Whatever recommendation comes out of Gov. Chris Christie’s Educator Effectiveness Task Force in the coming months, don’t look for a new system for evaluating school teachers and principals to go statewide for at least a couple of years.
Christie is expected in his State of the State address tomorrow to press his proposals for more tightly coupling teacher and principal performance with student achievement, a plan that could change how educators are tenured, promoted and paid.
But away from the rhetoric and into the details, a number of factors and obstacles point to a painstaking process that even the strongest advocates say will take time to accomplish.
The leader of the governor’s task force, which is charged with recommending a statewide evaluation system by March, said this weekend that it would make sense to start with a few pilot districts to test the evaluation tools, assessments and data analysis that will be needed.
“I can’t see how we wouldn’t pilot it,” said Brian Zychowski, the superintendent of North Brunswick schools who was chosen by Christie to chair the task force.
An outline by the education department from early in the process also laid out a two-year timeline that would start with a half-dozen pilot districts in 2011-2012.
Written before the task force began its work in November, the plan included independent research of the new system during the pilot, new sets of student assessments and surveys, and possibly even video observations in the classroom.
Zychowski would not comment on the department’s plan, although he did confirm its validity. Still, he said no decisions have been made as the task force continues to meet and work toward its March deadline.
“We have another meeting on Monday,” he said. “And we will continue to bring in national people and local districts.”
Zychowski said some models have stood out in the review, including those developed in Colorado, Delaware and Washington, D.C. And he didn’t rule out that new testing, including at the start of the school year to determine baselines for students, may even require a longer school year.
“We can’t have a system that requires more assessments and evaluations and a curriculum that’s already loaded without needing more days,” he said. “Without real meat in the system, we’re wasting our time.”
A big hurdle remains in developing the state’s own data analysis system that would track student achievement by teacher.
In a presentation to the state Board of Education, the department director in charge of the system known as NJ SMART laid out the progress made so far in the program, showing sample reports that break out different subgroups of students and track achievement levels over multiple years.
“For most districts, to be able to look longitudinally or load a record like this, it is nothing they have been able to do,” said Bari Erlichson, director of the department’s Office of Research and Evaluation.
But when asked by board members about linking such achievement levels to specific teachers, Erlichson said that was at least 12-16 months away.
“What we have to do is collect the information of this student being assigned to this teacher,” she said. “That’s the heavy lift for us.”