I wrote this piece for my teacher association’s newsletter “News and Views” last September about the New York APPR teacher evaluation system that will use the state assessments as a part of educator ratings. The Annual Professional Performance Review systems must be negotiated by each school district and local teacher union by January 2013 in order to receive our four percent state aid increase. As of August 24, 2012, NYSED has posted thirty-one approved APPR agreements.
by Chris Cerrone
The story starts on opening Staff Development day as Mr. C. heads back to his middle school after sitting in the dark for over two hours of listening to scary tales in the high school auditorium. The short walk outside in the beautiful weather contrasts tremendously with the previous time spent hearing about impending doom. As Mr. C. nears his building he initially approaches with great trepidation as he can see that the hallways are eerily black. Mr. C. hesitates for a moment as he says to himself, “the lights are dim to save money and energy—nothing to worry about.”
After taking a few confident steps into the dark, dank building, Mr.C. hears a guttural scream from behind, he quickly turns around to see a fellow teacher in a panic shouting “What is going on with this bloody APPR?” He tries to calm his colleague as she is clearly upset. Mr. C. states “this monster they call APPR is still in its cage in Albany. How could this beast possibly get through all the red tape and bureaucracy in the state capital and reach our quiet little hamlet of Hamburg?” She replies, “But the people on Abbott Road claim that APPR is now lurking around our town. I read it in the newsletter and local paper, and heard way too much about APPR this morning.” Mr. C. tries to reassure her that one of the new teacher leaders stated over and over that the monster has not been allowed in our schools yet. Mr. C. is not sure that his statement alleviated her anxiety.
The terror of APPR is starting to cause some of Mr. C’s fellow teachers to act strangely. Some have stated that they will not stay in their classroom alone, “always co-teach” they say, just in case APPR approaches their room. Others say “never go to the office, we don’t want to end up like those teenagers in horror flicks who leave to find their friend and never return.” The other day in the copy room Mr. C. overheard a conversation that “the end” is closer now; State Ed has moved testing from May to April, so APPR will eat our souls sooner than expected. He could not see who was talking since the copier room was reduced in size in a recent year and the low-bid copiers create a haze across the room, but he thought he recognized the voices.
Some educators around the state have begun teaching to the test because of APPR. They have rationalized that this approach will tame the horrid beast. These people use benchmarks, AYP, and AIMSWEB to attempt to fend off the monster. Unfortunately the students have now become agents of evil. The children have been converted into zombies, using their #2 pencils, rulers, and protractors to further the heinous goals of this creature. The brainwashed students have caused APPR to grow in power, possibly by 20, 40 or 60 percent, depending on who you believe.
A sense of foreboding has enveloped Mr.C. and his colleagues. What will the future hold? “Why can’t we go back to the ‘old school’ way of helping our students” thought Mr. C. A co-worker told Mr. C., “We have always known who is struggling and needs extra help, and who is achieving at a high level. Why do we need a test to tell us that?” Mr.C. just shook his head in agreement. He hoped this APPR was another brief educational monster as he had seen more than a few in his eighteen years as an educator. The old-timers that were at the middle school when Mr.C. started always talked about how various Dr. Frankensteins and Dr. Jekylls would basically rename and repackage monsters and present the “educational reform creatures” as their own. Somehow, Mr. C. thought this time would be horribly different. This time the monster was hungry to eat teachers directly.
The other morning, before the thunderous herd of middle schoolers entered the building, in a quiet half-lit hallway, a couple of Mr.C.’s colleagues cornered him. The female teacher who approached asked “Why is Hamburg first to be attacked by APPR ? Why not neighbors such as Orchard Park or Frontier? Don’t they have more teachers for the monster to devour?” The male educator by her side replied “I hope the folks over on Abbott Road are not in league with APPR.” Mr. C., on the defensive, retorted “Well, the administrators seemed friendly when we talked about taming the beast.” The female colleague fired back “I bet the attack will come on a Thursday sometime between 3:00 and 4:20, its predictable, we are all here.” The male teacher joined in by half-jokingly blurting “I bet that is why we have to close the blinds every night and the windows are so difficult to close.”
“So how do we stop the beast?” thought Mr.C. “ Should we outfit the APPR committee with garlic, wooden stakes and silver bullets?” he muttered. He took a deep breath and philosophically thought “We should write our representatives and tell them how APPR is ruining our schools.” But he rationalized that the politicians had their brains possessed by corporate lobbyists or they are just plain ignorant. Maybe a few of the government officials could be turned back to human beings if we write enough letters and use VoteCope to give them some brain power back. We could act on the local level and get the public to help us; tell everyone you know, especially parents of our students, that high-stakes testing is the death knell for public education. Maybe this is all a dream and we will wake up from this nightmare thought Mr.C., we can only hope so….
(Unfortunately not yet)