Cornell University

April 29 2014

Statewide View

Scheinman researches how schools frame teacher rating appeal processes

Varying appeal procedures in the controversial performance review for teachers in New York state are examined in a research brief published by the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution this month.

The Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) evaluation for teachers adopted by New York state in 2012 allows for dismissal – even for tenured teachers – after two consecutive ratings of "ineffective," the lowest level of the four-level rating system.

Each of the state's 696 public school districts has a locally negotiated appeals system. The Scheinman Institute report, produced through its Bargaining for Better Schools project with the Worker Institute at Cornell, quantifies how district appeals procedures statewide have been structured.

Its findings include:

  • Tenured teachers have broad appeal rights, though in 14.3 percent of agreements, tenured teachers are only able to appeal “ineffective” (lowest level) ratings, but not "developing" (second lowest level) ratings;
  • Non-tenured teachers have broad appeal rights in most procedures, but in 29.8 percent of procedures, they are unable to file an appeal about an improvement plan and in 35 percent of procedures, they are unable to appeal the plan's implementation process; 
  • Non-tenured teachers are unable to appeal an "ineffective" rating in 26.5 percent of procedures and unable to appeal a "developing" rating in 46.7 percent; 
  • District superintendents have the final say on appeals for tenured teachers in 77 percent of districts and, for non-tenured teachers, in 76 percent of districts; 
  • A panel jointly appointed by the district administration and teacher and/or union is the final decision-maker in 15 percent of appeal procedures for tenured teachers and 14 percent of procedures for non-tenured teachers; 
  • Arbitrators are the final decision makers, for both tenured and non-tenured teachers, in only two percent of districts; 
  • The mean maximum time limit for the appeals process is 64 days for tenured teachers and 63 days for non-tenured teachers.

The research also compares how appeal processes interact with procedures established through teachers' contracts. Sixty-six percent of districts appeals processes do not allow use of grievance procedures spelled out in contracts to be used to appeal the teacher rating.

In nearly 10 percent of procedures, there is a special appeal procedure for a teacher who has received back-to-back “ineffective” ratings; consecutive “ineffective” ratings lead to a hearing that can result in termination of the teacher.

The final decision maker in the special appeal procedures is most commonly an arbitrator (64 percent of districts), followed by the superintendent (21 percent), a joint teacher-administrator panel (9 percent) and the school board (3 percent).

Co-author Professor Alex Colvin, the ILR School's Martin F. Scheinman Professor of Conflict Resolution, said the upshot of the report is that "appeal procedures vary substantially across districts around the state."

Although tenured teachers have more rights to appeal performance reviews than non-tenured teachers, non-tenured teachers may have more rights to due process than they had before appeals processes were established through the evaluation system that began in 2012.

"School districts and local teacher unions have had to scramble to develop appeal procedures for the new performance review system. Our results show that they have experimented with a range of different options in designing these procedures," Colvin said.

"Going forward, our data will help inform efforts to improve these appeal procedures to the benefit of both teachers and school districts," he said.

More information about Bargaining for Better Schools and its research is available at http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/bbs.