public school districts in New York had approved APPR plans for the 2012-13 school year as of Wednesday, Nov. 28. Locally, HFCS received final approval of its APPR plan on Oct. 11, while Cambridge Central School received notification Monday, Nov. 26.
Heralded three years ago by former Education Commissioner David Steiner, New York’s education reform agenda has progressed in fits through at-times divisive debate. A partial rollout of the new evaluation systems was intended for 2011-12, for example, before a state Supreme Court decision in August 2011 invalidated certain provisions of the law, throwing local plans into flux.
In February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Education Commissioner John King, and New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi announced a joint agreement governing the evaluations’ general framework. At his annual budget address the month prior, Cuomo made future aid increases contingent on final APPR approval by Jan. 17, 2013. (The actual statutory deadline this past July 1 was missed by most districts.) Available grant moneys, such as a Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness grant recently awarded in Cambridge, also became contingent on final approval of a plan.
While most districts previously had some form of evaluation instrument in place, the new evaluations prescribe multiple measures of performance including student achievement and in-classroom observation. Previous local evaluations also rarely relied on standardized test scores -- a significant portion (40 percent) of today’s APPR ratings, and cause for concern among some. Under the general framework, 20 percent of a teacher or principal’s "rating" comes from state testing while another 20 percent is determined by a locally selected test assessment. The remaining 60 percent of an evaluation is based on measures like classroom observation and student portfolios.
Within the general framework, individual school districts have leeway over details bargained with their local unions. At both CCS and HFCS, teacher evaluations are based on the Framework for Teaching rubric created by Charlotte Danielson, an expert in the area of teacher effectiveness and principal of The Danielson Group. Both schools include multiple classroom observations throughout the year -- some unannounced -- and post-observation conferences with the teacher.
At HFCS, each staff member participates in a summative conference at the end of the year with the evaluator (either a building principal or school superintendent). As part of the process, teachers are required to submit a portfolio (20 percent of the composite score) comprising student work, reflections on lessons, and other artifacts.
In Cambridge, 40 percent of the composite score is based on classroom observations while another 20 percent is based on observations, pre- and post-conferences, and a structured review of student portfolios and teacher lesson plans.
To evaluate teachers’ impact on students, the APPR looks at state assessments including Regents exams and, particularly when no state exam exists (such as for physical education or art classes), collaboratively developed Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) and progress toward targets. At CCS, SLOs are developed between teachers and their building principals based on student rosters using available background and baseline data.
In Hoosick Falls, APPR assessments are structured based on student growth as demonstrated by pre- and post-assessment at the beginning and end of a class. (In the case of Regents classes, the first assessment comes mid-year.) The class average based on all student grades is then compared at the beginning and end, with better gains leading to a higher score.
Based on a scale from 0 to 100, teachers and principals are rated in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, developing, or ineffective. Staff who receive a "developing" or "ineffective" rating must receive a Teacher Improvement Plan for the following year detailing needed areas of improvement, how progress will be assessed and a timeline toward meeting goals, and differentiated activities or professional training to support growth.
Teachers rated highly effective meanwhile can receive incentives or be paired with their peers to support professional development.
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