The statewide associations representing parents, teachers, building administrators, school business officials, superintendents, and board members hold differing positions on what we believe would constitute an ideal system for conducting professional evaluations of teachers and principals. However, we all agree on one point: the changes to the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) system of teacher and principal evaluations are deeply flawed and should not be implemented as enacted. More than that, if implemented they will prolong and amplify the discord that has engulfed our schools for too long already.
We call on the legislature to:
1. Extend the deadline for new APPR regulations and district compliance to September 2016;
2. Do not link eligibility for state aid increases to APPR compliance; and
3. Allow the use of independent evaluators for observations to be optional.
Since first enacting the APPR statute in 2010, the Legislature has passed bills to amend the system in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Educators cannot do their best work under constantly changing conditions, and this constant turmoil has an increasingly negative effect on our students. Shifting the timeline for implementation of the latest changes will lessen disruption, and give districts a real chance to comply and develop a fair evaluation system.
The legislature must delay implementation of the revised APPR system, so that local school districts will have a real chance to implement the revised law.
The Assembly has overwhelmingly (135-1) approved relevant legislation – A.7303-A (Nolan) – and we urge the legislature to reach a mutual agreement to accomplish these goals in the last days of session.
Revise implementation deadlines, and don’t tie compliance to state aid
Extending the timeframe for regulations and compliance with the revised APPR system is a prudent step. School districts simply need more time for implementation.
Requiring all districts to re-negotiate local APPR plans and gain State Education Department (SED) approval by November 15, or lose eligibility for increases in state aid, repeats a misguided mandate of the past. It is impractical for school districts and their respective collective bargaining units to negotiate, ratify, have approved and fully implement plans, let alone train staff on the new system, by November 15, 2015. Further, SED has indicated a two month turnaround time for plan approval, based on previous experience. This pushes up the deadline for plan submittal to SED much earlier than November 15 – to early to mid-September.
Districts were initially required to negotiate APPR plans and gain state approval by January 17, 2013, or lose eligibility for school aid increases. This first deadline led to hundreds of millions in school aid being lost for districts not meeting the arbitrary deadline, and hastily adopted APPR plans for the others – which needed hundreds of material changes and revisions.
The latest changes in APPR laws would not only require districts to repeat this exercise, but do it even faster – by November 15 or earlier for a timely plan approval. The timeline also does not allow the Board of Regents and State Education Department sufficient time to comply with standard proce-dures to enable public input into rule-making – since the Regents must finalize regulations by June 30.
Further, allowing for mid-year implementation of the new plans is impractical and undermines confidence in the system. Teachers and principals and students will be best served of their educators know what is expected of them at the beginning of the school year.
A complete de-coupling of state aid and APPR is critical.
No school district can afford to lose funds that have already been appropriated for the upcoming school year for basic support of education, as staff would be terminated and programming would be cut. These cuts would be detrimental to all students.
Allow for voluntary independent observers
The new law requires every educator be observed every year by “an independent evaluator,” as well as by his or her supervisor. Amending the law to provide an option for independent evaluators will give districts the local control needed to suit their specific needs, while preserving the principal as the correct and sound pedagogical leader of a building.
The ongoing professional dialog between teachers and building principals has been one the best outcomes of the APPR system; dialogue on improving teaching practice with appropriate professional development aligned to the teaching standards results in enhanced student learning. An independent evaluator may not create the opportunity for this professional dialogue, and may have no context regarding the teacher’s students when conducting the observation.
Educators commonly agree that the most successful change brought about from APPR is the increased conversations between teachers and building principals – which havepromoted effective collaboration and cultivation of good instructional practices.Simply because a principal has a preexisting relationship with a teacher, does not mean such individual is unqualified to evaluate that teacher or will not evaluate that teacher in an impartial manner.
Outside observers may have a limited perspective on the unique challenges and priorities of the schools they visit and probably have no contact with its parents. If they are current principals, the time they spend on these observations will be time spent away from the priorities of their own schools, including engaging with families. Further, the mandated use of independent evaluators maybe extremely costly to districts, and may result in the reduction of programs and services for students, and maynot contribute to teacher development.
The use of independent evaluators should be voluntary, a decision to be made at the local level.
Rushing to implement a complex and problematic law does not benefit students, educators or school districts. The legislature must act, and the Governor must sign, sensible reform to the hastily passed revised APPR law.