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Local Principals Question Performance Reviews

Principals across Rockland County and the rest of New York State signed a letter raising questions about the state's new Annual Professional Performance Reviews. Take the Patch Poll below and give your two cents in the comments section

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo complained that performance reviews for teachers and educators are not being implemented quickly enough during his State of the State Address earlier this month.

Over 1,000 New York State school principals and over 4,000 citizens signed a letter in December arguing the opposite, that the push for accountability in education is being rushed and handled improperly. The full text of the letter can be found attached to this article.

"We're trying to change 200 years of education in a year with a sledgehammer," said Pearl River High School Principal William Furdon. "It doesn't make sense.

"Take the time to do it better. Do it in small research groups. Then ask if you got the information you wanted to get with that test. If not, let's change it before we throw it out to the entire state at one time."

Furdon is far from alone in his concerns regarding the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), which calls for all teachers and principals to be given a performance rating of 0-to-100 to be based in part on how their students fare on existing standardized tests. The state legislature passed a law in May 2010 calling for this system to be in place by September of 2011. 

Furdon said he and the other principals have no problem with change or accountability. They just want to see the proper time put into choosing the right methods.

"New York State has not field-tested or piloted the new APPR system," Clarkstown High School North Principal Harry Leonardatos said. "State presenters compare the implementation of this system to building a plane while it is in the air. Our students are too valuable to set them on this misguided journey. We need research-based and field-tested systems of evaluation."

The letter sent to the New York State Education department focused on three areas of concern -- 1. Educational research that urges caution when evaluating teachers based on standardized testing; 2. The potential negative impact APPR would have on students; 3. Funds going to testing companies rather than schools.

"I support the position taken by the authors of this position paper," said Clarkstown High School South Principal James Vitale. "I believe that there was such a rush to create a model for evaluation that the quality of evaluation is lacking.

"On the surface, using students' test scores as a partial tool to evaluate teachers may have the ring of soundness to it. However, I believe that the consequences to student learning may be negatively affected. The focus may be directed to "drill and kill" lesson plans that result in superficial learning just to pass the test without having breadth and depth which would normally result in true learning."

Albertus Magnus High School Principal Joseph Troy said the APPR is not the same issue for him because he runs a private school, but he is a former public school principal at Briarcliff.

"I think the points they made in that article are accurate," Troy said. "You can't evaluate teachers based on test scores. It's not accurate. What about the teachers who teach only honors classes? Or the teachers who teach only Regents classes? There is a gap there. The bottom 25 percent of the lower-level Regents classes, those teachers will be penalized."

Research Brings Using Student Scores Into Question

The letter points to research that calls into question the practice of using student scores to evaluate teachers. 

"The new APPR evaluation system for teachers and principals places too much emphasis on test scores," Leonardatos said. "The focus will be on student testing rather than student learning.  Recent research shows that the focus on standardized tests over the past decade has actually led to a decrease in student learning."

He cited research by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing in the article “The Lost Decade.” He also mentioned the conclusion drawn by the National Research Council, which argued that No Child Left Behind policies requiring more testing have not led to increased learning. A summary of that position can be found here.

"The ultimate goal is to focus on learning not testing," Leonardatos said. "Education is a unique setting for teachers and students, not test-makers and test-takers."

Negative Impact on Students?

The concerns about focusing too much on testing and not enough on learning tie into potential issues impacting students with the implementation of APPR.

"The testing they talk about, it’s hard for us," Furdon said. "Are we going to spend all this time on testing beginning of year and end of year? Those are days we are losing in true education in the classroom. Are we really looking to do that to kids? And the non-core classes such as art and music, the ones we don't have a state test on it, what do we do with those?"

The letter also pointed out that the APPR would provide incentive to keep students in lower-level courses rather than having them push themselves, keeping those who might struggle away from Advanced Regents exams.

"We push kids to stretch themselves, to take a chance," Furdon said. "Take an AP course. That's a risk for our kids to do. If you put a teacher's reputation and evaluation on the line, why is a teacher going to encourage a kid to take that (tougher) course?"

The letter also pointed out that the APPR would push teachers to compete against one another rather than work together.

"I also believe that teachers will become less collaborative and more competitive with each other over resources and students assigned to them," Vitale said. "It lacks in approaching education as a team where every member has a role in education the whole child."

That collaboration can also be particularly important for newer teachers or student teachers, who often rely on more experienced colleagues to help them.

"It's helping each other," Furdon said. "It's that collaboration. It is also that horizontal integration. Every kid gets the same material. If I want to move faster than my colleague, so I can get more points, we're competing instead of making sure every kid gets the best education. We're fortunate. Our test scores are good. But do we want an atmosphere where we're stating to pit our own colleagues against each other versus what's best for the kids?"

This works counter to the goals of districts that look to coordinate all levels from K-12, so students are constantly building on what they have already learned rather than finishing with repetitions and gaps in their education.

"Look at our eighth-grade tests," Furdon said. "We struggle with those al the time. And yet our 11th-grade scores, we have 97-98 percent passing and 80 percentile getting mastery. Did our kids suddenly become smart in the previous two years? A lot of it is the testing, which can have nothing to do with what they know. It's the type of test and how they grade it.

"Now you have a scenario where a teacher is being evaluated based on it to decide if they keep their job or not. It doesn't make sense to me."

Money Going to Testing Instead of Classrooms

In addition to funding going to testing companies, school districts must pay for teachers to spend time training, proctoring and grading exams.

"The new teacher and principal evaluation system represents another unfunded mandate," Leonardatos said. "Taxpayer money is and will be spent on retraining principals, who have already been evaluating teachers for years.  While teachers are being laid off, the state is spending money on research and development for test questions and spending money on companies to develop the new evaluation system.  The preponderance of funds should be spent where the taxpayers expect money to be spent—hiring teachers, purchasing relevant materials, and refurbishing our aging classrooms."

"Now we have six days testing eighth grade English and Math," Furdon said. "It is an hour and a half each day. That's a lot of time in a classroom just testing. Then we have to take teachers out of the classrooms to grade the tests. That is done for three days, the entire day, and we have to bring in subs.

"But there is also talk about doing away with the Regents in January. Nothing makes sense any more."

Clarkstown PTSA Speaks Up

Clarkstown North is the only PTSA to sign the letter opposing APPR. Leonardatos spoke to the group about the reviews.

"They felt it would limit instruction," said Clarkstown North PTSA President Rhea Vogel. "They felt it would not enhance what was going on in the classroom. Parents were afraid that teachers would teach to the test and not teach the children."

Vogel said the overall concern is that more time is needed to evaluate this process.

What’s next?

Leonardatos will be among a group of principals meeting with Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, to discuss APPR later this month. Check back with Patch to hear more about this discussion.

Editor's Note: Kim Tran and Robin Traum contributed to this report.

Rockland Principals and Citizens Who Signed

  • Catherine Bonet, Rockland BOCES
  • Christine Arlt, Bardonia Elementary School
  • Dianae Basso, Felix Festa Middle School
  • Francine Cuccia, Link Elementary School
  • Kevin Horan, Felix Festa Middle School
  • Harry Leonardatos, Clarkstown North High School
  • Lisa Maher, Woodglen Elementary School
  • Dr. Diane Mitchell, Felix Festa Middle School
  • Deirdra O'Connor, Strawtown Elementary School
  • Martha Ryan, Congers Elementary School
  • Jonathan Schatz, Felix Festa Middle School
  • Jonathan Slaybaugh, Birchwood School
  • Annie Streiff, West Nyack Elementary School
  • James Vitale, Clarkstown South High School
  • Dr. Nancy Kavanagh, Elmwood School
  • Barbara Knecht, Margetts Elementary School
  • Ira Oustatcher, Pomona Middle School
  • Karen Pine, Spring Valley High School
  • Patricia Smith, Grandview School
  • Maria Vergez, Chestnut Ridge Middle School
  • Peter DiBernardi, West Haverstraw Elementary
  • Dr. Michael Gill, North Rockland High School
  • Michael Roth, Willow Grove Middle School
  • Joseph Witazek, Thiells Elementary
  • Joseph Troy, Albertus Magnus High School
  • William Furdon, Pearl River High School
  • Patrick Breen, Suffern High School
  • Mary DiPersio, Richard P. Connor Elementary
  • Brian Fox, Suffern Middle School
  • Kim Bell, Rockland BOCES
  • Pamela Charles, Gateway Academy High School
  • Jennifer Amos, Tappan Zee High School
  • Nora Polansky,William O. Schaefer Elementary
Tony T January 28, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Maureen, I agree with some of what you say. However does the European and/or the Chinese system teach their students to make racist comments? I find your comment ( All they need is to have their paces painted and a feather stuck in their hats! ) on how Clarkstown parent's conduct themselves at football and hockey games as insulting the the Native American community!!
Tony T January 28, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Tara....please see this article in today's Daily News....this is the first few lines "A perverted Brooklyn science teacher resigned after he allegedly asked a female student if she “ever had anal sex,” the Daily News has learned.Bart Ocuto, 52, a $73,000-a-year instructor at Sheepshead Bay High School, quit this school year after his students described bawdy conversations more suited for the locker room than the science lab." If he did not resign (I guess the Teacher's Union has not spoken to him yet) he would be protected by tenure and would be in the "rubber room" until he pensioned out!!!
Maureen January 28, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Tony T: A native American Indian would never behave that way. That is the Holywood depiction of them in most cowboy moves! Totally false but believed by the simple. Since that is where most of today's adults who attend hockey matches seem to derive their culture I think it is a fitting description to use to describe them. THEY get the picture! The same depiction is made in the movies about the Irish that all of them are always drunk or that the Scots are parsimonious etc. None of which is true but the culture frames them with that picture. And as a Scot I can also tell you how the Grand Canyon was formed: a scotsman lost a nickel down a rabbit hole! Believe me, some of the hockey player parents probably believe that too!
Tony T January 28, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Maureen, Only a simple person would use such a comparison as you did to describe the behavior of the Clarkstown parents at hockey and football games. You explaination, if that is what it is is even more is offensive to the the other races you mentioned.
Maureen January 28, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Tony T: Final comment: "If it were admitted that the category of “race” is a purely social construct, it would have a weakened legitimacy. Thus, there have been repeated attempts to reassert the objective biological reality of human racial categories despite the evidence to the contrary". See http://raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/Lewontin/ There is only ONE race, the human one, and we are all equal members of it! I will continue therefore to be offensive to cultural philistines.

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