Albany lawmakers have been busy. During a recent 3:00 a.m. budget compromise, a new teacher and principal evaluation system was also approved. While officials are quite proud of this accomplishment and have been using ads to encourage parents to monitor their district’s compliance, there is much more to the story.
Within the rhetoric, there is an implication that up until this new law, school districts have not evaluated teachers and principals. This is not accurate. In South Orangetown, we have had teacher and principal evaluation systems supported by professional development and improvement plans to ensure that staff is current with curricular and pedagogical trends, and those with deficiencies receive support.
The new system ties teacher and principal evaluation to student tests. In non-tested areas where there are no state-approved exams, districts are now required to either purchase new exams or develop tests that meet technical requirements to ensure that they will be approved by New York State.
The new system requires that K-12 students be regularly assessed and that the data be uploaded to the State Education Department. To do all of this, each district must expand its testing system and bolster its technology infrastructure to support on-line exams.
Albany has indicated that this reform is driven by low graduation rates in New York. Even though it is agreed that there is a correlation between a community’s income and its high school graduation rate, all schools, no matter how successful, are being swept into this test-driven approach to learning.
All of this comes at a cost. South Orangetown will receive a total of $23,000 to plan, develop, and implement a massive restructuring of our curriculum, assessment, and evaluation systems that will cost the taxpayers somewhere between one and two million dollars in both new and in-kind monies. The return on investment is likely to be nil; in fact, there is concern that these kinds of reforms could be detrimental to educationally-sound school systems.
While there are policy makers who believe that poorly performing education systems can be transformed through measurement driven by carrots and sticks, those leading high-performing districts and internationally leading school-systems disagree. Singapore’s Minister of Education recently shared that his country, held up as a standard by U.S. education leaders, would never rank teachers by test scores. Ironically, they have been emulating some of the top school systems in the United States.
Instead of ranking and rating teachers based on questionable and inconsistent data sets, they have been seeking ways to enhance critical and creative thinking and avoid overreliance on testing which could undermine collaborative learning, one of the attributes they have found in American schools.
The Governor’s office has publicized a checklist of “compliant” districts that have provided the new evaluation system to the State Education Department. The lists are organized on an interactive New York State map of counties. The map’s existence implies that the State Education Department is ready and waiting for the districts to comply. This is not accurate.
Schools across New York are also being threatened with the loss of aid if they do not comply by the fall; however, the State Education Department has not finalized its guidance on how these systems are not only to be developed but to be submitted and posted. There are many unanswered questions for those required to do the work while many in Albany celebrate what others believe is a hollow victory. There is also serious concern from the field and from observers with backgrounds in measurement who do not believe that the act of learning can be as easily measured as some would like to believe.
South Orangetown is working to comply with the State in a manner that will ensure that we receive our financial aid, especially during these fiscally-precarious times, but also in an approach that will protect the integrity of the learning environment that could be potentially compromised by a grand and unfunded educational experiment. Stay tuned as the rest of the story unfolds.