Agenda: State Board of Education

John Mooney | April 2, 2013 | Education
The board will work through some controversial code, especially concerning teacher evaluations and special ed

Date: Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Time: 10 a.m.

Place: New Jersey Department of Education, 1st floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton

What they are doing: The Christie administration’s overhaul of school administrative code and regulations continues, with the board deliberating on a host of proposed rules. Among them are controversial ones, such as the code for teacher evaluations, and ones that have gotten far less attention, such as for student transportation and facilities. The board will also hold public hearings on at least eight of the proposed chapters.

Teacher code: The teacher evaluation code has spurred the most interest, dictating the specifics of the evaluation systems required for districts next fall under the new teacher tenure law, known as TEACHNJ. The most controversial part has been the formula for measuring student achievement, with the administration proposing that up to 35 percent be derived from state test scores for teachers whose students take the state exams.

A change: The administration has said it would amend the proposal to limit the use of state test scores to 35 percent, at least in the first year. The current proposal technically would have allowed another 15 percent — or up to 50 percent total — of a teacher’s rating to be derived from test results under separate “student growth objectives” (SGO). The amendment would clarify that the results could not be used to create SGOs for those teachers who already have 35 percent of their ratings based on state test scores.

Is that enough? The use of test scores in general continues to generate criticism that the administration is counting on them too much. The main author of the new tenure law, state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) has been among those raising “severe concerns” about the administration’s plans to move ahead at the full 35 percent in the first year.

PARCC and School Performance Report update: State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf will focus his report to the board on updates to several big initiatives. One is the ongoing development of the new nationally developed PARCC online exams that will be replacing the state’s tests in the next several years. Cerf will also talk about the state’s new School Performance Reports, which are meant to replace the long-running School Report Cards with new and different data and comparisons. But the new reports are already running behind the usual February or March release of Report Cards, and have drawn their own concerns from districts and even legislators about errors in the data and confusion about the comparisons.

Special education tweak? The special education code being proposed by the administration has drawn complaints, especially from parent advocates, that it relaxes the requirements on districts when setting services for students with disabilities. One issue that concerns advocates is a change they say will loosen the rules on who can serve as a child’s case manager. But the board’s president, Arcelio Aponte, said he expects the administration to address that concern with stricter language that would limit case managers to qualified staff.

One topic not on the agenda: The state board is ultimately the final arbiter on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed takeover of Camden schools, announced last week. But for the time being, the matter is being addressed by an administrative law judge, which enables the district to appeal. Aponte said board members would likely hold off any public discussion until that issue is resolved. “We haven’t been presented any language yet, so we are not involved,” said the board president. “We probably need to stay distant until the process has taken its course.”

Crowded list of hearings: The board in the afternoon will hear form the public on more than a half-dozen code proposals, including about teacher evaluation. The others on the docket for public hearing are proposed code for adult education, student transportation, bilingual education, and career and technical education.