Teacher Effectiveness Testimony

by Marie Blistan, NJEA Vice President
before the State Board of Education
on 6A:9B Student Provisional Teachers and
6A:10 Educator Effectiveness
September 7, 2016

Good afternoon.

My name is Marie Blistan, proud NJEA vice president and a 30-year special education teacher from Gloucester County.

For the last couple of years, I have watched the profession that I love – and the profession that I have dedicated my entire adult life to – slowly erode into something that is nearly unrecognizable.

As the start of school is now upon us, our members are returning to their school buildings and to work with their students with feelings of confusion, frustration, and –  in some cases – actual disbelief about the new regulations that the Department has proposed and you, the State Board, are about to adopt or already have adopted.

The overall process and the efforts to collaborate with all stakeholders before the adoption of these regulations seem rushed and, frankly, anything but transparent, rendering the voices of thousands of educators as seemingly ignored.  

For example, NJEA has repeatedly raised concerns with the proposed changes to Educator Effectiveness, 6A:10, specifically the Department-proposed change in timelines for the writing of professional development plans (PDP), Corrective Action Plans (CAP) and Student Growth Objectives (SGOs) from September 15 to October 31.

NJEA testified why these date changes were not conducive for members or students, but the Department presented information during their regional meetings that led districts to believe the dates were already approved through the Administrative Code Process, resulting in an Advisory that clarified that districts should adhere to the current September 15 deadline for implementation.   

Moreover, I have repeatedly heard the Department say that it consistently collaborated with NJEA on education issues.  I can assure you that no one from the Department asked for our input when it came to last week’s sudden announcement which changed the mSGPs from 10 percent to 30 percent.

Where is the evidence that validates this change?

As you know, there are many questions regarding the research behind the mSGP that has dated back from when it was first imposed – good, solid questions that have still not been answered.  

The misguided decision to triple this weight on August 31, without a transparent review process and study, is irresponsible at best and deserves – I daresay, demands – your attention. 

While we noted that the Department worked with one stakeholder group to propose the elimination of mSGP scores on administrator evaluation, we are appalled that the Department did not give all of the professionals – especially the ones on the front lines of our educational system – the same level of respect and opportunity for collaboration on reviewing the mSGP on our teacher evaluations and its impact on student learning.    

Another area of concern regards our students who are enrolled in pre-service education college programs. 

We are hearing from colleges that the number of education students has dramatically decreased and some of the reasons cited by students directly relate to actions taken by this Department and this Board.  

Additionally, we know that college students are graduating with an average $40,000-$60,000 or more debt.

NJEA surveyed our New Jersey Student Education Association (NJSEA) members and found that in general, the debt of education majors is approximately $10,000 higher than for other majors. 

It’s because of this incredible level of debt coupled with the mounting certification requirements and assessments that NJACTE has experienced a drop in enrollment for the past three years.

That, to me, is heartbreaking.

What is the Department doing to encourage students to enter into our profession, and what is the State Board doing to ensure that only the best research-based practices become regulation?  

While these facts are egregious enough, two recent adoptions by the State Board have us even more concerned with our pre-service educators. 

The adoption of the edTPA performance assessment – yet another Pearson standardized test, nonetheless, in order for novice teachers to receive certification, continues to be problematic.  

Both NJEA and pre-service teachers testified on the added time and financial burden this places on incoming teacher candidates; we also vehemently advocated for the need for more time to fully review what changes would enhance the success of our new teachers.

You heard the problems, but still adopted this test on a graduated timeline.  I just don’t understand the reasoning.

Last November, the State Board approved new certification requirements (N.J.A.C. 6A:9B) for our new provisional teachers.  The new certification was made retro-active to September 2015 and now a provisionally certified teacher cannot obtain a permanent certification for at least two years, possibly three.      

To make matters even worse, the State Board has not articulated any built-in ‘debrief’ time and space that stakeholders need in order to see the true impact on our profession, never mind whether it’s even worthy enough to implement. 

Between Department regulations and your actions as members of the State Board, you have now regulated that our pre-service 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 teacher’s evaluation.  

How does the State Board plan to review and debrief the impact of these changes?

As NJEA has previously testified – and I will say again today – all of this only further discourages our students from going into this profession, remaining in this profession, and working with students, schools and communities where there are many challenges. 

Make no mistake: Educators have no problem with being held accountable, nor do we object to establishing standards that seek to maintain the integrity of public education and those who work within it.

When our voices are heard but not listened to, when you seek our involvement but don’t value our insight, your words and actions to “collaborate” lose substance.

We know that the State Board of Education’s charge is to be the head of the Department of Education, and the Board is vested with “the general supervision and control of public education in this state.”

I remind you, as members of the State Board of Education, that you are the gatekeepers who have the final say in regulations. 

You also have the power, the authority, and the responsibility to protect the integrity of public education. 

On behalf of the NJEA, I wish to thank Chairman Biedron, Mr. Fisicaro, and Mrs. Fulton for visiting our schools and listening to our practitioners, but we need the full State Board to use their knowledge to question and morally act on what we know will enhance our public schools and our profession. 

We ask that you give attention to our questions and recommit to your charge.  Our students and our profession deserve nothing less.

Thank you.

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