Assembly Votes to Put Brakes on Impact of Common Core and New Student Testing

Measure would set up task force, could delay the consequences of new standards and associated tests by as much as two years

Credit: Amanda Brown
Assembly Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex and Morris).
A bill to slow the impact of the new Common Core State Standards and accompanying student testing won big — and bipartisan — approval from the state Assembly this week.

Now the question is: What happens next?

The measure won a 72-4 victory in the lower chamber on Monday, with two abstentions.

Led by state Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) and a dozen other prime sponsors, the bill would create a task force to review the impact of the new Common Core standards and the accompanying Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing.

Most importantly, it would delay the use of the new tests to measure schools and teachers until the task force’s review was complete. The bill doesn’t put a precise time frame on the review, but it could be up to two years.

While the Assembly’s vote was by far the furthest the state legislature has moved on such a measure since the state adopted the new standards in 2010 and committed to the PARCC testing, it is unclear how much farther it will proceed.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) last week filed a companion bill in the Senate and has voiced some optimism about its prospects. But so far, the Senate education committee has only posted the bill for discussion — not for vote.

The discussion is slated for the committee’s next meeting on Thursday.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) yesterday said she is pursuing other paths to what could be similar end, including changes in state regulations that would not require legislative approval. Ruiz has also posted a second bill for discussion Thursday that would create a separate task force to review the state’s growing testing regimen, although without the teeth of the Van Drew bill to delay the consequences of that testing.

Van Drew yesterday said he would also support Ruiz’s second bill and hoped that the discussion on his bill on Thursday would move the issue ahead.

“I know the Senator has some concerns, and I am open-minded on this,” he said. “I know (the bill) has some problems, but I will say this has gone further than I ever expected. When I started, I was a lone wolf on this.”

School associations and advocates are watching the late-session jockeying closely, with the chief lobbyist for the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, saying she would support any move — be it legislation or regulation — that would slow the implementation of the new testing and its use in evaluating teachers.

“I don’t see anything in this bill that the department can’t accomplish on its own through regulation,” said Ginger Gold Schnitzer, the NJEA’s director of government relations. “But it hasn’t happened yet.”

Discussing the bill on Thursday, she said, “may allow for a little more time to see if people can work together on this.”

Schnitzer said she would be amenable to delaying Common Core and PARCC through regulation, as well as legislation. “”We are pushing both paths,” she said.

Jasey last night said she had hoped that Ruiz would put the bill up for full vote, since the committee hearing may be the last of the session before summer.

“I’m disappointed she is not putting it up for vote out of committee, especially in light” of yesterday’s victory in the Assembly.

“I had expected to pass with bipartisan support, but certainly not that overwhelming,” Jasey said of the vote. “It reflects the anxiety level across the state.”

She also cited rising pressures outside the state as well, including a recent statement from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — one of the early backers of the new standards and testing nationwide — to hold off on using the new tests for evaluating teachers.

The Christie administration, led by acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe, has stood by the existing timeline so far, and said that changing the rules now could imperil the state’s federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act.

Hespe has specifically said he would also like to wait and see the early results of the new PARCC exams — which this spring underwent field-testing in more than 1,000 districts — and the new statewide teacher evaluation system before judging the impact.