APPR results raise questions


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The recent snapshot of the effectiveness of New York’s teachers is getting some fanfare. In a written statement, Education Commissioner John King said that, “The more accurate student proficiency rates on the new Common Core assessments did not negatively affect teacher ratings. It’s clear that teachers are rising to the challenge of teaching the Common Core.”

The SED’s statement went on to say that 91.5 percent of the state’s teachers are considered “highly effective” or “effective,” the two highest of the four ratings that teachers and principals can receive on their Annual Professional Performance Review.

The ratings do not include the scores of New York City’s public school teachers, which is worth noting because the thousands of evaluations from the nation’s largest school district could impact the entire state’s ratings.

Still, advocates of the Common Core and the APPR are in lockstep with King, immediately issuing press releases extolling the results as if penicillin was just discovered.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe the results show that most of New York’s teachers are competent. With a few exceptions here and there, most get up, go to work, and enjoy what they do. Most teachers are proud of their students and want them to succeed.

But what if the data is telling us something different?

Based on some reports, teachers in suburban schools scored significantly better than teachers in districts like Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. For instance, only 2 percent of Rochester and Syracuse’s teachers are rated highly effective compared to the statewide average of roughly 50 percent.

Do we really believe that eighth-grade math teachers in Webster are significantly better, for example, than eighth-grade math teachers in Buffalo or Syracuse? Is this data telling us that sixth-grade teachers in Honeoye Falls are better than sixth-grade teachers in Rochester?

The idea that public school teachers clustered in the state’s urban school districts are somehow subpar doesn’t make a lot of sense. And why is this same scenario repeated in urban districts in other states?

You could even argue that suburban and rural teachers have clear advantages, such as high attendance rates, fewer English language learners, more students who enter school with larger vocabularies, and less childhood trauma.

I’m no statistician, but if teachers in those schools are getting help with the heaviest lifting, shouldn’t we expect more of them to receive highly effective and effective ratings? Maybe what these results are really telling us is that the teachers working in rural and suburban districts are just competent at best.


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