Teacher evaluation: not so fast

Published on Friday, July 12, 2013

Teacher evaluation: not so fastRemember the old commercial with the gruff auto mechanic who quipped "You can pay me now, or pay me later"?  The mechanic was trying to convince a customer that ignoring a problem now will probably cost you more in the end.

The problems associated with the state’s proposed educator evaluation system continue to mount, but the Department of Education continues to forge ahead.

It can’t be that the Department is unaware of the consequences of implementing a system that’s not ready for prime time. To their credit, department officials have responded to some concerns, such as how much student achievement will count in an overall evaluation.

But the state is burying its head in the sand on the critical issues of standardized testing and the amount of time needed to properly roll out a fair, reliable, and valid evaluation system.

NJEA’s objections to the use of student growth percentiles are well documented, and the Department’s attempts to misdirect its critics on this topic have had little effect. The fact remains that the manner in which the state plans to use student standardized test data has not been proven to be an accurate measure of teacher effectiveness. Charlotte Danielson, the author of the teacher practice framework adopted by a large majority of the districts in New Jersey, does not believe it’s possible to attribute test score gains or losses to a particular teacher.

Dozens of educators from around the state have testified before the State Board of Education over the last few months on this topic. A common theme of those presentations has been the need for more time to implement the new evaluation system. Even educators who work in the districts that took part in the teacher evaluation pilot program report never having received a student growth percentile score.

There are myriad stories of inadequate and incomplete training on the teacher practice component. In many districts, administrators don’t know enough about student growth objectives to help teachers formulate them. Even Dr. William Firestone, the researcher hired by the Department to analyze New Jersey’s pilot program, stated that the learning curve required to implement evaluation instruments is steep in the first two years.

Meanwhile, the Department has passed over an opportunity to delay the use of standardized tests to make high-stakes personnel decisions with the Obama Administration’s blessing.

Recognizing that research does not support using test scores to evaluate teachers, the United States Department of Education offered states a one-year waiver.  The LEE Group, comprised of NJEA and five other education stakeholders in New Jersey, recommended to the governor, the commissioner, and the entire Legislature that New Jersey apply for this waiver. 

True to form, the Christie administration has opted for rhetoric over research, and still plans to implement the student growth portion of the new educator evaluation system. And they plan to do it as soon as possible.

If they do, New Jersey’s teachers will be paying for it later.

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