|NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer testifies on educator effectiveness at the June 9 State Board of Education meeting.
Policymakers have listened to NJEA members’ concerns about the myriad problems accompanying the new PARCC assessments, the Common Core State Standards, and the state’s new evaluation system for teachers.
Following several days of intensive discussion last week, agreement was reached on several key issues related to standardized testing and its ultimate role in teacher evaluation. NJEA was at the center of conversations with legislators, the Christie administration and the Department of Education (DoE), which led to two key announcements today.
First, Governor Christie issued an executive order creating a special Study Commission to look into the entire standardized testing environment in New Jersey. Concurrently, the DoE announced major changes in the use of standardized tests over the next two years, reducing their influence over teacher evaluations while the Commission does its work.
NJEA and its members had been lobbying members of the Senate to support S-2154, which would have delayed the use of PARCC assessments in teacher evaluations for up to two years. A Senate vote on the bill, which had already passed the Assembly by a large, bipartisan majority, was scheduled for this afternoon, but was postponed in order to let negotiations continue between the DoE, NJEA, and legislative leaders.
NJEA on Study Commission
Also included in S-2154 was the creation of a special Study Commission – including representatives of NJEA and other major stakeholders – to conduct a one-year study of the entire public education testing environment, including readiness for implementing PARCC to assess learning under the federal Common Core State Standards.
Today’s agreement avoided an almost-certain veto of S-2154 by Governor Christie. The bill – which called for a two-year moratorium on any use of standardized tests in the evaluation process, had already passed the Assembly (as A-3081) by a large margin, and the Senate was poised to pass S-2154, its version of A-3081, as well.
“Governor Christie has a long history of vetoing legislation that he does not support,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer, “and a veto of S-2154 would reduce its passage by the Legislature to nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory, with no changes in the evaluation system heading into the 2014-15 school year.”
Major victory: lower SGP percentages
“This is a significant victory for NJEA,” said Steinhauer, who said that instead of a gubernatorial veto and a continuation of the troubling status quo, the agreement produced the following:
- The creation of the special Study Commission that will work for up to two years on all aspects of standardized testing in New Jersey’s public schools. Its members will be broadly representative of key stakeholder groups, including NJEA, the Principals and Supervisors Association and others.
- In the 2014-15 school year, the percentage of Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) that will be used for a teacher’s evaluation will be reduced from 30 to 10 percent, with Student Growth Objectives (SGOs) accounting for 20 percent and observation of teacher practice 70 percent. Then, based on the first-year findings of the Study Commission, in the 2015-16 school year, SGPs could count for up to 20 percent of an evaluation, SGOs another 20 percent, and teacher practice 60 percent or more, depending on Commission recommendations. For teachers who do not teach in tested subjects in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, their evaluations will be based 20 percent on SGOs and 80 percent on teacher practice.
- Given the widespread evidence of problems with developing effective SGOs during the just-concluded 2013-14 school year, a special process will be established for any teacher receiving an SGO rating that leads to an overall rating of “ineffective” or “partially effective” to review his/her evaluation.
Massive lobbying effort
For months, NJEA and its members testified before the State Board of Education (BoE) about their concerns with the implementation of PARCC, Common Core, and Achieve NJ, the state’s new teacher evaluation system.
“Those of us in the classroom know that the entire process is dangerously out of sync,” said Steinhauer. “The new curricula to comply with the Common Core are not fully in place in most districts; many districts do not possess the technology – or the resources to acquire it – that is central to PARCC administration; and both teachers and administrators still have much work to do to develop and implement the key elements of the new evaluation system, particularly the development of SGOs.”
Steinhauer welcomed the agreement, while expressing gratitude for the strong support of both houses of the Legislature in the form of A-3081/S-2154.
‘Proper forum’ for agreement
“Given the litany of testimony from NJEA and its members before the BoE, this agreement was reached in the proper forum, without the need for legislative intervention,” Steinhauer said. “The changes in the use of testing this year and next are most appropriately made through DoE regulation, not legislation.
“NJEA believes this agreement is the best possible outcome, and it should lead to common sense, research-based recommendations from the Study Commission,” he said.
“Nonetheless, there is ample reason to believe that the Legislature’s willingness to pass A-3081 and S-2154 and force a potential gubernatorial veto was a key factor leading to the agreement,” Steinhauer said. “So, I want to publicly thank the eight legislators whose leadership on this legislation in both branches was pivotal to the outcome. Thanks to Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester); Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson); Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex); Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex); Assemblyman Timothy Eustace (D-Bergen); Senator Theresa Ruiz (D-Essex); Senator Robert Gordon (D-Bergen); and Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-Atlantic).”
Kudos to members
Steinhauer reserved special praise for the thousands of NJEA members who responded to the call for action.
“NJEA members wrote letters, testified before the BoE, attended numerous lobby days, and did whatever was necessary to send a strong message to policymakers that the entire PARCC/Common Core/evaluation train was running off the tracks,” Steinhauer said.
"And in the end, they heard us."