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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 29, 2011

Grading teachers
GCSD frustrated with new state regs

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — In a split vote last week, a disgruntled school board accepted a state-required plan for assessing the work of its teachers and principals.

The draft approved by the board last Tuesday will be amended once negotiations with Guilderland teachers and principals are complete.

Demian Singleton, the assistant superintendent for instruction who worked on the draft plan, called the timeline set out by the state “very aggressive,” adding, “Some may say unrealistic.”

In September, school districts had to adopt Annual Professional Performance Review plans for teachers of math and English in fourth through eighth grades and the principals who oversee those teachers.

Twenty percent is to be based on student performance on state tests, 20 percent on locally selected measures determined through collective bargaining, and 60 percent on classroom observation, using a state-approved rubric. Procedures for choosing a rubric and calculating scores also depend on the outcome of collective bargaining.

 “What if we just say, this is ridiculous and we don’t do it?” asked board member Richard Weisz. “This is such a charade.”

Weisz went on, “The whole thing is repulsive to me; it’s so stupid.”

“I would dare say this is a document of compliance at this point,” said Singleton.

“Say we didn’t adopt this?” asked board member Emilio Genzano.

“It’s law,” replied Singleton. “We have no choice.”

“We’re just going to rubberstamp this because the law says we have to?” asked board member Allan Simpson.

Judge rules

New York State initially lost a chance at federal Race to the Top funding in part because it didn’t have a system for evaluating teachers and principals based on student test scores. The unions, working with the State Education Department, then agreed to have 20 percent of evaluation based on state test scores, and New York in 2010 learned it would get $700 million in Race to the Top funds. Half went to the State Education Department and the other half was divided among public schools according to Title 1, which is based on poverty counts.

As a relatively wealthy district, Guilderland is receiving only $30,771, which, divided among seven schools over four years, comes out to about $1,000 a school per year.

This past May, the Board of Regents, which oversees public education in New York, decided that the 20 percent to be determined by local measures could also be based on state test scores — bringing the total up to a possible 40 percent.

The New York State United Teachers, displeased with changes in the regulations that it felt conflicted with the 2010 legislation, then challenged the Board of Regents in court.

On Aug. 24, Justice Michael C. Lynch of the State Supreme Court, the lowest level in a three-tiered system, ruled that schools could use state exams for both the local and state measure but only if the local union approved and if the tests were used in more than one way.

Lynch also ruled against the Board of Regents’ requirement that a teacher or principal who received an “ineffective” rating based on the test-score part would be deemed “ineffective” overall even if the teacher or principal had scored well on the subjective measures. In his own words, Lynch ruled, an educator can’t be “deemed ‘ineffective’ solely on the basis of poor student achievement.”

The Board of Regents is appealing Lynch’s decision.

Bargaining begins

Bargaining between nine members representing the Guilderland Teachers’ Association and nine representing the district began yesterday.

About six years ago, when Guilderland switched from an evaluation system that was largely narrative to a system that was quantitative, Singleton started as a teachers’ representative. “I switched midstream to the administrative group,” he said, noting that gave him an interesting perspective.

The current system at Guilderland, in use for half-a-dozen years, is three-tiered, Singleton explained. The first tier involves direct classroom observation of a teacher, who is evaluated on a rubric with five domains — instruction, learning environment, assessment, communication, and professionalism. Under the current teachers’ contract, there are at least five of these evaluations in a teacher’s first year, a minimum of three in the second and third years, and one each year for a tenured teacher.

The second tier is an annual professional performance review, which considers other actions, goals and reflections, and a summary of all observations.

The third tier, for teachers without tenure, is “a quick, summative document,” said Singleton, performed three times a year, to see if the teacher is meeting expectations or not.

The Guilderland system is based on a rubric developed by James Strong. “Unfortunately, the new list by the state does not include the Strong rubric,” Singleton said this week, “but there are comparable ones.”

After the “big shift” from the narrative system, the Guilderland evaluations were working well. “I don’t think we’ve had any complaints,” said Singleton.

Maceo Dubose, the president of the GTA, told The Enterprise yesterday that teachers had liked the current evaluation system.

“I realize the district is required to submit something to the state and post it on its website,” he said. “Obviously, teachers have some concerns with the new APPR.”

But, Dubose went on, “The fact that we’ll be part of negotiations provides some relief.”

One of the teachers’ major concerns, Dubose said, is that the new regulations talk about expediting the process used to remove a tenured teacher.

Other concerns, he said, are that tests are not always a fair assessment of a teacher’s work. “There are factors not in control of teachers,” he said, referring to a student’s socio-economic background.

“A teacher’s career shouldn’t be based solely on student assessment,” said Dubose.

He said that he had confidence in the negotiation process. “I’m optimistic that we can negotiate something fair and that will provide due process,” said Dubose. “We did this before.”

He concluded, “It’s another wrinkle to the contract we’re working on.” Asked about how contract negotiations were going, he said, “They’re going — not as fast as either side would hope. We’re still working on things that will be good for students and fair for teachers. That’s still our goal.”

Singleton, too, expressed faith in the bargaining process. “We will work together and get this done,” he said of the GTA.

 Singleton also said that he shared the school board’s frustration with the mixed messages and lack of clarity from the state; the timeline is also a problem.

A year ago, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, Lin Severance, told the school board, “We’re going to be building this plane as we’re flying it.”

By June 15, Singleton said yesterday, the state will give Guilderland a component score based on state testing. “That has to be factored in to an overall composite score,” he said.

He hopes the negotiating teams that started meeting this week will have come up with recommendations by the end of October.

“Test prep and learning are not the same thing”

Like Dubose, Singleton has concerns about the new state-required system. “There’s such a push for accountability now,” he said. “There’s almost an impulsive need to have numbers attached to this,” he said of evaluating teachers. Teachers can feel pressure to focus on raising test scores as opposed to teaching more valuable lessons.

“Test prep and learning are not the same thing,” stressed Singleton. “Learning is sometimes lost at expense of tests. The power of standardized testing goes up another level, connecting livelihood to a test.”

Singleton went on, “I keep trying to reassure teachers, it’s 20 percent. There’s still 80 percent based on good teaching, good practice, good pedagogy. Unfortunately, that’s getting drowned out.”

Singleton, in short, is not confident the new evaluation system will reform education. “The challenge remains,” he said, “to keep teachers focused on our fundamental function, which is learning.”

Ultimately, the school board last Tuesday voted, 7 to 2, to adopt the plan; Genzano and Simpson voted against it.

Later, Weisz noted that the APPR is forcing school districts to change software while the state offers no aid, which he termed “an unfunded mandate.” “One-hundred-thousand dollars here and $100,000 there, and pretty soon it’s real money,” said Weisz.

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