Final ExamThe next six months are critical for the state’s new system of teacher evaluation, and everyone knows it, especially officials at the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE). Now that every district in the state has selected a teacher practice instrument, the massive job of training is underway. Teachers have to be trained by June 30; administrators have to be ready by Aug. 31.

Depending on how you view such things, an even more crucial ingredient to the success of the new evaluation system is the proposed regulations the NJDOE will unveil at this month’s State Board of Education meeting. The regulations must address the topic that until this point has been the elephant in the room—the use of student test scores in the evaluation process. Final adoption of the code is likely to occur during the summer, just in time for full statewide implementation of the new evaluation system in September.

To be fair, the department deserves some credit for how it has handled the roll out of a new system. When it became clear last winter that the state’s timeline for its EE4NJ program (Excellent Educators for New Jersey) was far too ambitious, the pilot program was extended and full implementation was delayed. Over the summer, NJDOE personnel and legislative aides worked side-by-side with NJEA leaders and staff in drafting the TEACHNJ Act, which, among other things, stipulated that student test scores cannot be the “predominant” factor in teacher evaluation. During this school year, NJDOE and NJEA officials have continued to meet as Association staff presented feedback from the field (both pilot and non-pilot districts).

But these efforts will mean very little if the NJDOE mishandles a few fundamental issues between now and September.

This month the NJDOE will unveil proposed regulations that will finally address what has been the elephant in the room - the use of student test scores in evaluations.

For example, the department has repeatedly stated the importance of high quality training of teachers and administrators in their new instruments, yet it has failed to define “high quality” or set a minimum training requirement. We know that there are districts that will do it well; we also know there are districts that won’t. The NJDOE should not bury its head in the sand to this fact, and establishing more prescriptive guidelines for training would show that its homage to preparation is more than just rhetoric.

This leads to another key consideration—the timeline. Although the TEACHNJ Act requires full implementation of a new system of teacher evaluation this fall, will the NJDOE work within its purview to ensure that a fair and reliable system is put into place, regardless of when it happens?

The department has acknowledged that the issue of using student growth data in a teacher’s evaluation, particularly in untested grades and subjects, “has been the source of significant input from the field.” State Board of Education members also report a flood of letters on this topic. It is only natural that educators be uneasy about this aspect of the new system, especially because the research on the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers is indecisive at best, despite the NJDOE’s proclamations to the contrary.

The release of the proposed regulations this month will finally answer the question of the exact role student achievement will play in teacher evaluations. Unquestionably, this code will generate a great deal of discussion. No doubt that’s why the department plans to conduct an outreach initiative from March through May, including regional presentations and trainings designed “to better inform educators in the field about the proposed regulations.” What is in question is whether department officials will be doing any listening—or just talking-- at these outreach events.

See for yourself

The most recent NJDOE press release on the teacher evaluation program can be found on the department website at www.state.nj.us/education/EE4NJ/presources/020513memo.pdf. It includes hot links to the Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee (EPAC) Interim Report and the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education (RUGSE) Year 1 Report.

You may also want to visit the department’s webpage of answers to frequently asked questions related to educator evaluation at www.state.nj.us/education/genfo/faq/faq_eval.htm#req.

NJEA’s evaluation page is chock-full of resources related to teacher evaluation, including information on the four most popular teacher practice instruments, past Review articles on the pilot program, and a link to the NJEA Resource Guide on Evaluation for Teachers.