Teacher Evaluation Rules Will Change Only Slightly Next Year, State Decides

John Mooney | April 9, 2014 | Education
Portion of evaluation that’s based on student test scores will remain at 30 percent for 2014-2015

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With plenty of questions still swirling around this year’s planned launch of the new teacher-evaluation system, the Christie administration has told school districts that little – if anything – will change for next year.

The state Department of Education alerted districts yesterday that the basic components of the system used to determine each teacher’s rating will not change in 2014-15.

The main component of that system has to do with how teachers are rated in relation to student performance, either by test score progress or based on more specific individual assessments known as student growth outcomes (SGOs). This year, teachers whose students take the standardized tests in language arts and math will see 30 percent of their ratings developed off their students’ progress on those scores.

The memo sent to districts yesterday said those different weights will not change for next year, with 30 percent of those evaluations again based on the student test results.

The administration has the option of setting different weights each year, and under its regulations must do so by April 15.

“New Jersey has had two years of pilot programs, we’re seven months into the statewide initiative, we’ve talked to thousands of educators in the field, we’re offering support and guidance to every school district, and we’re making minor adjustments to improve the system,” said Michael Yaple, the department’s spokesman.

“What we’re not doing is making any knee-jerk reactions,” he said. “We have a very thoughtful, deliberative process, and we’re staying the course.”

Still, the decision to stick with the status quo next year comes in the face of questions and concerns about how well the teacher-evaluation system has worked in its first year.

The New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, has cited a number of problems, and the state’s principals association has expressed concerns that the state is not being flexible enough. Several leading legislators have also expressed some concerns about the new evaluations, but actual bills to amend the requirements have been slow in coming.

An added wild card is the state’s big change in its student testing next year, starting with the online PARCC tests in grades 3-11 and expanding the number of teachers who will see test performance become part of their ratings.

“We will have apples and oranges in the assessments to how teachers are doing, and that will be 30 percent of their ratings?” said Steve Wollmer, the NJEA’s communications director. “We’re disappointed in the decision.”

The arrival of a new education commissioner, David Hespe, has also raised the possibility of some changes, but Wollmer said he isn’t holding out much hope on that front.

“It may still happen at some point, but based on this, we’re disappointed,” he said.

The Christie administration has made some adjustments, however, saying it is responding to some of the concerns.

One is the addition of an appeals process – proposed to the State Board of Education last week — that will give teachers an added avenue to contest the procedures followed in their evaluations, although they won’t be able to appeal the ultimate findings.

The administration also released a guide based on “lessons from educators” from districts that it said could be useful in providing examples of best practices.

Assistant Education Commissioner Peter Shulman, in testifying before the board, tried to calm any predictions of turmoil – and more specifically, teachers facing the prospect of being fired across the state — in the first year of evaluations.

“When we come to the conclusion of this year, we will see the overwhelming majority of teachers who are not rated ineffective, the overwhelming majority of teachers who are not in jeopardy of losing their jobs,” he told the board.

‘The more we can move away from (the punitive side) and see this as more about supporting educators, the better off we will be,” he said.