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RCSD high school teacher's APPR rating.

RCSD high school teacher’s APPR rating.


Rochester City School District teachers received their ratings in the mail, just a few days before school starts. They are not happy. The scores are referred to as “Annual Professional Performance Review” or APPR. They won’t be used against teachers or schools this academic year, but teachers are upset this could be a sign of what’s ahead.

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski wrote to his membership an email called, “APPR (be)rating:”

In all too many cases, these flawed assessments are a gross misrepresentation of the work that teachers do…

While a small percentage of teachers received the “Ineffective” rating, altogether too many dedicated and excellent teachers were rated as “Developing.” Even some teachers who received a perfect (60 points) or near perfect score for their Professional Practice were dismayed to find out that they were “developing.” But what they were in fact developing was a realization that APPR is patently unfair. It is neither good for students nor fair to teachers. But unfortunately, in New York State, APPR is embedded in legislation. Our first priority, therefore, must be to either improve or abolish this bad law.

Michael Occhino was among the teachers rated “developing.” The All City High science teacher has been teaching in the district for 23 years. He is one of only about 60 nationally board-certified teachers in the district. He’s a lead teacher and mentor. Occhino is also a visiting instructor of education at the University of Rochester. He’s now been labeled as needing help and must come up with an individualized improvement plan.

“It is impossible for me to tell how my scores were computed,” Occhino said. “It’s thoroughly opaque. I don’t know how my pre and post-tests were utilized.”

A longtime teacher who is at School of the Arts and doesn’t want to be named, is not yet aware of any colleagues who scored “highly effective.” This teacher was rated “developing,” despite getting a perfect score from her administrator. SOTA is one of the best schools in the district. This person teachers special education and other students.

“Our kids’ scores are so low,” the SOTA teacher said. “To me, it’s not possible to score highly effective.”

A teacher at a high-needs elementary school who did not want to be named and was rated developing said, “I should be able to learn and grow from any rating. The scores are a composite of my children’s math and ELA scores. I don’t even know where I need to improve…It’s not going to help me be a better teacher. It’s just going to make me feel bad.”

This elementary school teacher feels powerless. The teacher can’t control which children are assigned to a class and “all children learn at a different rate.” This teacher can’t control parental involvement. This teacher also thinks these 90-minute tests are developmentally inappropriate. The teacher’s students didn’t finish the tests. The teacher thinks the tests are not good tests.

There’s a lot we need to know about the teacher scores that came out. Good luck understanding the rubrics. Beyond getting into the nitty gritty of how scores were calculated, I’d like to know the percentages of teachers who fell into each category. If the likelihood of being rated effective corresponds with teaching at more affluent schools and schools with higher parental involvement, there could be something very wrong with this measurement.

“You name any other profession and this never would happen,” said Occhino, who is off this semester to work on his dissertation. “Why are teachers being labeled as something they are not? I am a great teacher. It wouldn’t change what I did in the classroom, but it sure would be demoralizing. I would feel like I wasn’t valued.”

Update: An RCSD elective teacher contacted me who received a “highly effective” rating. This teacher and colleagues in the subject area wrote their own tests.


Links of the Day:


– Schools will be very different this year because of Common Core.

– State law now allows schools to discipline cyberbullies, even if the bullying takes place off of school grounds.

– This is a great map that shows the dominant immigrant group that settled each part of the United States.

Test - Small FeaturedDid New York State manufacture an educational crisis by releasing artificially low test scores? By creating panic, government may be able to enact “reforms” more easily.

Nazareth College Professor Maria Baldassarre-Hopkins  wrote an important and fascinating blog post about how the state decided the “cut scores.” The state gathered educators at a hotel for five days to go over the tests – and the results – and make recommendations.

Here’s the big problem she revealed. The tests are supposed to measure what students know based on national standards. Yet the state set those standards – after the results came in. The state looked at how many kids answered questions right as it was deciding the cut scores. The professor, who signed confidentiality agreements, implies the panel’s work was not heeded.

The anti-education “reform” crusader Diane Ravitch picked up on the blog post. She published a response to the Nazareth professor’s post from testing expert Fred Smith:

…data generated by the test population were used–changing the concept of a standards-based test (as in testing aligned with the common core learning standards) to one that depends on the performance of students who took the test.

This makes the Level 2, 3 and 4 thresholds dependent on how well kids did on the exams–bringing the test score distribution into play and rendering judgments about cut scores and student achievement relative to the composition of the students who took a particular set of items at a particular time–a normative framework instead of a standards-based one.

This information adds to the questions about the state tests and how they will be used.


Links of the Day:


– There’s a flaw in the state’s teacher evaluation system. Teachers could be rated “ineffective,” even if scores say they are average.

– Cuomo got $100,000 from a developer and then signed a law giving it big tax breaks.

– Buffalo police will post pictures of johns online. 

– Amazing. Less than a month after her ouster from North Syracuse, former RCSD official Kym Dyce is hired to run the large Tulsa school district. (Do employers use Google?)

– The George Eastman House restored a long lost Orseon Welles film called “Too Much Johnson.”

– A review says Amore restaurant is a vehicle to sell Wegmans products.

– Frederick Law Olmstead left his mark on Rochester.

– Why cycling is so popular in the Netherlands.

– Swedish men are warned about testicle-biting fish.

Test - Small FeaturedAs we debate too much testing in schools and the Common Core curriculum, it’s worth noting the merits of standardized tests.

After writing about the apparent lack of immediate consequences to boycotting the state exams, I received this text message from a local school administrator:

It is to the advantage of urban youth to take the exams. The state calibrated based on performance. If the exams are only calibrated based on high performing suburban and rural districts, the cut scores will be that much more difficult.

Parents who have college bound students know that.

K-8 exams are being calibrated to be a predictor of HS exams.

I graduated from John Marshall High School, which was a low-performing school with a high drop-out rate. I never would have gotten into Cornell University without SATs, APs and Regents exams showing I was on par with my peers at high-performing suburban schools. Without those measurements, Cornell would have assumed I went to a crappy school and wouldn’t have been able to do quality work.

(Perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten into Cornell had I attended Brighton, where 40 kids probably applied versus Marshall, where I was the only one who applied. If you want your kid to go to an Ivy League school, perhaps the answer is send them to a school where there isn’t so much internal competition!)

It’s important that tests be valid and accurate, and there’s much debate over whether New York’s tests achieve that goal. It’s also important to note many feel there’s simply too much testing and “teaching to the test.” But the point here is that good measurements are needed, especially in an educational system with so much inequality.

Links of the Day:

– Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski has only one job – to advocate for teachers. Blaming him for district problems is an exercise in teacher and union bashing.

– After deaths a jail medical provider, used by Monroe County and others, is under scrutiny. The medical director called inmate patients “train wrecks.”

– Too much traffic is not a reason to kill the Pittsford YMCA project. Drive slower.

– Upstate New York dairy farmers are in the middle of the immigration debate.

– The New York Times profiled Jenna Marbles, an Internet star with a “flat Rochester accent.”

– Does Sabres owner Terry Pegula think he’s above media criticism?

Seriously, Justin Bieber?

New banners are up on Main Street.

New banners are up on Main Street.

TestRochester City School District board member Willa Powell has joined the ranks of parents boycotting next week’s state tests. She says her third-grade son has been tested enough already, hasn’t been taught all the material that will appear on the tests and doesn’t want his data given to testing companies.

Parents can instruct their children to refuse to take the exam. Some schools are providing alternate activities. Others are strongly pressuring parents to reconsider.

But what are the consequences for children who do not take the test? According to an email I received from the State Education Department, there don’t appear to be any, especially if the child shows up to school. There’s no mention of a child being failed or held back a grade:

All students are expected to participate in State assessments as part of the core academic program. Absences from all or part of the required academic program should be  managed consistent with the attendance policies of the district. For accountability and other statewide reporting purposes, students who do not participate in an assessment are reported to the State as “not tested” (except those with a valid medical excuse).

Cutting through the jargon and acronyms, it appears there could be consequences for a school down the line if fewer than 95 percent of students or 95 percent of all racial and income subgroups participate. Here’s the school consequence part of the email:

(1) Schools in which subgroups do not meet the participation rate will fail to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress).

(2) SED will continue to determine and report AYP every year. A school that has not been designated as Focus or Priority and fails to make AYP for the same subgroup for the same measure for 09-10, 10-11 and 11-12 would be identified this year as a Local Assistance Plan (LAP) school. LAP schools would have their accountability status changed from Good Standing to LAP for the 2013-14 school year. LAP schools, in collaboration with the school district, will be required to annually use a diagnostic tool to develop a local assistance plan.

(3) Although SED plans to designate Priority Schools only once during the waiver period, accountability status can change during the waiver period. For example, Good Standing schools can become LAP schools.

(4) Schools failing to make AYP cannot come off Priority and Focus Status. Focus and Priority schools can petition to have their designation removed if, among other things, they meet the participation requirement in ELA and math for all accountability groups (Focus) and for all groups for which the school is accountable in the most current school year results that are being used as the basis for the petition (Priority).

(5) Schools failing to make AYP cannot become Reward Schools and are therefore ineligible to receive the funding that comes with that designation.

Do you honestly think the state will penalize Pittsford or place it on a bad schools list if fewer than 95 percent of students take the test? I doubt it. So many RCSD schools are already on bad schools lists, I have to wonder if a boycott would make much of a difference.

I did hear from an RCSD parent who wants her children to take the state tests because they will likely do well and she wants their teacher to be rewarded.

This is a video from the State Education Department warning parents test scores will drop:


Links of the Day:

– “There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety.” But it does land kids in court.

– Queen Bee CEOs get all the scrutiny, while King Wasps get a pass.

– Rochester’s Mushroom House is for sale again, with a high price.

The state test score data released this week for grades 3 through 8 shows Rochester’s charter schools on the whole performing better than Rochester City School District schools. About 13,500 RCSD students and 1,200 charter school students took the tests.

English Passing Rate:

  • RCSD – 21%
  • Charters – 46%

Math Passing Rate:

  • RCSD – 27%
  • Charters – 63%

But there are some RCSD schools that performed as well or better than some charter schools. Take a look:

School 23 (RCSD, grades 3-6)

  • English – 54%
  • Math – 67%

School 52 (RCSD, grades 3-6)

  • English – 47%
  • Math – 54%

School 58 (RCSD, grades 3-8)

  • English – 42%
  • Math – 49%

Urban Choice (Charter, grades 3-6)

  • English – 39%
  • Math – 50%

Rochester Academy Charter School (Charter, grades 7 -8)

  • English – 43%
  • Math -41%

University Prep (Charter, grades 7 &-8)

  • English – 22%
  • Math – 42%

This shows not all city schools are terrible and not all charter schools are great.

There are charter schools serving students extremely well, such as True North, Genesee Community Charter, and Eugenio Maria de Hostos. Other charter schools are not doing better than the best city schools.

It is worth pointing out charter schools by their very nature attract families more involved in their children’s education. Charter schools have been criticized for drawing away better students. In addition, charter schools do not have as many children with special needs and children who speak English as a second language.

I suspect the better performing schools are more economically diverse. Studies have shown economic integration works to raise achievement.

As the city’s failing schools get criticized, it’s important to look at the common denominator of all of the schools mentioned above: They have students and parents who want (and in some cases, fought) to be there.

Links of the Day:

– Another testing brouhaha has erupted in New York State. Weeks after students sat down for lengthy standardized tests, the state is administering more tests. These tests are not for credit. They help the state’s testing company, Pearson, develop future tests.

Rochester school board member Mary Adams is calling on parents to boycott these “field tests.” She is directing people to a website with form letters to give to principals opting their children out of exams.

“It’s basically corporate research and development being done with our kids,” Adams said.

Some parents, disturbed by the culture of high-stakes testing and flawed questions, are already boycotting the actual tests.

But doesn’t this field testing prevent scandals like “pineapple-gate?” Some downstate parents told Gannett that’s not the point:

“We’re all thinking (that) giving our kids another test is the wrong way to go. It’s taking another learning opportunity away from the kids, time that teachers would work on critical thinking skills, and it just takes another block of time for tests that don’t mean anything when the kids had field test questions in the (standardized) tests,” (Jen Marraccino) said. “The method of the boycott would be turning in a letter saying they don’t want their kids taking the test; give my child another, alternative, educational opportunity.”

– The head of the Rochester Business Alliance is convinced Albany is ignoring us. Sandy Parker says Rochester even got stiffed on road funding.

– What was American thinking during Urban Renewal? Check out photos of Batavia’s destruction.

– Why are so many hotels and motels around here owned by people with the last name Patel? The Buffalo News tells us about a little-known “immigrant success story.”

Can a 9-year-old be diagnosed a psychopath?

Links of the Day:

– The outcry over New York State exams is growing. 

First, there was the ridiculous talking pineapple question. Then it turned out some students were exposed to a question about a talking yam before taking the test. Along the way, a runaway dog who wanted to be a gardener made an appearance. Now, the state is saying a couple questions on the math test don’t add up:

But the state Education Department told principals Monday that one question on the fourth grade math test has two right answers and one question on the eighth grade test has no right answer.

Department spokesman Tom Dunn says the errors are just typos and the questions will not count.

Confidence in the tests has sunk so low, some parents in the Buffalo area are opting to pull their children out of the assessments:

A growing chorus of parents, teachers and administrators across the state notes that the state has outsourced the testing to Pearson, a company with a $32 million contract, and calling for accountability.

That frustration is feeding the growing parent movement to opt out of the tests.

“A lot of it has to do with trust from the field on how these tests are being put together, and by whom,” said Springville Superintendent Paul Connelly. “What we know for sure is the state Education Department is being shrunk and shrunk and shrunk. You can’t even get anybody to answer the telephone half the time. They just don’t have the staff. Things get lost, and they fall through the cracks.”

In Connelly’s district, eight children — including Cerrone’s daughter — opted out of the testing last week and this week.

And these are the tests that will be used to evaluate student and teacher performance. East High principal Anibal Soler noted he is getting complaints from staff concerned about test quality and how the tests will be used to judge their teaching abilities.

Interim Rochester City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said it’s wrong students are tested in April, right after spring break and before the school year is finished. He said we need assessments, but they must be reasonable and appropriate.

– The neglected Niagara Falls State Park will get $25 million in improvements

– Dissolving a village costs money. Just ask Albion, Oswego County.

– A day in the life of Bob Lonsberrydoesn’t sound very fun.

Rochester is a hot golf destination.

More Links of the Day:

– New York City school officials want test-writers to avoid words and topics that could make kids feel bad. Those words include birthday, Halloween, dinosaurs and dancing. The New York Post reports:

Words that suggest wealth are excluded because they could make kids jealous. Poverty is likewise on the forbidden list.

Also banned are references to divorces and diseases, because kids taking the tests may have relatives who split from spouses or are ill.

Officials say such exclusions are normal procedure.

“This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction,” said a Department of Education spokeswoman, insisting it’s not censorship.

The New York Post calls it political correctness. I think this has more to do with needlessly protecting children.

Perhaps schools should stop teaching about the Holocaust or slavery because kids might get upset. Maybe schools should stop teaching literary classics like Lord of the Flies, which we read in 6th grade, because they’re too violent and disturbing. If the state is concerned about what goes on in a two-hour test, how long before it wades into other areas of learning?

Schools should not exist in bubbles. We cannot sanitize life.

– Want to know if your kid is skipping school? Implant a micro-chip in her school uniform. The geniuses who thought this up probably didn’t count on kids bringing a change of clothes in their backpacks. This reminds of the Halloween tracker apps. What a nice way to build trust and foster independence in children.

– In a hugely important piece of journalism, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution analyzed state testing data from across the country and flagged a bunch of school districts for irregularities. The report is a continuation of the paper’s work uncovering a massive cheating scandal in Atlanta schools.

AJC flagged some districts in the Rochester area. You can search its database. But the analysis has serious limitations. Only districts showing highly improbable fluctuations in student achievement on state tests were highlighted. The data doesn’t prove cheating. New York’s tests have been found to be seriously flawed, but I’m not sure if that would play a role.

The report raises serious questions. New York recently implemented new testing security procedures.

Links of the Day:

– The shopping mall as we know is it dying. The New York Times wrote about the reinvention of vacant malls across the country:

Schools, medical clinics, call centers, government offices and even churches are now standard tenants in malls. By hanging a curtain to hide the food court, the Galleria in Cleveland, which opened in 1987 with about 70 retailers and restaurants, rents space for weddings and other events. Other malls have added aquariums, casinos and car showrooms.

Designers in Buffalo have proposed stripping down a mall to its foundation and reinventing it as housing, while an aspiring architect in Detroit has proposed turning a mall’s parking lot there into a community farm. Columbus, Ohio, arguing that it was too expensive to maintain an empty mall on prime real estate, dismantled its City Center mall and replaced it with a park.

Rochester is far along the mall-redevelopment track, though the endgame isn’t clear. Midtown Plaza has been knocked down. A developer plans to transform Medley Centre into a “lifestyle” venue, complete with residences, retail, offices and entertainment. It’s clear something had to be done with those properties and we await the outcome.

– The New York State Regents English test has been dumbed down in an effort to create a common standard, reports a columnist in the New York Times:

New York’s last three education commissioners, all leaders in the reform movement, have been suspicious of assessment instruments that rely too heavily on people who work in schools.

State officials have instead chosen to use one English test to assess every high school student in the state, which has caused another fairly gigantic problem: How do you create a single graduation exam for 200,000 seniors when some are heading to the Ivy League and others to pump gas?

– Is it ever okay to leave a child alone? A New York Times columnist says the law is murky.

– Careful, if your kid is late to school too many times, you could be charged with a misdemeanor in some places.

– Serving on a Civil War naval ship was no walk in the park. The Democrat and Chronicle has the harrowing ordeal of a Rochester soldier.