Island teachers embrace assessments

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Teacher’s union president Brian Becker, School Superintendent Michael Hynes and Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott at Shelter Island school Monday night.

Let’s agree to agree.

That’s what the Shelter Island Board of Education, administration and teachers are saying about a controversial state-imposed educator evaluation system, with all parties giving it high marks. This is in light of nearby Southold Superintendent David Gamberg citing a SUNY/New Paltz study that compared the program to the “Spruce Goose,” Howard Hughes’ huge World War II-era wooden airplane that turned out to have no practical use.

Why is the system known as the Annual Professional Performance Review getting glowing reviews here while meeting with stiff criticism elsewhere? Superintendent Michael Hynes attributes its success to involving teachers in the creation of tools being used in the evaluation process.

Calling APPR “the most important” of state and federal revisions to education in recent years, Dr. Hynes at the November 19 Board of Education meeting showed a binder that district educators received enabling them to track scores and progress in improving their skills. The system, developed locally and personalized to the individual needs of each person, will be tweaked year to year, Dr. Hynes said.

“Teachers are walking away feeling empowered,” Dr. Hynes said about their reactions to implementing the new system. He and Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott, in describing the evaluation system to the board, said it’s meant to ensure educators improve their own abilities while better preparing students for the future.

“We are not reducing people to numbers,” Dr. Hynes said. There will be two or three observations of each teacher and for those who don’t yet have tenure, there will be more observations by Dr. Hynes and Ms. Rylott.

The 100-point system derives  up to 60 points from observations in the classroom and discussions between teachers and administrators, he said. He called the observations and reflections the most critical part of the new evaluation system.

A second part of the 100-points will be based on overall class growth as demonstrated either by standardized test scores or, for those teachers whose subject matter is not covered by those tests, a “student learning objective” (SLO) plan will be developed by the educator in conjunction with the administration. Teachers of  classes subject to the testing can earn up to 25 points depending on how their students perform on the tests. Those with SLOs can earn up to 20 points.

The third element of the overall score is based on assessments arrived at through local testing at the end of the term. Ms. Rylott described that as a “snapshot” and said teachers whose subject matter has been subject to state tests can earn up to 15 points on the local assessment, while those with an SLO can earn up to 20 points.

The full score adds up to what the state calls a “HEDI score” for each educator. HEDI is an acronym for highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective. Local administrators plan to work closely with each teacher to improve HEDI scores and to provide professional development that can help a struggling teacher become effective or highly effective, Dr. Hynes said.
Dr. Hynes, Ms. Rylott and Brian Becker, president of the Shelter Island teachers’ union, met with the Reporter Monday to discuss the program and explain why they’re bullish on their approach while other districts see the state-imposed program as cumbersome.

“Nobody likes to be told what to do,” Mr. Becker said. But teachers knew the state mandate was coming and appreciated being included in the process of developing the system as it will be implemented here, he said. The binders that were developed to guide individuals in implementing the program were tools the union developed that were “fine-tuned” for use in the program, he said.

He described the local program as “a collaborative effort” to make education sound. Even for those teachers who achieve high scores from the outset, there’s always room for growth, Mr. Becker said.

“It’s a growth plan for teachers,” Dr. Hynes said, while predicting that its implementation will result in elevating student achievement.

At the same time, he said he understands Southold Superintendent Gamberg’s reaction, adding the jury is out for a year or two to assess whether APPR has achieved the goals the state intends. He doesn’t embrace over-testing of students, but isn’t ready to abandon such standardized tests either.