School Board trustees and administrators spoke out against the New York State Education Department at the October board meeting, accusing it of being unfair and negligent in the application of standardized testing and teacher evaluation.
Superintendent Seth Turner, who recently heard Commissioner John King speak at a state superintendents’ conference, said he was disappointed at the lack of answers regarding how schools should proceed when students opt out of testing.
The issue is one that has come up several times at board meetings. When a student opts out of a state test in Saugerties, he or she must sit silently in the testing room with the test on the desk, a process labeled by some as “sit and stare.” Other local districts, such as Kingston and New Paltz, allow students to go to another room and read silently. Several times in the past, Turner has said these districts have “no legal authority” to allow this according to state guidelines.
When King was directly questioned about how to handle students who opt out, Turner said he gave only a very vague response. He said he felt King was “shirking his responsibilities” and wasn’t taking it seriously.
Turner’s frustration on this matter was shared by Trustee Florence Hyatt, who said she was “extremely disappointed” that the State Education Department still hadn’t given a clear-cut answer on opting out. She said this puts boards of education throughout the state, parents and children “out on a limb.”
The second topic was the teacher evaluation system. New York State mandates that all teachers are evaluated annually through an Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR, which involves rating the teachers on a score of 1-100. The score is composed of points derived from observations, student test scores and other measures of achievement. Teachers earning a score of 0-64 are rated ineffective, 65-74 are rated developing, 75-90 effective, and 91-100 highly effective.
The board approved some changes to the district’s APPR plan, including shifting some of the due dates so teachers can get to know their students better before submitting goals, and adding more “user friendly” language.
While they did approve these changes, trustees made it clear that they were opposed to the state’s method. Trustee Donald Tucker called it an “insult to teachers.” Tucker said the state is pumping millions of dollars into finding and removing bad teachers when in reality he believes there are very few.
Trustee Florence Hyatt called it “bureaucratic negligence.” She said in order to make a change, elected officials need to feel the pressure from their constituents.
Board Vice President Thomas Ham argued that the evaluation system throws creative thinking out the window, leading to whole cohorts of students graduating without the ability to think creatively.
Superintendent Turner, too, spoke out against the mandated system, saying it turned districts into “compliance monkeys.” Turner said it is incredibly labor-intensive “just to comply,” and said he wasn’t convinced that it led in any way to a better education for students.