State To Provide First Round of Student Test Performance Data

John Mooney | February 3, 2014 | Education
Ultimately to be used in teacher evaluations, initial data is only intended to give educators and districts a first look

teacher and apple
Debated and discussed for more than two years, the student test measures for New Jersey teachers are about to get their first practice run.

The state Department of Education tomorrow will provide districts with the median “student growth percentiles” (SGPs) for about 20,000 educators who teach language arts and math in Grades 4-8, the grades in which data is available from state tests. The cohort works out to roughly a fifth of all teachers.

The median SGP indicates how a teacher’s typical student progressed from one year to the next on the state’s standardized tests, compared to other students with similar achievement levels across the state. The rating runs from the first to the 99th percentile, with the 50th considered average and within the “effective” range for teacher evaluations.

This year and going forward, the data for each teacher will be confidential, with the state’s tenure reform law explicitly stating that the individual ratings are not public.

State officials have stressed that this first-year data will have no affect on teacher evaluations, since it applies to 2012-2013 test scores. Ratings for the current year will rely on test scores from this spring’s exams.

That said, the numbers have garnered a great deal of interest. They represent the first look teachers and their districts are getting at the measurements that were the chief topic of debate of the new tenure law, which created the statewide evaluation system.

The law’s sponsors and the Christie administration contended that student test performance was a critical component, while the teachers unions and others pressed to downplay its importance. The law ultimately read that evaluation will not be a “predominant factor” in a teacher’s evaluation, but under state regulations, it will nonetheless serve as 30 percent of the rating for effective teachers.

State officials will provide information to the press today about how the information will be rolled out, but others were quick to offer caveats — or outright criticisms — about reading too much into the numbers and how they’re used.

“It is . . . imperative that everyone — especially principals and teachers — understand that the data to be released in no way can or should be used to inform any teacher’s evaluation in 2013-2014,” said Michel Cohan, director of professional development for the New Jersey Education Association.

“We have concerns that no matter how clear the communications are from either the NJDOE or NJEA, there will be some folks who will miss the message and use this data inappropriately.”

And the NJEA continues to criticize using SGPs as a measure of teacher or school performance.

Among the chief criticisms has been that the SGP, like test scores as a whole, is more predicated on socio-economic status of the students than the performance of the schools or individual teachers.

Cohan said yesterday that he hopes the first run of the scores will also prompt districts and their teachers to be extra vigilant of the data submitted to the state. The SGPs are based on student rosters filed for every course and teacher.

“This will be an important step for each teacher to take going forward. There may be students who should not be on the class list for the SGP calculation due to attendance issues, or who are inadvertently included on the list for the wrong teacher,” Cohan said.

He said ultimately the new ratings will hopefully show that teachers are “effective,” and such findings will “help to lessen some of the concern among practitioners in the field.”

“Since we have no idea what the data will show, the jury is still out on whether this will be an outcome of this effort,” Cohan said.