What Have We Learned from APPR?

APPR-ArtThe end-of-the-year in schools in New York State has a whole new meaning now that the new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plans are in place. In addition to wrapping up the school year, administrators are preparing summative evaluation reports, calculating SLOs and LATs, and conducting end-of-the-year meetings with teachers. The usual administrator’s mantra, “It all gets done,” is being repeated more frequently and louder than ever before.

It’s a good time to take stock seeing as how districts will be reviewing their plans and considering changes for 2013-2014. So, what have we learned from year one of the new APPR system?

Teachers are being observed and evaluated. This was not true in the past, although this wasn’t spoken about. One of the greatest secrets in public education was that teachers weren’t being observed and evaluated each year. The fact that teachers could go decades without being observed and evaluated is not widely known; parents would have been quite surprised (and upset) to learn that their child’s teacher(s) hadn’t been evaluated in years. Now, all teachers are observed (and evidence collected) at least twice a year.

Scores vary widely from district to district. Each and every district in New York State developed their own Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) Plan, which includes a process for determining the final ratings for teachers based on their own, idiosyncratic method. Some districts have formulae that convert a score from the rubric. Some districts weigh different Teaching Standards or different parts of the rubrics differently. Some districts give points for the act of submitting evidence, no matter the quality of the evidence. Some districts use a conversion chart to determine the number of summative points. When you take all of these variations into account it is quite evident that what we think is a uniform, state-wide system is anything but.

SLOs and LATs take a lot of energy (but have not yet had an impact on instruction). At this point in the game, SLOs and LATs are an act of compliance rather than an integrated part of the curricula in schools. Yes, they should be the bookends of a year-long balanced assessment system and they should be connected to the common formative interim assessments. But, with rare exception, they’re not. Across the state we’ve spent all sorts of resources on vendor-made tests and we’ve spent enormous amounts of time and money to create tests merely for the purpose of SLO and LAT compliance. Until these assessments have a genuine role in the assessment systems of schools and classrooms this is all a waste of time and money – it’s nothing more than a large-scale exercise in compliance.

Teachers and administrators are talking about learning and teaching more than ever. Without exception, teachers and administrators are talking about learning, teaching, instruction, and feedback more than they ever have before. In the past, the systems and cultures of schools did not emphasize an instructional focus for teacher-administrator relationships. Sure, there were pockets where principals were instructional leaders and there were schools where principals were fighting the status quo and inertia of management to exert instructional leadership, but this wasn’t the norm. Now, teachers and administrators have to talk about instruction.

What principals do has to change. Principals simply do not have the time to do things the way they used to and to manage the new APPR system. Mathematically, it’s just not possible. So, schools and districts need to work collaboratively to figure this out. Distributed leadership plays a part in this. If instruction changes in schools to become more meaningful and engaging the need for principals to respond to discipline issues will diminish. In any case, things will have to change.

Whether or not this will make a difference remains to be seen. The old system of teacher evaluation was indefensible.  It didn’t make a difference. Most of the attacks on the new system of evaluation are an indiscriminate defense of the old system of teacher evaluation, a decidedly un-leader like display of resistance to change, and a romanticism of an ineffective past. The fact that the old system didn’t work means that we shouldn’t do it like that anymore. That does not mean that this new system will work, however. We all have the opportunity (and professional responsibility) to implement it with fidelity and to do the best we can. When we complain about it we should offer ways to improve it rather than just take shots at it. If not accompanied by suggestions for improvement, complaints are nothing more than whining. Whining doesn’t make anything better.

What else would you add to our list of lessons learned?

Craig,-Jeff_WEBJeff Craig
Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Support Services

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