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Local Principals Question Performance Reviews

Principals across Rockland County and the rest of New York State signed a letter raising questions about the state's new Annual Professional Performance Reviews. Take the Patch Poll below and give your two cents in the comments section

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo complained that performance reviews for teachers and educators are not being implemented quickly enough during his State of the State Address earlier this month.

Over 1,000 New York State school principals and over 4,000 citizens signed a letter in December arguing the opposite, that the push for accountability in education is being rushed and handled improperly. The full text of the letter can be found attached to this article.

"We're trying to change 200 years of education in a year with a sledgehammer," said Pearl River High School Principal William Furdon. "It doesn't make sense.

"Take the time to do it better. Do it in small research groups. Then ask if you got the information you wanted to get with that test. If not, let's change it before we throw it out to the entire state at one time."

Furdon is far from alone in his concerns regarding the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), which calls for all teachers and principals to be given a performance rating of 0-to-100 to be based in part on how their students fare on existing standardized tests. The state legislature passed a law in May 2010 calling for this system to be in place by September of 2011. 

Furdon said he and the other principals have no problem with change or accountability. They just want to see the proper time put into choosing the right methods.

"New York State has not field-tested or piloted the new APPR system," Clarkstown High School North Principal Harry Leonardatos said. "State presenters compare the implementation of this system to building a plane while it is in the air. Our students are too valuable to set them on this misguided journey. We need research-based and field-tested systems of evaluation."

The letter sent to the New York State Education department focused on three areas of concern -- 1. Educational research that urges caution when evaluating teachers based on standardized testing; 2. The potential negative impact APPR would have on students; 3. Funds going to testing companies rather than schools.

"I support the position taken by the authors of this position paper," said Clarkstown High School South Principal James Vitale. "I believe that there was such a rush to create a model for evaluation that the quality of evaluation is lacking.

"On the surface, using students' test scores as a partial tool to evaluate teachers may have the ring of soundness to it. However, I believe that the consequences to student learning may be negatively affected. The focus may be directed to "drill and kill" lesson plans that result in superficial learning just to pass the test without having breadth and depth which would normally result in true learning."

Albertus Magnus High School Principal Joseph Troy said the APPR is not the same issue for him because he runs a private school, but he is a former public school principal at Briarcliff.

"I think the points they made in that article are accurate," Troy said. "You can't evaluate teachers based on test scores. It's not accurate. What about the teachers who teach only honors classes? Or the teachers who teach only Regents classes? There is a gap there. The bottom 25 percent of the lower-level Regents classes, those teachers will be penalized."

Research Brings Using Student Scores Into Question

The letter points to research that calls into question the practice of using student scores to evaluate teachers. 

"The new APPR evaluation system for teachers and principals places too much emphasis on test scores," Leonardatos said. "The focus will be on student testing rather than student learning.  Recent research shows that the focus on standardized tests over the past decade has actually led to a decrease in student learning."

He cited research by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing in the article “The Lost Decade.” He also mentioned the conclusion drawn by the National Research Council, which argued that No Child Left Behind policies requiring more testing have not led to increased learning. A summary of that position can be found here.

"The ultimate goal is to focus on learning not testing," Leonardatos said. "Education is a unique setting for teachers and students, not test-makers and test-takers."

Negative Impact on Students?

The concerns about focusing too much on testing and not enough on learning tie into potential issues impacting students with the implementation of APPR.

"The testing they talk about, it’s hard for us," Furdon said. "Are we going to spend all this time on testing beginning of year and end of year? Those are days we are losing in true education in the classroom. Are we really looking to do that to kids? And the non-core classes such as art and music, the ones we don't have a state test on it, what do we do with those?"

The letter also pointed out that the APPR would provide incentive to keep students in lower-level courses rather than having them push themselves, keeping those who might struggle away from Advanced Regents exams.

"We push kids to stretch themselves, to take a chance," Furdon said. "Take an AP course. That's a risk for our kids to do. If you put a teacher's reputation and evaluation on the line, why is a teacher going to encourage a kid to take that (tougher) course?"

The letter also pointed out that the APPR would push teachers to compete against one another rather than work together.

"I also believe that teachers will become less collaborative and more competitive with each other over resources and students assigned to them," Vitale said. "It lacks in approaching education as a team where every member has a role in education the whole child."

That collaboration can also be particularly important for newer teachers or student teachers, who often rely on more experienced colleagues to help them.

"It's helping each other," Furdon said. "It's that collaboration. It is also that horizontal integration. Every kid gets the same material. If I want to move faster than my colleague, so I can get more points, we're competing instead of making sure every kid gets the best education. We're fortunate. Our test scores are good. But do we want an atmosphere where we're stating to pit our own colleagues against each other versus what's best for the kids?"

This works counter to the goals of districts that look to coordinate all levels from K-12, so students are constantly building on what they have already learned rather than finishing with repetitions and gaps in their education.

"Look at our eighth-grade tests," Furdon said. "We struggle with those al the time. And yet our 11th-grade scores, we have 97-98 percent passing and 80 percentile getting mastery. Did our kids suddenly become smart in the previous two years? A lot of it is the testing, which can have nothing to do with what they know. It's the type of test and how they grade it.

"Now you have a scenario where a teacher is being evaluated based on it to decide if they keep their job or not. It doesn't make sense to me."

Money Going to Testing Instead of Classrooms

In addition to funding going to testing companies, school districts must pay for teachers to spend time training, proctoring and grading exams.

"The new teacher and principal evaluation system represents another unfunded mandate," Leonardatos said. "Taxpayer money is and will be spent on retraining principals, who have already been evaluating teachers for years.  While teachers are being laid off, the state is spending money on research and development for test questions and spending money on companies to develop the new evaluation system.  The preponderance of funds should be spent where the taxpayers expect money to be spent—hiring teachers, purchasing relevant materials, and refurbishing our aging classrooms."

"Now we have six days testing eighth grade English and Math," Furdon said. "It is an hour and a half each day. That's a lot of time in a classroom just testing. Then we have to take teachers out of the classrooms to grade the tests. That is done for three days, the entire day, and we have to bring in subs.

"But there is also talk about doing away with the Regents in January. Nothing makes sense any more."

Clarkstown PTSA Speaks Up

Clarkstown North is the only PTSA to sign the letter opposing APPR. Leonardatos spoke to the group about the reviews.

"They felt it would limit instruction," said Clarkstown North PTSA President Rhea Vogel. "They felt it would not enhance what was going on in the classroom. Parents were afraid that teachers would teach to the test and not teach the children."

Vogel said the overall concern is that more time is needed to evaluate this process.

What’s next?

Leonardatos will be among a group of principals meeting with Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, to discuss APPR later this month. Check back with Patch to hear more about this discussion.

Editor's Note: Kim Tran and Robin Traum contributed to this report.

Rockland Principals and Citizens Who Signed

  • Catherine Bonet, Rockland BOCES
  • Christine Arlt, Bardonia Elementary School
  • Dianae Basso, Felix Festa Middle School
  • Francine Cuccia, Link Elementary School
  • Kevin Horan, Felix Festa Middle School
  • Harry Leonardatos, Clarkstown North High School
  • Lisa Maher, Woodglen Elementary School
  • Dr. Diane Mitchell, Felix Festa Middle School
  • Deirdra O'Connor, Strawtown Elementary School
  • Martha Ryan, Congers Elementary School
  • Jonathan Schatz, Felix Festa Middle School
  • Jonathan Slaybaugh, Birchwood School
  • Annie Streiff, West Nyack Elementary School
  • James Vitale, Clarkstown South High School
  • Dr. Nancy Kavanagh, Elmwood School
  • Barbara Knecht, Margetts Elementary School
  • Ira Oustatcher, Pomona Middle School
  • Karen Pine, Spring Valley High School
  • Patricia Smith, Grandview School
  • Maria Vergez, Chestnut Ridge Middle School
  • Peter DiBernardi, West Haverstraw Elementary
  • Dr. Michael Gill, North Rockland High School
  • Michael Roth, Willow Grove Middle School
  • Joseph Witazek, Thiells Elementary
  • Joseph Troy, Albertus Magnus High School
  • William Furdon, Pearl River High School
  • Patrick Breen, Suffern High School
  • Mary DiPersio, Richard P. Connor Elementary
  • Brian Fox, Suffern Middle School
  • Kim Bell, Rockland BOCES
  • Pamela Charles, Gateway Academy High School
  • Jennifer Amos, Tappan Zee High School
  • Nora Polansky,William O. Schaefer Elementary
Tony T January 17, 2012 at 12:13 PM
"We're trying to change 200 years of education in a year with a sledgehammer," said Pearl River High School Principal William Furdon. "It doesn't make sense. Principal Furdon...you statement is pretty telling. If the education system was working as it should be there would be no need to use, as you put it "a sledgehammer" to fix the system. So by your own statement the system has been broken for years. Most times it is more economical and better business when trying to re-hab an old tired delapidatred buildinhg to tear it down and start anew. "1000 Principals signed a petition".....this is another "circle the wagons" and protect our own self interest rather than do what is best for the education system and the students. And as for "taking time" and "research" isn't 200 years enough ?
Jimmy January 17, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Tony, You obviously don't live in Pearl River or know Mr. Furdon. We are quite happy with him and respect his opinion immensely.
Kelly Garrett January 17, 2012 at 04:13 PM
amen jimmy! however, it is true that teachers need to be held accountable for their performance with our children. some teachers are completely one sided with their opinions and try to impact our children. before they begin to change the system completely, i feel that they should analyze the districts that are doing poorly first and find out where the problem is. don't forget, the reason pearl river is a great school district is because the parents are deeply involved with their children's education. perhaps, parents in the poor performance districts should stop blaming the system and take responsibility for themselves and show their kids that education comes first. it starts from home.
Tony T January 17, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Jimmy, The system is broken, it has become an "open money pit" run by people who have a vested interest no seeing it fixed. Put the Cool-Aide down and look at the facts and figures.......with all the money spent on our teachers and the system over the years our educators have no one to blame except themselves for the condition they are in and have been for years.....the only way to fix this mess is to start a ew with the students as the focus not the unions and self interest in control.
Rose Marie Raccioppi January 17, 2012 at 05:04 PM
As an Educational Consultant/Therapist, Director, APOGEE Learning Enhancement Training Systems™ I am brought 'broken children' from the 'broken system.' YES, we have lost sight of the true meaning of education. When a child is deemed a failure because it does not respond quickly enough to filling in blanks, circling the 'right' answer and fully engaging its focus on 'the test' we have to take another look at what we have defined as priorities. For the past 28 years I have worked with hundreds of children and their families to redefine the means by which a child can gain competence, mastery and ultimate success. There are viable options, there are viable solutions to assure learning and development of our children. Do visit: http://www.apogeelearning.com and peruse http://apogeelearning.blogspot.com. Your inquiry is most welcomed.
stephany January 17, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Imagine the results if the teachers were not spending all too much time teaching to the test right before it happens and only months, weeks or possibly days after they did it for the first time. To rate how a teacher and student are really doing they should have regents like tests on the spur of the moment. Not even the teachers should know for obvious reasons. Teachers will know it is coming Just not when which may act as an incentive to do their best the first time anything is taught. These test would not count and are just used to actually test kids and teachers. Of course there would be kids absent but not because they knew they were being tested.Teachers should not be allowed to spend precious teaching time re-teaching. Unless of course retention of what they teach does not matter a month down the road. If that is the case why put such emphasis on learning if it is just to be forgotten in a month or 2. I imagine if you taught the same thing a 3rd or fourth time scores would go up
Jimmy January 17, 2012 at 06:26 PM
You obviously don't live in Pearl River!
Watchdog January 17, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Teachers are overpaid and underworked. One excuse after the other about why kids do not learn. Stop this whining and TEACH.
Watchdog January 17, 2012 at 10:44 PM
The jig is up. Summers off, semester breaks off, snow days, conferences etc etc. Taxpayers are sick of this whining and sick of paying for your stock market losses. The Governor is wise to your game.
Tony T January 17, 2012 at 10:55 PM
You are 100% correct. The education system has turned into a feeding trough for teachers and administrators!!!
Randy January 20, 2012 at 02:55 AM
It is about time that school administrators are held accountable for their failures. Rockland County has the 4th highest property taxes out of over 3100 counties in the country but as Governor Cuomo states we are far down the list in academic achievement. What will it take to get our students the education they deserve? There is already far too much money being spent with no results to show for it. It is about time this happened. If the administrators are so concerned about losing state aid due to their lack of results maybe they can make up the difference from their inflated salaries. $250K for a superintendent out of our tax dollars??? That is more than the Governor makes, US Senators, Congressman and all executives in the Federal Government with far more responsibility and budgets many orders of magnitudes larger than one of our local school districts.
struggling taxpayer January 24, 2012 at 03:30 AM
There are too many administrators and teachers that over paid and rely on their tenure to secure their jobs. "Job security" should be based on job performance! There are plenty of educators and administrators that are qualified to do the job of those that don't have their hearts in the right place. I hope that Governor Cuomo stands strong on this issue and isn't influenced by all the teachers and administrators that are going to argue the opposite! Our children are proof that there needs to be change. Let the school board also implement the reviews and recommendations... wouldn't they be the first in the chain of command?
Rose Marie Raccioppi January 24, 2012 at 03:56 AM
I am willing to meet the challenge. Any student who is having difficulties in reading, be it decoding and/or comprehension, I will provide the appropriate supports and strategies to bring that very student to be a masterful reader. With a 28 year record of documented success, I know it is possible. For further information: http://www.apogeelearning.com http://2learnnow.com http://www.2learnnow.info
Tara January 28, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Tenure is not "job security." The only thing that tenure guarantees you is the due process of law. In other words, you cannot be arbitrarily fired.
Watchdog January 28, 2012 at 12:59 PM
We were spending over $100,000,000 for Union Teachers confined to Rubber Rooms in NYC,including some for sexual offenses. Many of these should be fired outright and have not taught for years but still collecting a paycheck.
Tara January 28, 2012 at 01:05 PM
I implore you, Tony T and other person that agrees with your line of thinking to take a few days off from whatever industry you're in and spend them in a public school classroom, particularly grades 6-12. You will have quite the eye-opening experience and will surely change your tune. The fact that you think teachers are overpaid and under worked is sickening to me. The majority of the teachers I know are overworked. If you want to put a time spent working (lesson planning, differentiating instruction, grading work, writing reports on students, attending meetings, parent calls, research on strategies for anti-bullying and behavior modification, ensuring that you're staying on top of ever changing curriculum mandates, etc. that take place before and after school hours - inclusive of weekends and holidays) to actual pay ratio, you'd see that teachers are indeed UNDERPAID. You may ask why all of the aforementioned cannot be accomplished during the school day. The reason being that teachers are busy counseling and consoling students, giving up their lunch period to give extra help to students, attending mandatory meetings, having parent conferences, making photo copies, etc.
Tony T January 28, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Tara, You can tell someone lelse that sad tail however I have friends and relatives who teach both in NYC and in Rockland and the truth of the matter is they consider teaching a "job" not a career or a calling and put in their time like every other worker and can't wait for the clock to strike 3:00 for the 140 days or less they work (most of us wait for the clock to strike 5:00 around 180 days a year). And like I advise anyone who is not happy with thier job...go back into the job world and find another job.
Tony T January 28, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Rose Marie Raccioppi should not be premitted to use the comment section of an article to advertise her business or link to her site.....others of us pay for ads on patch. .
Maureen January 28, 2012 at 01:31 PM
The American system is way behind the European one. A child entering college here is taught in the first two years what a student in Europe learned in High School. European schools bring discipline through school uniforms. Children must stand when a teacher enters the room etc. Emphasis in sports is to build character, not to win at any cost. Students are taught to applaud an opposing team's good play. Here they scream or cause a riot. The jungle behavior of kids can be seen when Clarkstown North plays Clarkstown South. It's jungle warfare. We teach our kids that savaage behavior is acceptable. The same at any hockey game. Watch the parents. All they need is to have their paces painted and a feather stuck in their hats! No good teacher needs a union and no superintendent needs to be paid nearly one quarter of a million dollars. Mulitiple choice tests are excuses for learning. How does one know if a child understands the poem Ode to a Nightingale with a multiple choice test? When I went to school I had four one hour lessons in the morning and four in the afternoon. Then everyone had an hour of extracurricular activity, sports, chess, dancing, etc. And we finished it up withi an hour of homework after dinner and three hours of homework on the weekends. Spare me your solutions. The US will never catch up with the Chinese, or with the declining Europeans who unfortunately moved to an American type of system and called it 'comprehensive education'
stephany January 28, 2012 at 02:30 PM
@ Tara Tenure ensures that no school district can afford to fire a bad teacher.Teachers know it,their free union paid lawyers know it, now you know it http://tinyurl.com/7dovawn
Tony T January 28, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Maureen, I agree with some of what you say. However does the European and/or the Chinese system teach their students to make racist comments? I find your comment ( All they need is to have their paces painted and a feather stuck in their hats! ) on how Clarkstown parent's conduct themselves at football and hockey games as insulting the the Native American community!!
Tony T January 28, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Tara....please see this article in today's Daily News....this is the first few lines "A perverted Brooklyn science teacher resigned after he allegedly asked a female student if she “ever had anal sex,” the Daily News has learned.Bart Ocuto, 52, a $73,000-a-year instructor at Sheepshead Bay High School, quit this school year after his students described bawdy conversations more suited for the locker room than the science lab." If he did not resign (I guess the Teacher's Union has not spoken to him yet) he would be protected by tenure and would be in the "rubber room" until he pensioned out!!!
Maureen January 28, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Tony T: A native American Indian would never behave that way. That is the Holywood depiction of them in most cowboy moves! Totally false but believed by the simple. Since that is where most of today's adults who attend hockey matches seem to derive their culture I think it is a fitting description to use to describe them. THEY get the picture! The same depiction is made in the movies about the Irish that all of them are always drunk or that the Scots are parsimonious etc. None of which is true but the culture frames them with that picture. And as a Scot I can also tell you how the Grand Canyon was formed: a scotsman lost a nickel down a rabbit hole! Believe me, some of the hockey player parents probably believe that too!
Tony T January 28, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Maureen, Only a simple person would use such a comparison as you did to describe the behavior of the Clarkstown parents at hockey and football games. You explaination, if that is what it is is even more is offensive to the the other races you mentioned.
Maureen January 28, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Tony T: Final comment: "If it were admitted that the category of “race” is a purely social construct, it would have a weakened legitimacy. Thus, there have been repeated attempts to reassert the objective biological reality of human racial categories despite the evidence to the contrary". See http://raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/Lewontin/ There is only ONE race, the human one, and we are all equal members of it! I will continue therefore to be offensive to cultural philistines.

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