Teachers in the Kingston City School District returned to the classroom this year with more to think about than usual. In addition to 2012-13 being the final school year before the largest piece of the comprehensive elementary redistricting plan is put into action, there’s also a new state-mandated teacher evaluation system in place. A system which could tie their job security to their students’ progress and success on standardized tests.
Under the new state law, public school teachers across New York will be evaluated and assigned a score at the end of the school year based on their own classroom performance, as well as student progress and standardized tests scores. Previously, districts were left to their own devices when evaluating a teacher’s success or lack of.
In order to avoid losing out on increases in state aid, districts must have the new rules in place by Jan. 17, 2013.Kingston and many other districts throughout the state have already set the wheels in motion.
The evaluation (known as an Annual Professional Performance Review or APPR) is divided into three categories, with classroom observations by a building principal or other school official given the most value — 60 percent of the total. Weighed 20 percent are both student success on standardized tests and a district-chosen, state-approved evaluation still to be determined locally.
The APPR, which will only be made available to teachers and the parents of their students, will be not unlike traditional grades given out in the classroom. Scoring between 91-100 means a teacher has been deemed “highly effective.” A 75-90 means a teacher is “effective.” Scoring between 65-74 indicates the teacher is “developing.” Those scoring 64 or lower are considered “ineffective” — if a teacher receives this classification two years in a row, they could be subject to a termination hearing.
In September, John King, commissioner of the State Education Department, acknowledged that the changes might lead to “some anxiety” among educators.
“Evaluations are designed to help all educators improve their performance and help students more,” King wrote in a prepared statement. “The purpose of evaluations is not to create a ‘gotcha’ system.”
Kingston Superintendent Paul Padalino last week echoed King’s sentiment. “Good teachers have nothing to fear from an enhanced evaluation process,” Padalino said. “There are no gotchas in this whole process. It’s really about instruction and program improvement. It’s about proving what we do in the classroom and helping our teachers move forward and putting together lessons that are engaging to our students that are using best practices, that are using research-based practices and that are using data to drive instruction.”
Lori Naccarato, president of the Kingston Teachers Federation, had originally agreed to be interviewed for this article, but did not respond to a follow-up e-mail to arrange the actual interview.
Tests take on greater importance
Despite promises of fairness, there is still some concern among teachers across the state and critics of the plan, partly because of the nature of the evaluations and partly because it represents an even greater emphasis on standardized testing as part of a student’s educational experience.
“The emphasis on standardized testing isn’t new — we already focus way too much on testing — but the new teachers’ evaluation changes the stakes and uses testing results as a measure of teaching performance,” said Robin Jacobowitz, a member of Kingston’s Board of Education. “So, in that regard, I do worry that the evaluation will encourage even more teaching to the test.”
Fellow trustee Maureen Bowers agreed.
“I am very concerned about the growing emphasis on standardized testing, both for students and teachers,” she said. “In my own college career I was never a good test-taker, but could always do well on assignments, papers, projects, and in class participation. The ability to do well, or not do well, on a standardized test, is not a complete measure of student achievement or growth. It is a snapshot on a particular day, at a particular time. It does not take into account the whole child, and their physical and emotional well-being, on that particular day, at that particular time. There are so many variables. It also does not measure creativity and passion and ethics, all character traits necessary to succeed in life. Therefore, if the measure is flawed for the evaluation of the student, how can it be an accurate gauge of the teacher?”
Trustee James Shaughnessy said he believes the emphasis on standardized testing which took off after the signing of the federal No Child Left Behind Act during the presidency of George W. Bush, is not without its flaws.
Slideshow image by Flickr user Wesley Fryer/used under Creative Commons license.