The 2012-13 school year will usher in significant changes.
Students, teachers and principals alike will experience the effects of Jamestown Public Schools' new Annual Professional Performance Review plan, education law 3012-c, which will go into effect this fall.
The APPR plan follows the state Board of Regents Reform Agenda. The agenda calls for the installation of a common core curriculum, new assessments and accountability standards, new tools for professional development, an advanced statewide student data system, and a teacher and principal evaluation system.
The state mandate is rooted in the federal Race to the Top program, which left New York state with close to $700 million in funds. Roughly half of the money has been allocated to individual school districts in order to implement the regents reform agenda, but school officials say the result is hardly a watershed of money.
"No school district would say the funds are more than sufficient," said Daniel Kathman, JPS superintendent.
According to the Race to the Top website, Jamestown received $603,610 through the program.
Regarding the allocation of funds, Kathman cited the specification of the reform agenda: "among other priorities of (Race to the Top and NYS Regents Reform) was the implementation of a new curriculum, new standards, new assessments of those standards and new accountability systems."
The fundamental intent of the policy is to improve teaching and learning, Kathman said. Teachers will be graded with a score of 0 to 100 based on a complicated rubric. As a result of this composite score, they will be assigned a level of performance: highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. If a teacher were to receive a less-than-satisfactory score, the district must have an improvement plan in place to remedy the situation. Additionally, teachers are provided with an appeal process through which to challenge their score should they choose to do so.
The teachers' scores are broken down into separate components. The first 20 points are decided by student achievement on local exams. The next 20 are determined by a state "growth" score, or SLO. The remaining 60 points are derived from observational sessions to be determined by the administration as well as any professional artifacts the teacher may collect over the course of his or her work.
Scores are based on the Danielson framework for teaching, which was decided upon through collective bargaining between the district and the teachers' union. The Danielson framework divides teaching into 22 scoreable components and 76 smaller elements. One formal observation is required, with the addition of at least one and as many as five informal observations. Nontenured teachers will have at least two informal observational sessions. Also included is the structured review of lesson plans, records and documents.
Principals will undergo a similar process. They will be subjected to the same score breakdown as teachers, but their evaluation is instead based on the Marshall principal observation rubric. At least two school visitations/observations are required, along with a structured review of school documents, records and state accountability processes.
The school district arrived at these bullet points through collective bargaining with the principals' and teachers' unions on the matters of rubric selection, evaluation procedures, rating scales and points, local measures, improvement plan processes and appeals processes.
Assistant principals and district officials are not subjected to performance reviews at this time under the provisions of the law.
"The law specifically only addresses principals and teachers," said Kathman. "There is some good sport in trying to identify what a 'teacher' is."
The first 20-point measure, the local score, cannot be entirely determined by the school. For example, when state assessments are available, they must be used as factors in determining the local score. The second measure, the SLO, will be determined based on data collected by the state throughout the school year. The data includes but is not limited to each students' attendance, economic bracket, ethnicity and English language level.
"All those individual results go into this monster computer, wherever it is," said Kathman, "that has the capacity to determine whether each student has made acceptable average growth between two points in time."
The computer processes this information and compares it with similar students across the state in order to determine the SLO. If a teacher's students are doing well compared to the state average of comparable students, then a teacher's score will be high.
This process raises questions of accountability. Who watches the watchmen?
"The state is contracted with outside consultants who have done this work in other states," explained Jessie Joy, Jamestown's director of curriculum. "I think it's natural for there to be mistrust in the state data system," she continued. "It's a natural human reaction from teachers and principals."
Joy went on to point out the benefits of the program, and reinforced the idea that its bottom-line goals are to improve teaching and student learning.
"In the absence of any other alternative, this is the first opportunity we've had within our state and our district to get a measure of our students in comparison to demographically similar students," she said.
The district also did not have ultimate freedom in determining the final 60-point portion of the evaluation score.
"It's not whatever we wanted, we had to make some local decisions," said Joy. Determination of the rubric was "subject to the parameters of the law," she said.
Under the system, teachers' composite scores will be available to parents upon request. A potential problem raised highlights the availability of teachers' scores, and what effect that information may have on parents. Joy said that she could not prevent discontent, but that all teachers can do is to strive to better educate their students.
Conversely, the 0-100 scores of teachers cannot be compared with other teachers outside the district, as the law allows each district to create its own rubric for the 60-point portion of the score. Due to this fact, only the 20-point SLO scores are comparable across districts.
Kathman spoke to the effect that this new system is not intended to point the finger at teachers, but to improve the educational system.
"The outcome is not to punish teachers, but to help them be better teachers," he said.
When the new system goes into effect for the 2012-13 school year, schools will be faced with a daunting learning curve to surmount.
"This is a monstrous change. and its tough to work through those changes with any employee group in any setting," Kathman said, "but if we keep our eye on the prize it will all be worth it in the end."
To help smooth this learning curve, Kathman proposed the creation of an educational office with the purpose of training teachers to operate under the new system.
"The addition of this position won't be the silver bullet that gets us over the hump and gives us a guarantee, but it will definitely help," he said. "We have over the last three years devastated our instructional help department, and this is an important first step to help recover that."
The district will submit the approved plan to Dr. John B. King, Jr., state education commissioner. The district does not expect to hear back from the office for at least eight weeks, but will implement the plan at the beginning of the school year regardless.