|NJEA President Barbara Keshishian testifies before members of the State Board of Education as NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Marie Blistan looks on.
NJEA members crowded into the State Board of Education meeting April 3, joining President Barbara Keshishian to speak out about problems with regulations proposed to implement the new teacher evaluation system passed into law last year. The regulations were presented to the State Board at second discussion level. The N.J. Department of Education (DOE) had made only minor changes to the code from when it was first introduced last month.
A few board members questioned the proposal. Robert Haney expressed concern that a teacher who has student growth percentiles included in his/her summative rating would not receive that rating until January of the following school year.
Board member Edie Fulton asked for clarification regarding student growth percentiles and student growth objectives. Education Commissioner Chris Cerf replied that only teachers of grades 4-8 language arts and math--16 percent of New Jersey’s teachers--would have a student growth percentile score. Board member Joseph Fisicaro pointed out that “only 16 percent” still means that 20,000 teachers would be subjected to this measure.
After the conclusion of the board meeting, several board members listened to testimony on the proposed teacher evaluation regulations and other topics. Keshishian was joined by more than 30 educators who expressed concerns that the Department of Education’s proposed regulations are out of sync with the intent of the legislation and would create an unwieldy structure based too heavily on standardized tests.
“When the bill was signed into law, NJEA could say that we were partners in the process. The law was the result of collaboration and compromise on all sides. However, that cooperation evaporated when it came time to write these regulations," said Keshishian. She added that the Association was received no information from the DOE until the proposal was released last month.
Proposals "too ambitious"
|State Board of Education members Edithe Fulton and Ronald Butcher hear testimony on the proposed teacher evaluation regulations.
Keshishian was referring to TEACHNJ (Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey Act), the legislation which revamped tenure and evaluation. The law, signed by Gov. Christie last August, was based on NJEA recommendations and honed through collaboration with legislative leaders. But last week, even one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Sen. Teresa Ruiz, questioned the wisdom of the DOE’s plan to base 35 percent of certain teachers’ evaluations on state test scores, indicating it may be “too ambitious.”
It was a point that Keshishian stressed heavily in her remarks to the Board, saying that the DOE “has gone well beyond the standard-setting requirements of the law and is seeking to impose its vision of teacher evaluation in these regulations on every school district in the state.”
She also charged that the state is taking away flexibility that districts have been able to exercise in a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that’s been in place for more than three decades. Under the proposed regulations, the state would determine not only the percentage of standardized test scores to be used in the student achievement portion but the percentage of student achievement and teacher practice that decide a teacher’s rating.
“There is no need for the state to set a pre-determined percentage of student growth based on state assessments. Give districts flexibility to evaluate their teaching staff members using multiple measures, including standardized tests,” Keshishian said.
That was a concern echoed by John Marciante Jr., superintendent of the Manalapan Englishtown Regional School District. He said that the proposed regulations for teacher evaluation have “taken the door of opportunity and slammed it shut. This one-size-fits all approach completely ignores the capacity issues and leaves districts zero flexibility to address it.”
A mountain of paperwork
|NJEA lobbyist Francine Pfeffer noted that serious questions remain about the validity of SGPs for special education students, English language learners, and gifted students.
Marciante also said that the increase in “evaluation events” will result in an unproductive goal for administrators, “the completion of a mountain of required paperwork and observations.” He appealed to board members: “Don’t make us do unnecessary documentation of success for those teachers who have already demonstrated successful academic growth among their students.”
Esther Fletcher, a mathematics teacher from Carlstadt, concurred in her comments to the Board. “The truth of the matter is that no amount of paperwork will evaluate the true product of a teacher.”
She also expressed concerns about the overuse of standardized test scores. “By tying standardized test scores to a large percentage of the evaluation for a select group of teachers, you are creating an unfair environment and institutionalizing these inequities in regulation.”
A major problem with such test results is that they are affected by issues outside the classroom, Fletcher said. Excessive student absences, lack of desire to perform, and family issues from divorce to dying grandparents impact student performance.
Heidi Olson, a special education teacher from Hopewell, remarked in her testimony that she believes in a “strong and vigorous” evaluation system, but sees “a number of flaws” in the DOE’s new plan. Raising an issue she said the DOE has chosen to ignore, she commented on a problem the plan would create for certified teachers working with student teachers.
“If the certified teacher’s rating does not reflect the changed instruction given by a student teacher, the current teacher would be deterred from accepting student teachers into their classroom. That would deplete the important practical aspect of learning to become an effective teacher for future educators,” Olson said.
Olson asserted that if the DOE’s plan is approved in its current form, the result will be a “statewide train wreck with thousands of high-achieving and excellent students and teachers as casualties.”
Also testifying for NJEA, Francine Pfeffer, associate director of government relations, spoke in depth about some of the Association’s issues with the proposed regulations. She expressed concerns about an array of issues from collective bargaining to selection of teacher members for the School Improvement Panels (ScIPs).
“Rushing into a high-stakes evaluation system would be a disservice to the students and teachers of New Jersey.”
Pfeffer noted that serious questions remain about the validity of SGPs for special education students, English language learners, and gifted students. She also asserted that supervisors should have the flexibility to determine when it’s appropriate to limit the application of SGPs to a teacher for various reasons such as attendance, grades, or other unusual circumstances.
“Many factors affect a student’s performance on state assessment. It is possible, due to class composition or life events, that student performance may not accurately reflect a student’s growth,” Pfeffer said.
“This state, this department, and this board need not rush into unproven regimented systems. Force districts to use the new standards, but give districts a range they can use to determine the student achievement portion of a teacher’s rating, and give supervisors the discretion to modify it as needed,” she said. “Rushing into a high-stakes evaluation system would be a disservice to the students and teachers of New Jersey.”
The DOE is expected to bring the regulations at proposal level to the May 1 State Board meeting. If the board votes to propose the code at that time, the regulations will be published in the New Jersey Register, and the board is required to hold additional public testimony on the topic. NJEA members are urged to write letters to State Board members regarding the proposed evaluation system. See Take Action on Teacher Evaluation for tips on how to contact SBOE members. The DOE hopes that the regulations will be adopted at the August State Board meeting in time for full, statewide implementation of the new evaluation system in September.
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