Pilot Project to Launch Christie’s Teacher Evaluation System

Nine districts to test evaluation systems, with conditions

The Christie administration’s vaunted plans to remake teacher evaluation in New Jersey will start with up to nine pilot districts testing various methods next year, with a little money and lots of guidance from the state.

The state Department of Education (DOE) yesterday sent out invitations to districts to apply to be pilots for development of a statewide evaluation system that will be called Excellent Educators for NJ (EE4NJ).

The new system is the centerpiece of Gov. Chris Christie’s broader agenda for teacher tenure and pay reforms, and its development in a few districts next year had been expected. It is slated to go statewide the year after.

Still, many of the details are new, outlined in lengthy summaries and grant applications that lay out a few of the central tenets of the system.

“We view this pilot as an excellent opportunity for the state to collaborate with educators, district leaders, and other stakeholders and jointly design a statewide framework,” acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said in a letter to districts yesterday.

The department will seek a cross-section of districts, both geographically and socio-economically. And some money will be provided to districts to put the systems in place, a total of $1.1 million.

The money will be used for internal expenses and training, as well as for hiring an outside evaluator, who will track data from the system, and evaluation “providers” to assist in the implementation.

As expected, the evaluations will have to consider equally both student achievement and teacher practice, the most controversial part of the plan. Much of the plan is drawn from a task force appointed by Christie that laid out the general principles of a new system.

But going into greater detail, the proposal calls for all teachers in participating districts and schools be required to be part of the system, including those in subjects and grades that do not have standardized tests. For those without tests, there will be several models for evaluating student achievement and progress.

Still, the state will not require the districts to use the evaluations in personnel decisions, at least not yet. “It is left to participating districts to determine how they will use pilot evaluation results,” read the guidelines.

The districts will be required to use a “a high-quality, research-based framework for evaluating teacher practice,” with a half-dozen specific programs suggested. Teacher training will be required to familiarize them with the new rules.

And there will be plenty of those, including specific numbers and duration of classroom evaluations for different levels of teachers, and processes for those evaluations.

One part of the planned evaluations left out of the pilot will be that of school principals. The guidelines said that a similar program will be tried in subsequent years, but the state wanted to start with teachers.

“We have much to learn from the pilot process and believe we are best served by taking it one step at a time,” read the guidelines. “Principals in teacher evaluation pilot districts will play an active role in providing feedback for the new system.”

“This will help them better understand and inform teacher evaluations, the results of which will form a large part of principal evaluations in the future.”