Seven local school districts have had Annual Professional Performance Review (AAPR) plans adopted by Albany or are on the verge of receiving approval, but most New York school systems have not yet received acceptance as the deadline looms.
Locally, Chappaqua, Byram Hills, Bedford, Briarcliff and Valhalla have seen plans validated by the state Education Department (SED) for the current school year, the first time the evaluations are required under a state law passed in 2011 in order for New York to receive $700 million in federal Race to the Top education funding. A key component of the new law is the APPR as a method to evaluate the performance of teachers and principals.
Although Pleasantville was not included as complete in the most recent update on the governor’s district-by-district AAPR tracking web page, Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter said she has been told that her district’s plan will be approved. Mount Pleasant, which submitted its plan last month, is still waiting for final approval. The state has set a Jan. 17 deadline for districts to receive an approved plan.
While nearby districts have been largely successful in complying with the new mandate, less than one-third of New York’s districts have approved plans as of Nov. 15, according to SED. The department reported that 225 districts statewide have approved plans, while 578 have submitted plans awaiting acceptance. Those statistics did not include a small percentage of districts that have not submitted any plan as of Nov. 19, including five in Westchester.
Any district that does not have an approved APPR plan by the deadline will lose its increase in state funding.
Area administrators agree that while there are benefits to the more elaborate evaluation, it comes with significant costs.
“I really like that we’ve come up with something that’s very good,” Chappaqua Superintendent Dr. Lyn McKay said during a Nov. 14 presentation to the district’s board of education regarding development and implementation of its APPR plan. “Portions of it are even better than what we’ve come up with in the past. The amount of time and money that has gone into this is huge. The pacing coming from the state is way too fast, requiring change at a rate that is almost not doable.”
Time and cost in a period when resources are already stretched thin by the 2 percent tax cap and the reliance on a heavy dose of additional testing has many administrators concerned. While some districts did not have APPR-related costs available or were hesitant to announce estimates, Fox-Alter said Pleasantville has already spent upwards of $100,000 developing its plan. Meanwhile, districts in this area will receive little to no Race to the Top funding over the next four years. Byram Hills and Mount Pleasant will receive about $2,000 a year for the next four years and Pleasantville about $1,500 annually, while Chappaqua will receive none of the grant money.
By the state taking such a heavy-handed approach, which includes increased testing in a high-pressured environment, other school pursuits such as music and the arts continue to be in jeopardy, Fox-Alter said.
“I clearly applaud them trying to improve teacher performance,” she said. “My concern is on a number of levels, but one concern is that the (new) APPR is a one-size-fits-all evaluation.”
While districts have had local evaluation plans since 2000, Chappaqua’s Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Eric Byrne said the new APPR plans require every teacher and principal to be evaluated annually through a combination of three criteria that is calculated according to a 100-point system. In Chappaqua, about 60 percent of the grade is derived from observation and inquiry, where teachers develop inquiry-based questions to infuse into their curriculum and track their data, along with twice-annual reviews from their supervisors and peers. Then there are new assessments originated by the district. The third piece is state exams, where each teacher is measured for growth in that area.
Based on those factors, teachers and principals earn a score from 0 to 100, which places them into one of four categories—highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. An expedited dismissal process can be initiated for any teacher who is graded ineffective for two consecutive years.
Byram Hills Superintendent. Dr. William Donohue said for high-achieving districts, there is a built-in disadvantage for faculty. Regarding the growth data on state exams, it is often mathematically impossible for teachers in strong districts to receive a top score in growth, he said.
While Donohue said state-mandated teachers evaluations are here to stay, he believes they will change as the public eventually comprehends the expense.
“I think once communities realize the amount of money that is being spent, there will be opposition to this,” he said.
Mount Pleasant Superintendent Dr. Susan Guiney said having teachers held accountable is a positive step, but it is something most districts in this area have already been doing.
“Doing this on the shoulders of the taxpayers while we just had the tax cap and pitting that against our children, that’s the wrong battle to fight,” she said.
Kenneth Mitchell, superintendent of the South Orangetown School District, wrote a report this fall stating that there is little reliable research which draws a correlation between the increased teacher standards to improved student performance.
Meanwhile, the costs for lower Hudson Valley districts are burdensome, Mitchell stated. In a sampling of 18 districts in Rockland, Westchester and Putnam counties that was studied by the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach at SUNY New Paltz, Mitchell concluded that it will cost those districts nearly $6.5 million to implement the APPR, but they will only receive about $520,000 in return.
“Every school district in the state, no matter how well students and teachers had performed in the past, would have to revise curriculum, restructure assessment systems, reopen union contracts, adjust ongoing strategic planning, modify long-term budget plans and fund new mandates,” Mitchell wrote.
Andrew Selesnick, Chappaqua’s Assistant Superintendent for Leadership Development and Human Resources, said districts are trying to strike a balance to provide the types of programs that make them special despite being challenged by this new requirement. In Chappaqua, the administration has tried to involve staff as much as possible.
“I think what we all have been very conscious of is not wanting to create (an atmosphere) where people feel that evaluations is something that is done to them and they have little to no control over it,” Selesnick said. “You don’t want to become that kind of place and that’s a danger in this.”