New York principals blast state’s new evaluation law

When The New York Times calls a protest by school principals “the first principals’ revolt in history,” it may be time to examine what’s at the root of their complaints. Certainly, as The Times article points out, students have been known to protest from time to time. So have teachers. Principals, however, simply don’t typically join the fray and clamor against state policies – until now, that is.

In May 2010, the New York State Legislature—in an effort to secure federal Race to the Top funds—approved an amendment to Educational Law 3012-c regarding the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) of teachers and principals. The new law states that beginning September 2011, all teachers and principals will receive a grade ranging from 0-100 to rate their performance. Part of that number (ranging from 20% to 40%) will be derived from how well students perform on standardized tests. More than 650 principals from around New York state have so-far signed a letter protesting the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ job performance. That’s still only a small percent of the more than 4,500 principals in New York.

In their letter, principals state three concerns:

  1. They allege there is no scientific evidence that using student test scores in any way improves student achievement and that value-added models do not produce stable ratings of teachers;
  2. They maintain students will be adversely affected by the law. With a focus on the end of year testing, there inevitably will be a narrowing of the curriculum as teachers focus more on test preparation and skill and drill teaching . Enrichment activities in the arts, music, civics and other non-tested areas will diminish; and
  3. Principals argue tax dollars are being redirected from schools to outside testing companies, trainers, and outside vendors.

The principals’ revolt began on Long Island but is slowly working its way across New York state. Last year, New York received a $700 million Race to the Top grant. To be able to compete for RTTT funding, states had to pledge to follow policy priorities of the Obama administration, like evaluating teachers by student test scores, even though there were no implementation plans yet. New York committed to an evaluation process that is based 60 percent on principal observations and other subjective measures, and from 20 to 40 percent on state tests, depending on the local district.

The Times quoted Katie Zahedi, principal of Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook in Dutchess County, saying the training session she attended was “two days of total nonsense.”

“I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations,” she reportedly said. “It takes your breath away it’s so awful.”