APPR – What does it mean for your child?

September 16, 2013 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years | with 0 Comments

New York’s new teacher evaluation system has gotten a great deal of press and caused much anxiety for public school educators in the state, and emotions are likely to ratchet up another notch as parents are able to view their child’s teacher’s scores sometime this fall.

The Annual Professional Performance Review – or APPR – was enacted in 2010 in an effort to standardize how teachers (and principals, for that matter) are evaluated throughout the state. APPR is part of the federal Race to the Top initiative, which allocated funds to improve education through adoption of the Common Core Learning Standards and new professional performance review requirements – money that was in jeopardy if New York school districts did not have new APPR plans in place locally by Jan. 17, 2013.

The APPR is meant to identify areas in which teachers can improve their teaching to ensure all students are college and career ready when they graduate from high school. The goal is a level playing field so that every student – whether they live upstate, downstate or somewhere in between – gets an equal educational opportunity.

The score your child’s teacher gets – on a 100 point scale – is really a combination of three measures: the growth score (from year to year) of similar students from around the state on New York State assessments, locally negotiated evaluations tools, and classroom observations.

Several variables enter into the calculations, but the final result is an effectiveness evaluation, rating a teacher either Highly Effective (91-100 points), Effective (75-90), Developing (65-74) or Ineffective (0-64). Get detailed information about APPR and the federal Race To The Top education initiative at www.engageny.org.

So how much weight should parents give to that number?

This is the first year that student test scores have been a factor in teacher evaluations, and that’s one area of contention. There is some research that shows student test scores are not a good indicator of teacher performance.

A cause for anxiety in schools comes with the release to parents next month of what are known as the “final quality rating” and the “composite effectiveness score” for teachers and principals. New York courts ruled that the numbers could not be released publically, but only to parents or caregivers.

There’s a formal process for parents to obtain scores, which will differ somewhat district to district, and a parent must provide identification so that they get scores only for their child’s current teacher(s)/principal.

Most districts have said they are not inclined to move students in and out of classrooms because of teacher scores; many have board of education policies prohibiting it. So, what if your child’s teacher is rated “ineffective” or “developing”?

If you choose to request your child’s teacher’s score, it’s important to keep several things in mind:

  1. This is the first year of this untested system. In the rush to secure Race to the Top funds, there was no pilot program, no testing of the evaluation system. If there are flaws, we need to give educators a chance to work them out.
  2. APPR is intended to identify areas in which teachers can improve their instructional practices through professional development, not as a judgment on a person.
  3. Nearly two-thirds of a teacher’s score comes from a minimum of two classroom observations, one announced and one unannounced. Depending on the process in your school district, these observations can last anywhere from an hour to six hours. (That means a teacher may be evaluated on only two of the 180 days they teach.) That’s a lot of points for a snapshot in time.
  4. Teachers who rate as developing or ineffective participate in a formal improvement plan that gives them the benefit of additional professional development.

There’s no doubt teachers should be evaluated – and in fact, teachers and principals have always been evaluated and held to specific standards. But assessing a teacher isn’t quite as simple as, say, evaluating the bottom line of an investment broker’s work during the year, or how many parts a factory worker assembles in the course of a day.

Can the commitment, skills and capabilities of a teacher, or principal, be meaningfully distilled down to a single number? Probably not. In the end, as parents we shouldn’t fixate on a number in an untested system that is already acknowledged to have flaws (read here).

Teachers choose to come to school every day to teach our kids. They have the appropriate qualifications to be hired and placed in the classroom. In addition, teaching is more than simply lessons from books. There’s as much art as science in teaching. There’s patience, nurturing and compassion that goes into the relationships teachers build with their students, as well as all the pieces of character education such as respect, kindness, honesty, generosity, equality, and justice, to name a few.

We already know our children are much more than the number of words they can spell or how many dates in history they can remember. We should understand that our children’s teachers are much more than the facts they can teach our children, or a single number on a sheet of paper.

Teacher evaluations are important, but we should keep in mind that APPR is about professional development and improving education for our children. It’s not a witch hunt.

As parents or caregivers, you can get involved and have a major effect on your child’s education. Get to know his or her teachers, through open house or a scheduled meeting. Stay in touch through notes, email or phone calls. Take the time to understand the lessons being taught, and the expectations behind any homework or projects. Ask how you can help your child succeed in school. Parents become highly effective when they take on the important role of supporting and encouraging their children throughout their school years.

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