Sunday, October 23, 2011

back from Lake Placid and my brain is full...

I spent the past weekend in Lake Placid (where the 1980 Winter Olympics were held). I was there to attend my NYSUT (NY State United Teachers) annual Regional Leadership Conference, learning about the new regulations regarding teacher APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) and the associated contractual ramifications. Hence my overstuffed brain. (The photos above and at the end of this post were shot on the way down through the "Cascades", coming out of the mountains toward the highway on the way home.)

So I want to talk about the APPR. But first - here's the early morning view out of my hotel window. In front of the mountains is Mirror Lake, which sits directly next to the main street of the village. While the autumn leaves are still rich in gold, rust, orange, burgundy and olive here at home, further north in Lake Placid, nestled in the mountains, there's barely a leaf left on the tree, and I'm sure some of the 46 High Peaks already have snow on top. Winter comes early in Lake Placid, and spring comes late, but still, Lake Placid and nearby Saranac Lake, Keene, and Keene Valley are all lovely picturesque villages.

Back to the APPR: Here in NY state we have new legislation regarding the APPR. I don't want to attempt to explain it all, (I'd have to write a novel), but I'll try to lay out a few basics:
  • 20% of the rating will be based on student growth on state assessments. For non-tested subjects (such as ART) growth will be measured by district-wide student growth goal setting process. (What does this MEAN? Who decides what this process is? No answers thus far...)
  • 20% will come from multiple locally-determined measure of student achievement.
  • 60% will come from the state teaching standards using multiple measures: a rubric, observation, and evidence collection.
  • Only the first 20% comes directly from the state; the other 80% must be collectively bargained. (We have our work cut out for us; our contract expires this June so we should begin negotiations this winter.)
  • For the 60%, the state has approved 9 possible rubrics (that align with the NY State Teaching Standards), and boy, are these rubrics intense, running about 35 pages or so each. Yikes. It will take forever to simply READ them all, and then we have to select one and determine how to assign points, and negotiate it all with the rest of our contract items (such as salary and health insurance).
  • Then there's the TIP (teacher improvement plan), TED (Teacher Evaluation and Development system) and probably a few other acronyms that aren't occurring to me here.
Meanwhile, what are the NY State Teaching Standards? Truth is, I didn't know until this weekend. (Hint: they are NOT the same thing as the NY State LEARNING Standards.) Here they are , greatly simplified:
  • Knowledge of Students & Student Learning
  • Knowledge of Content and Instructional Planning
  • Instructional Practice
  • Learning Environment
  • Assessment for Student Learning
  • Professional Responsibilities and Collaboration
  • Professional Growth
So you see why my brain is so full. I now have to turn this info over to others to figure out where we go from here.

If I needed a good reason for my decision to retire in June, this would be it. I'm so discouraged. Don't get me wrong, I think there are good parts to all of this, but it is SO weighty. I think our administration will be bogged-down with walk-throughs and observations and filling out rubrics, and I think the teaching staff will be very stressed trying to jump through all the hoops. And I don't think it will make better teachers or improve student accountability. Teachers will be so worried about the kids showing progress, and scoring on standardized tests, and keeping track of everything with evidence binders and such, that I think the open-ended exploration that happens in art, and the wonder of creative expression will be much harder to find. And teachers who allow this exploration instead of worrying about covering every point on the rubric will be getting poor evaluations and maybe a TIP. I'm not interested.

Unlike many of you, who maybe had some extensive training in educational philosophy and practice, I grew up and went to college in the hippie era which preceded a lot of the stuff you've been using. All pretty loosey-goosey. Over the years since then, I've seen all sorts of research come and go, all sorts of initiatives be enacted and become obsolete, and I've become a little cynical. We spend a lot more time on data collection and assessment, but I don't think we're doing a better job because of all of this stuff. As a matter of fact, I think the kids are often shortchanged because we are so worried about meeting the standards.

Enough to think about? Time for my nightly cup of tea.......


  1. Its funny that you bring this topic up now. I am very thankful to be a part of a mentor program, as this is my first year in a public school, and we had our first city wide meeting yesterday. Before we broke up into levels and mentor/ protege pairings, we reviewed the current "non professional status" teacher evaluation form. (and were told to set up a time with our principal to be observed in the next 2 weeks!)The form has many of the Teaching Standards mentioned above. After we took the time to go over it, the presenter said this is what we will use until 2013, and after that, as long as all the appropriate people sign off, we will have a new evaluation and that too will incorporate student AND teacher performance.
    No pressure for a room full of new teachers!

  2. ugh what an aweful way to spend a weekend! I can't believe we have to deal with this sometimes. A lot of letters after these peoples name who decide on "what's best" but I wish one would try teaching a year in a classroom. . . with kids. . . who don't HAVE to listen to them. That would be some interesting data!

  3. Phyl, your last paragraph summs up completely what I have been feeling lately. Luckily, where I teach in Canada, we currently have pretty open-ended standards and very little micro-management, but I've definitely been to 'those' workshops where new initiatives are introduced and then new ones after that. There's a great photo I saw on Pinterest that says: "Those who teach can. Those who cannot pass laws about teaching". I couldn't agree more. I've only been teaching for about 10 years but I'm afraid I've become quite cynical and fed up with it all. I had a student teacher last year and she quickly saw in my classroom of 30 hyper middle schoolers that all the educational jargon and fancy methods that she has been taught are thrown out the window and you just try do do what works for your own personal style and the 'personality' of the class.

    Art Project Girl- totally agree with your points as well- it's comforting to know others feel the same way!

  4. Yes, ladies, it's very frustrating. And, while we KNOW ( yes, there's even DATA) that shows that kids who participate in the arts are more successful academically, there's never a WORD in all the initiatives and policies and legislation that says a THING about creativity.

  5. I went to this last year! I attended the same workshop and there don't seem to be any more answers or information than when I went last Fall. I enjoyed the conference and really got alot out of it. I wished we could go again this year, but I was too busy! At least the atmosphere was gorgeous! I am of the mindset that this will be like any other hairbrained scheme by state government or SED. It will change and morph or end up in the court system! We are negotiating our contract this year too. I'm hoping to be on the negotiations team. Good luck!

  6. I am new to your blog and must say I am so impressed with the work you and your students compose. Inspiring.

    I do wonder greatly about the teacher evaluation process and couldn;t help but think of the irony as your student works are so public, so inviting. One cd save tax $$$$ by simply viewing the work online.

    I did read about the 'art' assessment in CO last year of 1st graders. It was so misinformed from developmental and arts-based viewpoints.

    The best to you as you negotiate this. I hope you have a place at that table.