NJEA testifies before State Board of Education

by NJEA Associate Director of Government Relations Francine Pfeffer
July 10, 2013

Good afternoon.  Thank you for this opportunity to testify on the proposed regulations to implement the TEACHNJ Act.  Previous testimony given by NJEA is attached to this testimony; I urge you to read it.

As we have previously stated, the New Jersey Education Association was proud to support TEACHNJ.  However, we are deeply concerned with how the law is being implemented.  Once again, we urge this Board and the Department to take the time needed to implement a new evaluation system.  We do not want to see TEACHNJ fall on its face because it moves too quickly and isn’t properly implemented.

Although the Department has been sending out memos, holding meetings, and correcting misinformation to ensure the process moves smoothly, mistakes are happening.

Teachers were told to develop their student growth objectives, or SGOs, in June before they left for the end of the school year.  Teachers can think about SGOs, but SGOs cannot be developed until teachers meet their students and assess their strengths and weaknesses to determine desired learning outcomes.

Training for the new evaluation system is supposed to be rigorous and comprehensive.  In spite of this, some school districts have given their employees three hours of training by video.

This system needs more time to be correctly implemented.  It is not too late for this Board and the Department to slow down this process.  Our two-year pilot program was different from the regulations that are currently being implemented.  The principal pilot program only had the benefit of one year.  The regulations that are under consideration before this board need to be given a full pilot.

Last month, in open topic testimony, I discussed the need for time to correctly implement the new system, and referenced Dr. William Firestone, the researcher hired by the Department to analyze New Jersey’s pilot program.  He stated that the learning curve required to implement evaluation instruments is steep in the first two years, even in districts with past experience using systematic forms of teacher evaluation.

Teachers have not seen their student growth percentiles, even in some of the pilot districts.  They do not understand how the system will work.  Although teachers routinely create SGOs as part of their daily work, they have not been required as part of an evaluation across the state.

We should not rush to implement a change that has such high-stakes results without a full understanding of its impact. Other states across the nation are giving their new evaluation systems the benefit of time.

The federal government recognizes that with the implementation of the common core standards and new assessments, states might need to delay the use of student achievement data in teacher evaluation.

The USDOE offered states a one-year waiver.  The LEE Group, comprised of education stakeholders in New Jersey, recommended to the Governor, the Commissioner, and the entire legislature that New Jersey apply for this waiver.  But we have not done so.

TEACHNJ calls for a measure of student growth.  It does not require that we use student growth percentiles, student growth objectives, or a value added model.  Research on the use of growth models is mixed.  It would be better to take time, see the results of their use, do our own research, and ensure that districts have the time to fully train their staff and implement a system that is fair, reliable, and valid.

If we want to achieve our common goal of improving instruction and learning, we must slow this process down.  Otherwise, we will have a system that is riddled with problems without the buy-in necessary from those who are affected by it.