Most teachers in the Rochester school district received the results of their first evaluations under the new state law last week, and most were rated either "effective" or "needs development," says Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association.
Four ratings were possible: highly effective, effective, needs development, and ineffective. Urbanski says that while he doesn't have exact numbers, the scores fall into what resembles a bell curve with single-digit percentages at either end of the curve, in the highly effective and ineffective categories. The rest fall in the middle, he says.
Even though the largest percentage of teachers received a score of effective, Urbanski says that he doesn't agree that only a small number of Rochester's teachers are excellent at what they do, or that a significant number need to show improvement.
Urbanski and Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas have divergent views of the Annual Professional Performance Review's value and accuracy. Vargas sees them as necessary and fair. And he says that the city's teaching as well as its non-teaching staff needs to embrace a new culture of greater accountability.
"Great organizations have high accountability," he says.
Urbanski says that accountability is important, but that he doesn't agree with the APPR.
"I think the whole thing with APPR is not only wrongheaded, but badly incompetent," he says. "If [State Education] Commissioner King thinks they're so wonderful, why don't charter and private schools have to do them?"
Out of the district's roughly 3,200 teachers, most have received their professional review, Urbanski says. About 100 haven't received them, he says, even though the deadline has passed.
Late last week, the RTA held a special meeting to help teachers understand the scores and what to do if they want to appeal their results.
"We thought maybe 20 or 30 teachers would show up for that," Urbanski says. "We had 300 teachers at that meeting." Another meeting is scheduled for this week.
Teachers have 15 days after receiving their scores to file an appeal with a joint district-RTA panel, and Urbanski says that he expects many teachers to do so. The grounds for appeal range from failure to give special consideration to special education students or English language learners, to test scores attributed to students who didn't take tests.
The APPR provides Superintendent Vargas with the best tool in decades to help identify subpar teachers. Last year, Rochester school officials fired one teacher, district officials say, while another resigned under pressure. That's less than 1 percent of the teaching work force, which some critics and former superintendents say doesn't reflect the typical workplace.
Urbanski says it's incomprehensible that a veteran teacher can receive a perfect score of 60 points out of 100 on professional practice, which is largely based on classroom observations by the teacher's peers, and flunk the 40 percent based on results of state and local tests.
But Vargas says that it's equally perplexing that teachers could get glowing scores from peers, even though their students are failing.
"You can't have an education [system] where all the adults are doing fine and the kids are not," Vargas says. "Any organization has to have an evaluation system that is fair to teachers, but it's an evaluation system that is sound."
Vargas says he's not looking to fire teachers, but that more teachers will likely be fired for being ineffective as the APPR is fully implemented.
"The new evaluation system has some important elements," he says. "A good evaluation system for teachers uses multiple measures, and this one does. A good evaluation system uses peer review. And it tries to get at the contribution that teachers make to student learning."
Vargas says that the first thing the APPR does is identify teachers who need improvement. And he says that the district is committed to supporting these teachers with an improvement plan. The majority will improve, he says, but a small group will not, and they will need to be counseled out of the profession.
"It's the job of educators to constantly improve," Vargas says. "Even a highly effective teacher could improve."
Vargas says that he supports the fullimplementation of APPR, and that he wants to develop a similar evaluation program for the district's non-teaching staff. Half of the district's staff, including many central office employees don't receive rigorous reviews, Vargas says.
And he says that he is much more careful about approving tenure recommendations. Some teachers and principals have been recommended for tenure even though they haven't had an evaluation in years, Vargas says.
"The old system was indefensible," he says. "You can't have a system that has everybody effective and highly effective. And you should never have had a system where people came to me with a tenure recommendation without an evaluation. It's not the fault of the teachers, but we had a system in here that let a lot of people down."
But Urbanski says that teachers unions across the state are working with legislators to amend the APPR, specifically the portion pertaining to testing.
Urbanski says that if testing is going to be used, that it should be more performance-based -- asking students to demonstrate what they know by applying their knowledge to a real-life situation. The latter assessment is more accurate, he says, than multiple choice.
And he says that although he supports Vargas's quest for greater accountability, he doesn't think that Vargas fully understands what the APPR is doing to teachers. Five teachers recently retired and 30 resigned as a result of their scores on the APPR, Urbanski says.
"I know Bolgen is not hunting for teachers," he says. "But I'm worried that he doesn't understand the hurt and humiliation this has caused."