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At least 100 Buffalo educators incorrectly classified as 'effective'

Ohanian Note: There are lots of reader comments at the newspaper site, mostly very ugly accusations about teachers and parents.

Go to the Buffalo school district teacher rating page and you get this:

APPR plan measures performance, recognizes outstanding work, and provides focused and ongoing professional development and support for teachers and principals. This plan will also foster a culture of continual professional growth by providing differentiated professional opportunities within a robust career ladder. Data about educator practice and student learning obtained from evaluation systems can help inform both district-wide and individual decisions around recruitment, development, and retention of educators. All educators need a quality APPR plan to improve instructional and professional practice and increase student learning and achievement.

All they offer is a 28-page Power Point. I admit my bias here, but any district that uses a Power Point presentation to describe and define teacher effectiveness is in deep trouble.

Reader Comment: No one knows the formula for the State Growth Score or the Local Measure of Assessment. They are based on data points and predictions. Unlike the approved APPR on the State's website, no one oversees, prepares, or checks the tests (outside of ELA and MATH.) Special area teachers can use a pre-test, a State Math test, State ELA tests from the past three years, throw it all together and predict how a student will do on a post test. It really is the Hokey Pokey and that is what it is all about.

Reader Comment: I knew a teacher in Buffalo who had a graduation rate of about 50%. The following year she accepted a position in a suburban district where her graduation rate jumped to 95%...Amazing how her teaching skills improved over the summer!

Reader Comment: No one outside of NYSED has any confidence in this system's ability to consistently distinguish between exemplary employees (teachers) and those who are not.

By Sandra Tan |

It appears that more than 100 Buffalo Public Schools teachers and principals received ratings of "effective" or "highly effective" when in fact, according to state measures, they weren̢۪t effective at all.

The city school district received a visit earlier this month from state Education Department officials concerned about Buffalo's compliance with a state-mandated evaluation process. The district is now conducting an internal audit of its teacher and principal evaluation systems in light of an evaluation compliance report that the state is expected to issue next month.

According to interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie, the district classified a number of underperforming teachers and principals as "effective" or "highly effective" when they should have been rated "ineffective" -- the lowest rating -- or "developing," the second-lowest rating.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore is arguing that the reverse is true, and that the district is now trying to improperly classify about 150 good teachers as bad teachers. District officials said the figure is at least 100.

Either way, it's a tough situation for the district, Ogilvie said, and the news "did not go over well" with staff.

"It's a very troubling outcome of the implementation of this plan," he said. "Because it has its root in the last two years, we're trying to unravel how this came about. It will be neither a simple, or a necessarily quick resolution."

Although the drop in evaluation ratings appears to affect only a small fraction of Buffalo teachers and administrators -- the teachers union has roughly 3,600 members -- the latest finding highlights a persistent and costly problem that has plagued Buffalo Public Schools since the teacher evaluation system was first implemented.

In 2012-13, the district only managed to evaluate 1,653 teachers, less than half the number who should have been evaluated, because of data entry problems or failures to conduct evaluations at all. At that time, only 156 teachers were considered underperforming.

That led Rumore to state in August that Buffalo teachers were "doing fantastically better than other cities."

The district's difficulty in evaluating teachers and administrators resulted in its spending hundreds of thousands of dollars this year on consultants who could instruct administrators how to properly evaluate their staffs. That includes $210,000 in consulting contracts approved by the board in August.

Despite optimism that the evaluation process would improve after the rollout in 2012-13, Ogilvie said Monday that the problems the state is looking at span each of the last two years.

"We're trying to sift through all our data to determine what happened, and where we go from here," he said.

The state teacher evaluation system rates teachers based on formal classroom observations and student performance on state standardized tests, as well as on a locally developed evaluation component.

But the broad concepts of the teacher evaluation process, as well as the principal evaluation process, have proven much more difficult to implement for districts like Buffalo.

In an email to board members, Ogilvie said the problems appear to exist in several areas: lack of adequate staff training, poor data management and disagreement regarding locally developed standards measuring students' academic growth.

Moreover, teachers and administrators are confused by the belief that a "safety net" exists for teachers tagged as underperforming.

Over the summer, the State Legislature approved a two-year plan designed to keep educators from being penalized if they were rated as "developing" or "ineffective" during the 2013-14 school year because of the Common Core-based state assessment tests. But although Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had previously expressed his support for the bill, he has yet to sign it, so it has not gone into effect.

As it stands at present, teachers and principals not considered "effective" or "highly effective" must have improvement plans in place. Repeated low evaluations makes teachers and principals more susceptible to termination.

"The impact is that teachers who didn't expect to, may be required to have a teacher improvement plan," Ogilvie said, "and certain principals may have a principal improvement plan."

The issue was placed on the School Board agenda for Wednesday's meeting after Board Member Barbara Seals Nevergold raised concerns about the state's visit and the district's compliance with the evaluation process.

— Sandra Tan
Buffalo News





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