Evaluation Resources

Evaluation regs move to proposal level

Published on Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ronald Butcher 
Longtime State Board member Ronald Butcher expressed several reservations about the proposed system.
A new evaluation system for New Jersey’s teachers is one step closer to implementation.

At the May 1 State Board of Education meeting, board members voted to officially propose the regulations governing teacher evaluation in New Jersey.

In the two months preceding the vote, the State Board and Department of Education (DOE) officials heard from thousands of educators regarding the proposal. NJEA President Barbara Keshishian was among the two dozen educators who testified at the April State Board meeting, while another 100-plus teachers submitted written testimony.

On April 24, Keshishian and NJEA staff members met directly with Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf and his team. In addition, State Board members reported receiving up to 2,500 letters on the subject. And while the DOE did make some modifications to its evaluation proposal because of this feedback, NJEA still has reservations about the new system. Specifically, the use of student growth data to evaluate teachers is largely untested and questioned by most of the respected research on the subject.

One change to the proposed regulations involves the formula used to determine the summative rating of teachers who have an SGP, or Student Growth Percentile, score (grade 4-8 teachers of language arts and mathematics). Previously, the DOE called for 35 percent of the summative rating for those teachers to be based on SGP; now that percentage is 30. Another 15 percent of a teacher’s rating will be based on student growth objectives (SGOs). That means that student achievement will account for 45 percent of these teachers’ summative ratings, while teacher practice will comprise 55 percent of that score. The formula for teachers in nontested grades and subjects remains at 15 percent SGOs and 85 percent teacher practice.

It is important to understand, however, that because the formula is not part of the actual regulations, the DOE can change it every year. That means this reduction may only apply for the 2013-14 school year.

“It troubles me when I see a dividing line--some research says we are going down the wrong path,” Butcher said.

A modification was made to the amount of time that a student must be enrolled in a class in order for that student to receive an SGP score. When the regulations were first released, a student had to be enrolled for only 60 percent of the school year prior to the administration of the NJ ASK; now that number is 70 percent.

Teachers should be aware, however, that this does not refer to the amount of time that a student is actually present in the class. With regard to absenteeism, the department “is exploring approaches to account for students who have missed a considerable amount of the school year.”

Another change extends the life of District Evaluation Advisory Committees (DEACs). Previously, there was no requirement for DEACs beyond the 2012-13 school year. Now each district must maintain a DEAC through the 2015-16 school year.

Language related to written rebuttals of an evaluation, which the department said was inadvertently deleted from the code during the revision process, was restored. Thanks to this change, teachers retain the right to submit a written objection to an evaluation.

NJEA Vice President Wendell Steinhauer, who attended the State Board meeting, acknowledged that there is no perfect system of teacher evaluation.

“We have tried to and will continue to work with the DOE and other stakeholders to craft a system that is as equitable as possible and works to strengthen the skills of all teachers,” said Steinhauer. 

State BOE members question student growth percentiles

 Howard Wainer
 Howard Wainer, researcher at the Educational Testing Service, testifies on the proposed regulations at the April 3 meeting.

Several members of the State Board asked questions about the proposed regulations, and every question focused on the controversial use of SGPs.

Board member Joseph Fisicaro, Burlington County, asked how an SGP would be calculated for a teacher who is on leave for a portion of the school year. DOE Chief Talent Officer Peter Shulman explained that if that teacher was working for 60 percent of the school year prior to the test, he or she would receive an SGP rating.

Fisicaro also encouraged the department to pursue a waiver system to give districts more flexibility within a system that is largely a one-size-fits-all approach.

Mark Biedron, a State Board member from Hunterdon County, asked how many years of student growth data will be used to calculate a teacher’s SGP score. Shulman said that while three years of data is more desirable, only one year of data will be available when the system is implemented. Shulman added that when three years of data is ready, the department will use whichever SGP score (one based on the most recent year versus one based on three years of data) is higher when calculating a teacher’s summative rating.

Longtime State Board member Ronald Butcher expressed several reservations about the proposed system, noting “There are still a lot of legitimate questions that the department says it doesn’t have answers to.”

Butcher, who hails from Gloucester County, identified four concerns. He said that the 2013 MET (Measures of Effective Teaching) Study, upon which much of the DOE’s proposal is based, has its critics, referencing noted statistician Dr. Howard Wainer, who testified on the proposed regulations. He also questioned the rationale behind the weighting of components in the formula to determine a teacher’s summative rating. In addition, he asked about the fairness of SGPs only applying to one-fifth of the state’s teachers. Perhaps most important, Butcher noted that, by and large, the districts that piloted the new evaluation system only tested the teacher practice component and not the student achievement piece.

Cerf responds to criticism

With raised voice, Cerf responded to Butcher directly. He rejected Butcher’s assertion that the pilot districts did not fully engage the student growth portion of the evaluation system, saying that Butcher’s statement was “not factually correct.”

The fact is that while SGP scores may have been generated for Pilot I districts, many teachers report having received a number with little explanation, and NJEA is not aware of any analysis of the overall validity or impact of those scores. Pilot II teachers have not received SGP scores because the NJ ASK has just been administered. An independent evaluation of Year Two of the pilot project is not expected until this fall.

The commissioner explained that the MET Study recommends that up to 60 percent of a teacher’s evaluation should be based on student growth and called New Jersey’s use of 30 percent SGP “conservative.”

Cerf said that the state would only use SGP data for grade 4-8 teachers of language arts and math because that data was “scientifically reliable,” and he rebuffed the notion that this data be ignored simply because it is not available for all teachers. Cerf then reminded Butcher that the TEACHNJ Act, signed into law last August, requires the use of student growth measures.

“Our standard has to be that this is a better process as opposed to ‘have we achieved the perfect system,’” Cerf said.

Butcher pointed out that he was not trying to derail the new evaluation system, but just wants to be sure the state moves cautiously.

“It troubles me when I see a dividing line--some research says we are going down the wrong path,” Butcher said.

Cerf called Dr. Wainer’s logic “deeply flawed,” adding that [Wainer] “does not understand the methodology of student growth percentiles.”

A long-time researcher at the Educational Testing Service, Wainer is the author of Uneducated Guesses—Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies (Princeton University Press, 2011).

Next steps: public comment period, adoption

During the discussion, four State Board members referenced the “thousands of letters” they received from educators on this subject. Biedron thanked teachers for “taking the time” to write, and he acknowledged that the letters assist the regulatory process by educating board members.

In the end, the State Board voted to move the proposed regulations forward, with one abstention: Butcher. State Board member Edie Fulton, who has been critical of the regulations, was not in attendance.

Now that the regulations are at proposal level, by law they must be printed in the New Jersey Register and the public must be given an opportunity to comment on the regulations.

If you wish to express your opinion of the proposed regulations, you can send a letter to the board members or testify before the State Board on Wednesday, June 5. NJEA has prepared instructions on writing to the State Board. To testify in person on June 5, you must register with the State Board of Education Office online or by calling 609-292-0739. Registration for the June session runs from May 17 until May 31 at noon. Please note that space and time are limited. Individuals who are unable to be present at a public testimony session may submit written comments.

The regulations are scheduled to come before the State Board at adoption level at its Aug. 7 meeting, just in time for statewide implementation of the new evaluation system in September.

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