Movement to Delay New School Standards, Testing Gains Support

John Mooney | February 11, 2014 | Education
Legislators, education groups find common ground in talk of delaying at least some parts of Common Core

As New Jersey gets ready to implement new school standards and testing, some state legislators and education advocates are saying “Not so fast!”

The state Assembly’s education committee yesterday held a hearing on the new Common Core State Standards and the related testing – and heard repeated concerns expressed by representatives of school organizations, education advocates and others about the pace of the changes being pressed on schools by the state.

The new standards-led testing, adopted here and in nearly 20 other states, will start in New Jersey in 2015.

Those testifying included representative of many of the state’s largest school organizations, including the New Jersey Education Association and the New Jersey School Boards Association. Few opposed the Common Core standards outright, but they said districts need sufficient time and resources to fully adopt them.

Wendell Steinhauer, president of the NJEA, arrived with a 3-inch-thick binder of information for each committee member. He stressed that the teachers union supports the Common Core, but he said the state is pushing the new standards without needed support and sufficient funding.

“Without proper implementation, it will be of no value to students,” he said. “It is like buying a high-end luxury car, and having no gas in the tank.”

Steinhauer said school districts need money to pay for everything from teacher training to new technology needed for the required online testing.

“Everyone says the word resources, but I will say it plainly – districts need money, they need cash,” he said.

The message appeared to resonate with most of the committee members, both Democrats and Republicans.

“I think there is a consensus that we want to look at delaying the implementation,” said state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, (D-Middlesex), the committee’s chairman, as he brought the meeting to a close. “I think we want to get this right.”

What happens next is unclear. Bills are already filed that would create a task force to look at the impact of the new standards and testing, with implementation delayed until the committee completes its review. But that legislation has yet to even be heard in committee, let alone being put to a full vote.

“I’m sure there is going to be a lot of legislation proposed,” Diegnan said after the meeting. “What I hoped for today is to hear where we’re at, and we learned a lot.”

The hastily called hearing sought to be a forum for the various groups to air mounting concerns about implementation of the new standards and especially the new testing, which will not only gauge how much students have learned but will also be used in measuring teacher performance under the state’s new evaluation guidelines.

Officials from the state Department of Education did not testify, and there was some confusion to whether they were informed of the hearing beforehand. Others were not shy about their opinions, however.

“We need time, we need resources, and we need additional support for teachers and school leaders to fully understand the Common Core,” said Patricia Wright, director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

Steinhauer, the NJEA president, said the state has already softened the impact of the new testing as a graduation exam for students, which won’t go into effect for five years.

“If it’s no harm to the students, why not the same for teachers?” said Steinhauer afterward.

“I think the department has the capacity to slow things down,” he said. “We have to implement, but maybe don’t have to implement the whole thing.”