By JIMMY LAWTON
Students in the greater Canton-Potsdam area return to school next week, but they won’t be the only ones expected to learn something new this year.
Administrators and teachers are likely to get an education of their own as they work to implement new state mandated assessments for students and teachers. As teachers attempt to meet the new standards, they will face new assessments of their own.
“This will be the first year of the new evaluation system for teachers and principals. There has been a great deal of work done on this over the summer, but it is going to be a challenging year,” said Potsdam Superintendent Patrick Brady.
Brady said the new assessments and accountability will likely serve the district well in the future, but in the short-term he expects some growing pains as the district attempts to establish a fair method of assessing its employees.
At Norwood-Norfolk, Superintendent Elizabeth Kirnie said she expects this year to be a learning experience, and while the assessments will be an important tool down the road, she sees this year as a “test run.”
“On some levels it’s going to be a trial-and-error year. We are taking the process seriously, but we are treating this as a practice year,” she said. “We plan to do the evaluations and submit them to the state but we won’t be counting the assessments against our staff this year.”
At Canton High School, Principal Mark Passamonte also said the assessments have the potential to bring positive change to the district, but added that the early implementation will come at a cost to student and teacher interaction.
Passamonte said the district has eliminated 40 positions in the past two years and will be short-handed as it prepares to take even more time away from teachers.
“Initially, I think it may impact some of the time that teachers are able to spend on education,” he said.
Students will be subjected to new standards and testing in an attempt to ensure they are prepared for college upon graduation. To meet the goal, new testing standards are being introduced to students in grades 3-8, with a strong focus on improving students’ math and English abilities, according to local school officials.
Teachers and principals also face new evaluation standards through the Annual Professional Performance Review, which assesses teachers based 40 percent on student achievement and 60 percent on a locally developed assessment that measures the individual’s effectiveness.
If teachers or principals are deemed ineffective, the district is required to implement an improvement plan. If improvements aren’t seen the following year, the individual may be charged with incompetence and considered for termination through a hearing process.
Brady said the measurements will be especially difficult to implement fairly this year, as teachers will also be applying a new standard of assessments on their students.
Rushed Too Fast?
Brady said the districts could have benefited from a trial year of the new assessments before being expected to implement them.
“This has been very much a work in progress. I think the system was not worked-out, in its entirety, before it was mandated,” he said. “Overall, I think it’s a great idea. We are a professional organization and we need to use professional measurements to assess our performance, but we could have used more time to establish our evaluations.”
Brady isn’t alone in feeling rushed.
Kirnie said there is a fear that the focus on new assessments could reduce student teacher interaction as more of their time will be spent on evaluations, but the school is not changing its attitude toward education.
“We are in it for the kids, we look forward to getting back in the business of education and we are going to continue to strive to provide our students with the best education we can,” she said.
Passamonte said schools have been feeling the pinch for a few years now and the state has been reducing aid for the districts in economically depress populations to make ends meet.
He, like many St. Lawrence County school administrators, believes the formula used to determine how much state aid schools are entitled to is “inequitable.”
He said the state continues to impose costs on districts while simultaneously reducing their bottom line.
“When the tax-cap passed, there was an expectation of mandate relief, but we haven’t seen significant relief, we have seen more mandates,” he said.
Passamonte said the assessments, while a good idea have hit the schools at a vulnerable time.
“The bottom line is I think it’s going to be good down the road, but now isn’t a time when we can afford more mandates,” he said. “Ideally it would have been nice to have a pilot year, because there are still a lot of unknowns.”