New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo recently vowed “to break” the “monopoly” of public education.
Teachers throughout New York State are worried that with his new teacher evaluation proposals, he just might do so.
Governor Cuomo's proposed changes to teacher evaluations raise the stakes even higher on testing. State tests would become 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation and would use the same value-added measures that have been shown to have large margins of error. At the same time, principal evaluations would be lowered to just 15 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, with the majority of weight falling into the hands of observers separate from and outside the school community.
It was concern over the consequences of these proposals that brought the teachers at PS 321 together to write a letter to their parent community. Educators want to be held accountable. There are common sense measures that have been tested and proven, and can help do just this. But these proposals are not the way. With Cuomo’s proposals, one wrong answer on one bubble test could become all it takes to make or break a teacher’s rating. With these proposals, voice would be taken away from school administrators, the local community, and, potentially, that which the community values most.
These proposals represent an attack on all teachers throughout the state, be they at high- or low-performing schools. And, much as Governor Cuomo has himself asserted, they represent an attack on public education itself. Rich curriculum, the joy in learning, and entire careers themselves run the risk of giving way to testing and test prep.
This letter was written to show how this would happen. And call us all together to preserve the good in—and good of—public education.
— Alex Messer, PS 321 teacher
Dear PS 321 Families,
It is with heavy hearts that we, the teachers at 321, reach out to you to ask for your help.
Governor Cuomo has proposed major changes to teacher evaluations in New York State. We want to let you know, from a teacher’s perspective, the changes this law could bring to PS 321—and to our profession—if it passes.
- 50 percent of a teacher’s rating would be based on state test scores. (Currently it is 20 percent).
- 35 percent of a teacher’s rating would be based on the findings of an outside “independent observer” who will conduct a one time visit to the classroom. (This has never been done before. Currently our principal and assistant principals’ observations count for 60 percent).
- 15 percent of a teacher’s rating would be based on observations by the principal or assistant principals. The very people who know our work best would have the least input into our evaluation.
- 50 percent + 35 percent = 85 percent of our evaluations would be removed from the hands of our community and placed in the hands of the state.
And then, using these numbers, any teacher who is rated ineffective two years in a row can be fired. Liz might have no say in this.
So what might that do to PS 321? Realistically, many of us could be fired. Every year. And many more of us would be pushed away from the profession we love.
Here’s something parents need to understand. Even though, when our students take the standardized tests, most of them do just fine. Many PS 321 teachers do not. Teachers’ ratings are not based on their students’ raw scores for the year, but whether their students improved from one year to the next. If a student with a ‘3’ gets one fewer question correct in fourth grade than she did in third, that student might not have demonstrated the “added value” their teacher is expected to have instilled. Even though the student has mastered that grade’s content. Even though it’s just one question. And that teacher might, therefore, be rated in the bottom percentile of teachers.
That may sound patently absurd. However, that has already happened here.
If Governor Cuomo’s evaluation proposals come to pass, it might start to happen more and more. And if we are rated ineffective as a result two years in a row, we might be fired.
That is why so many schools in NYC spend so much time prepping for the tests. One or two wrong answers can make or break a teacher’s rating.
Faced with these changes, we’ve already been hearing from so many of our colleagues from across the city and state who will be forced to do more test prep. Even when they know that the tests do not give an accurate picture of student learning, or of the effectiveness of teachers. Even though they know teaching to the test is bad teaching. Faced with the reality of the loss of a paycheck—the loss of the career they are building, have built, or want to build—these proposals will push them to teach in ways they know to be counterproductive.
That breaks our hearts. But the truth is, faced with the same reality, there are those of us here who would be feeling the very same pressure. Not because we’d want to. We would try to resist. But it is inevitable that if the governor’s proposals go through, all schools will narrow their curriculum to some extent.
And that’s scary. And it breaks our hearts even more. Because we know what we have here. We love what we have— in you, in our students, in all that the PS 321 community represents. The joy that is present— every day, in our school. The value that is placed on intellectual curiosity, on creativity, on the arts. The love of learning that is visible when you enter our building, when you go into classrooms, and when you talk to students and teachers.
The values present in Governor Cuomo’s proposals are antithetical to our own. And they place them at risk. The numbers are clear: 50 percent of our value will be six days of tests. 35 percent of our value will be one day with an independent observer. And 15 percent of our value will be in evaluation by Liz and the assistant principals, those who know us best as educators.
Those are their values.
Our joy, our love of learning, our desire to help students become deep thinkers and problem solvers, our community, our commitment to constantly improving our practice—those are ours.
PS 321 Families: don’t let them take our values away.
We need your help. And we need it now. The education law is folded into the state budget. It goes up for a vote before April 1st.
We need you to let your legislators know that you disagree with this plan:
- Email Governor Cuomo right now.
- Sign the letter to let your legislator know you disapprove of the law.
- Contact your assemblymember. Don’t stop there. Go to their offices and demand attention.
Post this issue on Facebook and tell your friends. Use social media to spread the word. Go to Albany. Make whatever noise you can.
We need you to come to the PTA meeting on Wednesday, 2/25, at 8 a.m. to learn more—and hear more from us.
And sign up today at ps321.org to receive information and updates from the Testing Task Force about what you can do to help support us.
What we have together is rare, especially today, when so many schools have succumbed to the pressures of testing. We must not take our school’s joyful community for granted. All that we have—all that we do together—is far too important and far too valuable to be taken away. Thank you, as always, for your energy, your support, and your inspiring, creative children.
— Your Devoted Teachers