Testimony of Wendell Steinhauer, NJEA President
NJ State Board of Education meeting
Common Core Standards, PARCC & Evaluation

March 5, 2014

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  This is an important topic, and there is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding getting in the way of us making important progress toward improving teaching and learning in New Jersey’s schools.

So let me begin by being very clear: NJEA supports high quality teacher evaluation designed to improve teacher effectiveness and student learning.  We’ve been very consistent on that and our position has not changed.  But we are very concerned about how the evaluation system, and the related PARCC exams, are being implemented in New Jersey.  If we don’t take the time and put in the work to get them right, they will fail badly. 

Under the Common Core - - which has its own serious implementation issues - - teachers are supposed to collaborate.  But those same teachers are being subjected to an evaluation system that emphasizes student test scores and holds them personally responsible for scores, as if no other teacher or factor contributes to student success. 

So the same teacher who is asked under Common Core to collaborate with her colleagues on a broader approach to teaching and learning is told by the evaluation system that she alone is liable for the success or failure of that collaboration.  And her career is on the line because results from those tests will be used to create SGPs. 

For teachers in tested grades and subjects, the Department of Education is placing a tremendous amount of weight in their evaluations on their students’ PARCC scores and the SGPs that come out of them.  Teachers in tested subjects will be left with no choice but to focus on test preparation, and we’ve seen the damage done by that under No Child Left Behind.

Unfortunately, that is the path we are on today.  Those binders in front of you represent the stories of nearly one thousand New Jersey teachers, as well as parents, who see the consequences every day. 

Teachers are working hard to understand the new evaluation system and get ready for it.  But they are frustrated and confused by it, because neither they nor their districts have had the time or the resources needed to understand and implement it correctly.  They also know that its focus on test scores will drive teaching and learning in a bad direction, away from the creativity and deep thinking encouraged by the Common Core and toward a “drill and kill” mentality that undermines it. 

And they know that no matter how hard they work preparing students for the tests, the scores their students get are not a fair or accurate reflection of the teachers’ effort or ability.  Because of that, they don’t trust the evaluation system or the tests it is based too heavily on. 

Parents are frustrated, too, by the ever-greater focus on testing and the way that is narrowing their children’s academic experience.

It’s a dangerous combination, and the pressure is building in our schools and in communities across New Jersey.  I know it’s easy to dismiss that from the comfort of this building, but if you’ve spent any time in classrooms, talking to teachers about this, you understand.  If you’ve spoken with parents of children in the tested grades, you understand.

That’s why we collected these stories.  That’s why we gave each of you a binder of your own.  Please, please take the time to read them.  Let them sink in.  These are the voices of teachers and parents.  Their concerns are real and they are legitimate.  And they are calling on you to help fix what is going wrong.

We must address those concerns together, and we must get it right.

I know you’ve been told that it’s impractical to slow down.  Well, it’s much more irresponsible to rush forward in the face of deep flaws and serious problems.

I know you’ve been told that the problems really aren’t that bad, and that everything is under control.  These binders tell you something very different.

I know you’ve been told that districts have had enough time to get ready, and that we’ve already had a pilot program.  But while the DOE did change some things from the first year of the pilot to the current evaluation system, the regulations to implement the new evaluation system were written long before the second year of the pilot was finished.  The current system never had a pilot to determine its effectiveness.

And the truth is, districts still lack the resources to do this right.  So the very same problems that emerged in the pilot districts are occurring across the state because we never took the time to learn from the pilot and adjust how we are implementing the evaluation.

There’s still time to right the ship.  But time is running out.  With new leadership at the Department, we have a golden opportunity to come together right now and chart a better course.  We are ready to do that, and we’ve already reached out to make that happen.  But we need your support as well.  Please take a stand in favor of doing evaluation the right way, before it collapses under its own weight because we insisted on doing it the fast way.

Thank you.