New York State has recently required school districts to submit updated Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plans, which are directly connected to the end of year evaluations for all teachers and building administrators. The plans, as described on the EngageNY site, are quite comprehensive and are intended to ensure that there is an effective teacher in every classroom and effective leader in every school. WOW - that sounds great to me - I'm all for effective educators in our schools working with our children... but wait, lets dig a little deeper into this whole plan.
As part of the submitted APPR plans, districts had to incorporate various Student Learning Objectives (known in these parts as SLOs) as tools to measure growth in student achievement for teachers that are not covered by state provided growth measures (i.e. - the New York State standardized ELA and Math tests in Grades 3-8). For example, every Kindergarten teacher and Physical Education teacher and Foreign Language teacher is expected to develop an SLO, implement it at the beginning of the year to establish a baseline and then administer it again at the end of the year to assess student growth. So, what exactly is the purpose of the SLO experience? To help enhance our student learning experiences? To help educators learn more about our kids in an effort to target and personalize instruction? NO - we are administering SLOs as a way to hold educators accountable for student growth - not the daily student growth that may not be as black and white as a test score - just the growth on these meaningless, disconnected and mind numbing tests!
In the few short weeks since the start of the school year, it has become crystal clear to me that SLOs do not actually stand for meaningful Student Learning Objectives, like NYS claims; instead, SLOs really stand for Squashed Learning Opportunities. Why, you ask? Well, let me share some informal data that I have gathered over the first month of school. Over a two week period, many of our children, including our precious little kindergarteners who are a mere four years old and are excited about coming to school, have sat through over 200 minutes (almost an entire school day) of testing as part of establishing the baseline related to our wonderful SLOs. While the SLOs were being administered in our school, I watched kids cry, have break downs and completely shut down because their self-esteem was devastated by the fact that they couldn't answer certain questions connected to the SLOs. Personally, I don't understand how a policy that is intended to ensure that our children are working with effective teachers can work when we aren't allowing our teachers to TEACH because all they have time to do is test, score tests and prepare for the end of year tests that the state will use to judge their effectiveness. Does that sound like LEARNING, which the "L" in SLOs supposedly stands for? NO! In fact, it sounds like testing - pure and simple TORTUROUS TESTING - NOT learning anything meaningful and important that can be synthesized and applied during real life situations - no - just TESTING!
How much testing do our children have to be subjected to until we realize that tying any educators' evaluation (which will eventually become public information) to the scores of these tests is MEANINGLESS, USELESS and INEFFECTIVE? Haven't we learned anything from the cheating scandals that have rocked public schools in Washington DC and Atlanta (and many other school districts)? Haven't we all realized that tying test scores to teacher evaluations does not work?
We are single handily squashing learning opportunities for our children because we have become consumed by this movement to hold ineffective teachers accountable based on student growth using different types of tests. Well, I am all for getting ineffective teachers out of the classroom and away from our kids but that cannot come at the expense of our kids' love for learning or at the expense of the tireless efforts of our effective teachers! I believe that the time has come for us to start a revolution - parents, educators, administrators and the entire community must come together and advocate for the rights of our children. We must fight the policies being implemented that are promoting more standardized testing and erasing the creative learning experiences for our children that foster and nurture critical thinking skills.
This plea is not about protecting teachers or principals. This plea is not about letting schools off the hook for their levels of effectiveness. This plea is not even about shying away from the challenges of enhancing and improving our public schools. NO - this is about PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN'S RIGHT TO LEARN! We must stop SQUASHING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES and empower our educational institutions to implement instructional strategies and techniques that will foster student learning and allow our teachers to teach for the sake of learning not for getting a high score on a test! From my perspective, we cannot wait another minute to start our revolution - OUR KIDS NEED US NOW!