We are one of the fifty school districts that has been chosen to have our APPR, Annual Professional Performance Review, plan “audited” or reviewed by NYSED. There are as many different plans in New York State as there are school districts. At the state level, APPR isn’t something that’s been determined by our NYS Education Department alone but instead has come to us through legislation initiated by Governor Cuomo.
As an eleventh year superintendent, I will say that the APPR process as it is now is a mess. When it was new, and I was a newer superintendent, I had hope that the APPR plan would help us to broker change and lead to school improvement. I was naive. Now I know it’s a giant exercise in compliance, a negotiable nuisance, a confusing time waster with student learning objectives for teachers and principals that hasn’t led to school improvement but instead has distracted us from the real work of improving learning opportunities for students. It’s over-emphasized the importance of testing our students. I over-emphasized the importance as a leader, before I wised up. School administrators are slammed with 1000 important tasks and we don’t need this time waster. But, still we comply. We do our jobs. We make the evaluation system–which we’ve always had, believed in and used effectively in the districts I’ve worked in–work. We have meaningful conversations with teachers and we don’t care about the APPR scores or the HEDI scale.
But that’s not the point of this post. The APPR Reviews with NYSED are even worse. Someone reviews the plan and then calls to tell you what you need to fix. The plan takes hours to negotiate with a team of teachers and administrators. We cannot make changes without reconvening that group. Here are the initial two points the NYSED letter and reviewer via phone call made:
- you can’t count domains #1 and #4 of the Danielson rubric in the evaluative score (even though I’ve heard Ms. Danielson herself say that the rubric without those is meaningless and that it was never intended for the purpose SED has reduced it to). I knew this one from my previous district so okay, we don’t agree, but we’ll comply. We’re still going to evaluate domains #1 and #4 and have the important conversations but we won’t include it in the evaluative score.
- teachers with courses ending in a Regents exam can’t be included in using the building SLO, they have to have SLOs for their Regents exam specifically. Okay. Again, we’ll comply.
So we convene our committee of teachers, pay them to come in and work in the summer, resubmit the plan. Then the woman who’s reviewing the plans calls to tell me the additional points she’d like to make about the plan. What? Why didn’t you tell us those things in the first place? Now, on the first call I kept quiet when she talked about the value of the pre-assessments. I’m getting old and I realize this is the woman’s job so why should I bother trying to argue my points? On this call, I said, “listen, we’re just trying to comply. Please don’t give me the reasons why this is important. Just tell me what we have to fix.”
Then I talked to a younger administrator in another district in our region who is going through the same process and started with an initial call that their plan had been the best review of all! Eureka! Someone’s doing it right! Hang on. . . that was followed up with a two hour call citing all of the things they needed to do differently, including what evidence they’re collecting, etc., etc.
Thus my post. To every young administrator, there are those things in our profession that are worth fighting for and attending to on a daily basis. There are those things that you will do that will make a significant difference in the lives of the children you serve. Leadership in a school, particularly a principal, can be a powerful way to make a difference. APPR is not that difference nor is it the place to spend your time and energy. The reviews are ridiculous and you’re far too busy changing the world within your school to waste time on ridiculousness.
Let those of us who have been around a while fight the good fight at the state level and have a voice that hopefully leads to change. I believe in our Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia. She’s done our work. She gets it and she listens.
If you’ve had a review and this post reaches you, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me about your experience. I will carry those notes with me as I co-chair a committee on APPR for NYSCOSS. Let’s fix this broken system.