Blistan and Spiller testify at State Board of Education

NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan and NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Sean M. Spiller testified today in an open topic hearing held by the New Jersey State Board of Education. Blistan condemned the actions of the New Jersey Department of Education last week to increase the weight of standardized tests as a factor in teacher evaluation.

“No one from the Department of Education asked for our input when it came to last week’s sudden announcement changing the weight of the median student growth percentile (mSGP) from 10 percent to 30 percent,” Blistan declared. “The misguided decision to triple this weight, without a transparent review process and study, is irresponsible and demands your attention.”

Blistan said that there was little to back up the department’s action.

“There are many questions regarding the research behind the mSGP that has dated back to when it was first imposed—good, solid questions that have still not been answered,” Blistan said.

Blistan testifies against edTPA

Blistan also questioned the State Board of Education’s approval of edTPA as a certification requirement for prospective teachers as well as other new certification requirements for preservice educators adopted over the last year. EdTPA is a Pearson testing product. The corporation also sells the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) exams.

“Between department regulations and your actions as members of the State Board, you have now regulated that our preservice students have more financial debt, have to devote more time and energy to pass another standardized test by Pearson, have to continue to successfully meet the requirements for each college, including student teaching, and then have to wait up to three years to get a regular certification while dealing with a tripled emphasis and weight of students’ standardized test scores on their cooperating teacher’s evaluation,” Blistan testified.

Blistan suggests caution regarding changes to anti-bullying regs

Finally, as the State Board considers regulatory amendments to clarify rules implemented by the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, Blistan offered words of caution.

Under the currently proposed amendments, school districts would be permitted to include a provision in their harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) policies for a preliminary determination process. The administrator—in consultation with the anti-bullying specialist—would determine if a reported incident meets the criteria for HIB prior to initiating an investigation. But the proposed amendment does not include any requirement for documentation during the determination process.

“In order to preserve the ability of this law to protect our most vulnerable students, it is important that this determination process be documented so that there is accountability and transparency,” Blistan said.

Blistan also shared her concerns that when addressing bullying directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, schools should be especially mindful to safeguard students’ sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

“In every circumstance, this information should be considered confidential,” Blistan said. “Any potential of outing a student during the reporting, parental notification or investigative process could deter LGBT students from reporting incidents of HIB.”

Spiller calls for moratorium on charter school application approvals

In line with NJEA’s call for a moratorium on the approval of any and all new applications for charters schools and charter school expansions, Spiller called on the State Board to use its influence with out-going Commissioner of Education David Hespe to see that the application for a French immersion charter school in Montclair is denied. Final approval of any charter school application rests with the state’s commissioner of education.

“The moratorium on the approval of new charter schools would not eliminate public charter schools in New Jersey, nor even affect those already operating or approved,” Spiller said. “It would, however, give us the opportunity to strengthen our commitment to equity, access and excellent educational outcomes for all students.”

Spiller told the State Board that if Hespe approves the Montclair charter school, the district board of education would be forced to transfer $2,625,000 from its budget to the charter school. He pointed out that the Montclair Civil Rights Commission believes the new charter school would lead to segregation in a community that prides itself on its diversity.

Spiller said that local residents should have a say in whether or not a charter school is approved.

“NJEA is concerned about the consequence of a lack of community consent on new or expanded charter schools,” Spiller concluded. “Taxpayers have a right to know what private interests are influencing a public school and decide what is best for their community.”

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