Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Open Letter to NYS Legislators

Dear Legislator:

I am writing to express my concern about the Governor’s plan for teacher evaluation and to share some information with you.  I retired last year after 23 years of teaching in Guilderland, NY, and now spend my time as an education activist.  I truly believe reforms like those the Governor proposes will destroy our public schools, dismantle our present high-quality teaching force, and keep prospective candidates from entering the career path.

Teachers are not against evaluation processes that are fair and that help them to inform their teaching, set goals for improvement, and hone their skills.  This process was continually refined BEFORE Cuomo decided to base a large chunk of the evaluation on test scores.  A couple of years before I left the field, our district (and most others in NY) started using the Danielson Rubric for observations and evaluation.  It is available online here:

This thorough evaluation tool has 58 pages of domains and components for assessment.  Observations are done throughout the year by administrators who then meet one-to-one with the teacher and spend much time going over the feedback and setting goals for improvement.  Though I considered myself a master teacher, I always found inspiration in those meetings and I was thus able to continually make progress in my field.  I am attaching the pdf for this rubric so that you can see how extensive it is.  You would be hard-pressed to find another profession that cooperates with such an intense evaluation system, on an ongoing basis.

Here is my point:  if administrators already have the tool to properly assess their teachers, and to help them to improve – then if it is true that we have “ineffective” teachers – why are all teachers being held accountable?  It is the administrator’s JOB to assess, mentor, train and assist teachers wherever they are on their career path.  If there are issues, and I have seen this happen with burnout, teachers are counseled out by their administrators.  In severe cases NYSED can get involved and pull the license.  For new teachers, there is a three year probation time, during which assessments are even more crucial, and give a path to weeding out those who haven’t shown potential for teaching. 

I am also attaching a pdf of a brochure I created that highlights why Cuomo’s assertions about our teachers in NY are based on false logic.  First of all, if we go along with Cuomo’s thinking we have to believe that NY schools as a whole are failing – which is just NOT TRUE.  I am sure you know that Education Week ranked us as 17th, and after adjustment for regional costs, 4th.  SmartAsset just came out with a study that placed us 4th in the nation, sixth for the number of students in college, with 71% attending college within 12 months of graduating.  How does Cuomo’s assertion that only 38% tested college ready even make sense?  I call foul on this nonsensical and skewed use of testing data.  As we well know, the tests themselves are designed for failure, which is why so many parents across the state are protesting and refusing the tests for their children.  

In contrast to the Danielson evaluation, the APPR is deeply flawed, with fully one-third of NY teachers moving from one category to another on that measure.  Teachers most affected by basing their performance on the tests include those we need the most – special education and teachers of English language learners (ELLs).  Only 3-5% of these populations pass the tests, and their teachers are held accountable.  It is infuriating that those who spend their lives selflessly giving to our neediest students are punished in this way.  Who will choose to work with these populations when their careers are on the line, and if Cuomo gets his way, lose their livelihood after only two years?  I could go on with the reasons it does not make sense to give a grade-level test to students who cannot approach grade-level ability, because it is akin to child abuse, but that is another whole letter.

I am proud to say that NYS teachers are some of the highest-qualified in the nation.  The extensive process that occurs to even become certified in NY is one of the toughest in comparison to other states.  That is why I am not surprised that “only” one percent of NY teachers were rated ineffective.  What I am surprised at, is why legislators and the public at large do not seem to know that little fact. 

The bottom line is that THE MAJORITY OF NY TEACHERS ARE NOT INEFFECTIVE.  The issue is the populations that they teach.  Poverty, homelessness, disabilities, and other factors have everything to do with a test score that does not favor teachers.  Even teachers of gifted students are at risk, because those students often “max out” the test and do not show growth.  The present evaluation system is faulty!

Please do the right thing for NYS students and reject Cuomo’s evaluation plan for teachers and his punitive and draconian measures that will surely dismantle our public schools.

No comments:

Post a Comment