Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Death of Learning

The more I visit my local school districts, the more frustrated I have become with the new APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) that has been handed down by the New York State Department of Education and our Governor, Andrew Cuomo.

Like most, I am all for teacher evaluations and observations. I honestly believe that our teachers need to be observed and evaluated on a regular basis. I get that and I am all for that.

However, the new APPR process that has been implemented will be the death of learning!

For those not familiar with the new initiative, teachers will ultimately be rated on an 100-point scale with 60 points coming from direct observations and another 40 points coming from local and state assessments. Truthfully, I do not have an issue with the 60 point observation mechanisms. In fact, they are very similar to the previous observation tools we had in place with a few tweaks to the language. My angst does not lay within the observation, but the acquisition and implementation of thse tools.

Are we allowed to use our previous observation tools? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Apparently we're only allowed to use state approved observation tools that have been supplied to us by a number of third party vendors. Of course, each observation tools also comes with a professional development training package all for a hefty price. Let's not forget that most districts are also going to purchase an observation recording tool such as OASYS or Teachscape, which jacks up the price even more!

Nevertheless, the core of my anger does not lay within the observation tool, it's third party vendor pricing, or the packaging deals that fail to impress. There's still the other 40 points that relies on local and state assessments that have become the thorn in my side.

Of the 40 points, 20 points must come from a state assessment exam and the other 20 points must come from a district directed assessment. Again, districts have turned to third-party vendors to purchase various assessment tools such as NWEA MAP and STAR Enterprise. These tests must be conducted two to three times a year, which takes buildings two to three weeks at a time to complete. During a 40-week school year, this shuts down computer lab resources for 6 to 9 weeks!

Districts have implemented these programs under the pretense that we are going to pre and post-test our students to chart their progress throughout the school year. Are students provided with study materials? Do we know what the test is going to cover? Does it align with our current curriculum? No - No - Most likely NO. Therefore, we are "testing" our students progress on material that may or may not be covered. What happens when that student scores poorly? Does their success/failure on the test have any impact on them? Are they held back? Are they put in remedial classes, AIS, RTI? No - Like the grade 3-8 assessment, these tests are a "measurement" of student progress. Therefore, it has very little impact on them whatsoever.

However, these tests have everything to do with the teacher. A teacher can and will be rated poorly if his/her students do not show adequate growth. The system holds the teacher responsible for the success/failure of the students, but the students are not held accountable for their own actions. Pass or fail - it doesn't matter to the student. Pass or fail - means everything to the teacher including his or her job!

Is this the death of learning? It is absolutely the death of an educational system that I was once familiar with. Within a single year, I have watched our educational system make dramatic changes that will profound implications. You think teachers won't teach to the test more so now then ever? You think this new system will actually call out the bad teachers and not affect the good teachers?

What ever happened to learning? What happened to exploring new ideas, new topics, and new projects? When did the school year become a testing schedule of pre-tests, mid-year tests, post-tests, and state assessment tests? When are we supposed to teach? When are students supposed to learn?

How much is 40 points on a teacher evaluation really worth?

For those interested, please read Diane Ravitch's article No Student Left Untested, which can be viewed at: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/feb/21/no-student-left-untested/

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