The Nation Magazine: Why I Opted Out of APPR

This piece originally appeared in The Nation Magazine: Why I Opted Out of APPR

In February 2012, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, after a lengthy feud with the state teachers’ union, came to an agreement over a comprehensive teacher evaluation system for the state. The arrangement was made so that New York State would be eligible to receive $700 million of Race to the Top funds, a national sweepstakes spearheaded by President Obama that allocated monies to states that adopted his education policies.

Under the new system known as the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on standardized test scores, while the remaining 60 percent would be based on subjective measurements, like classroom observations and student surveys. Then, teachers would be sorted into four categories: ineffective, developing, effective or highly effective.

However, there’s one catch. In the bill, it states: “The new rating system would prohibit a teacher or principal who is rated ineffective in the objective measures of student growth from receiving a developing score overall.” In other words, if a teacher is unable to raise their students’ test scores for two consecutive years, even if he or she is deemed highly effective on the subjective measures, the teacher could be fired.

I recently graduated from Syosset High School. My district’s APPR plan was approved at the beginning of this school year. A month later, the Student Learning Objective (SLO) exams were unleashed on all the students in my school in every subject, including art, music, and physical education. Yes, in gym class, multiple choice exams with colorful green Scantrons were doled out. I wish I were kidding.

Teachers would administer the same exam at the beginning and at the end of the year. By means of value-added measurements and an obtuse formula, the teachers’ effectiveness would be determined. Moreover, in New York general state aid for schools is now tied to teacher evaluation, which puts further strain on the most impoverished communities in our state.

I cannot begin to describe some of the conversations I’ve had with educators, many of whom are veterans with decades of experience in this profession, who are feeling humiliated, demoralized and beaten down by this process.

I didn’t want anything to do with the tests, so I opted out of every single SLO exam. Each time, I put my name on the test booklet and Scantron and then handed the blank items back to my teacher. There were no consequences.

At the same time, a groundswell of opposition was growing. Two principals, Sean Feeney of the Wheatley School and Carol Burrris of South Side High School, took the lead and drafted a letter protesting the evaluation system. As of January 2013, 1,535 principals as well as 6,500 parents, educators, and students have signed onto the document.

If there’s one thing that is absolutely clear to me, it’s that Governor Andrew Cuomo has ignored the voices of students, teachers, principals, and parents who have grave concerns about the evaluations. He is frankly telling millions of students and teachers that their value is no more than a number in a spreadsheet.

What he’s forgotten is that evaluation is best done when the purpose is not to punish and reward teachers but to lend them support, to foster collaboration, to encourage self-evaluation, and to allow for rich and lengthy observations by principals and fellow colleagues.

So Governor Cuomo, tell it how it is. You can fire my teachers. You can close down my school. You can break up my community. You can kill the love of learning in children. But don’t tell me that it’s because you want the best for me. I’m not a stupid little kid. Do you hear me?


2 Comments on “The Nation Magazine: Why I Opted Out of APPR”

  1. Herbert S. Fischer says:

    You’ve said everything I’m feeling, thinking and experiencing in a nutshell…

  2. Kristen Paige Luigart, MA says:

    Thank you for your prescient and alarmingly mature evaluation of the education system. As a higher level degree graduate, I have seen numerous issues with pedagogy and execution.
    In a time of massive globalization we are allowing our children to become unwitting separationists. Our education system, relying on aged ideas of right and left brain, oppressive standardized testing, and cloying permissiveness of failure in college has lead us not to raise standards – but lower them. In a period where technology is growing at an exponential rate, our graduation in the sciences is poor compared to other countries. We have cut NASA and hobbled free thinkers – artists often make the best programmers, Einstein played the cello, and music theory has been used to understand string theory.
    Our teachers teach testing and not critical thought. Not because they wish this – but to maintain their poorly funded jobs – they have no choice.
    In the end however, those who are excellent test takers may be able to get into our best universities, but without the ability of personal critical thought – cannot remain there.
    And yet, here we are, attempting to reinvent the wheel. Looking on with envy at other countries’ education systems – but learning nothing. We continue to compound the problem with every new piece of legislation – baffled that the same idea renewed is still the same idea.
    Einstein once said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Perhaps we as a nation should consider that.

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