Legislative Efforts to Slow Down PARCC Parked — at Least for Now

John Mooney | July 1, 2014 | Education
With Christie veto almost certain, lawmakers wait to hear governor's compromise solution

Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland)
The legislative campaign to slow the state’s dive into the new online PARCC testing looked like it came to a halt yesterday, with all eyes now on the Christie administration to come up with an alternative.

The state Senate again held off final vote on a bill that would have created a task force to review the potential impact of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and to delay any consequences for teachers in their evaluations for up to two years.

With Gov. Chris Christie almost sure to veto such a bill, legislators said the delayed vote was largely a move to give Christie an opportunity to put forward his promised compromise, likely to be a state regulation or an executive order — or both.

The announcement from the Christie camp may be slowed by the absence of acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe, who is traveling out of the country.

“It is better to get part of a loaf than no loaf at all,” said state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May), the primary sponsor of the bill. “The overall goal here is to have teachers evaluations less reliant on the testing, when we are not sure of the quality and efficiency of the testing, and I think that is what is being discussed.”

Van Drew predicted that the governor would issue an executive order reducing the weight of testing in teacher evaluations. The formula now calls for student progress on state testing to make up 30 percent of an evaluation for teachers of Grades 4 through 8 language arts and math, the only grades and subjects currently tested.

He also did not rule out that the changes could be accomplished through administrative regulation. The state Board of Education, which has authority over department regulations, meets next Wednesday.

“This way at least gets us something significant,” he said of the regulatory path.

Van Drew said the bill still was poised for a vote if the proposals are not satisfactory, saying the Senate could act when meets again in July.

“This has strong support,” he said. “This is one of those unlikely times when you have conservative and liberals — even for different reasons — say there are real issues and problems.”

The bill already passed the Assembly with 72 of 80 votes.

Others involved in the talks said that the back and forth with the administration was ongoing. “The work continues,” said state Sen. Teresa Ruiz,(D-Essex), chair of the Senate education committee.

‘We are working to come up with good policy through the regulatory process,” she said yesterday.

And others also said they were hoping for some alternative paths to a solution. Ginger Gold Schnitzer, chief lobbyist for the New Jersey Education Association, said the aim was to take a hard look at the state’s testing regimens — PARCC and others.

“The most important thing we can do is improve how PARCC and the teacher evaluations are being implemented,” she said last night. “There are lots of different ways to get that done.”

The NJEA backed the van Drew bill, but Schnitzer said she was open to hearing from the administration. “If delaying a vote allows for a solution that is faster and more effective, we need to pursue that,” she said.

She added that one of the most important ingredients would be a well-chosen task force to conduct the review, a piece of the stalled legislation.

Still, not all were satisfied with the pace of the process — or the potential outcome.

Leaders of what has become an unlikely alliance of groups behind the bill held a press conference yesterday to press for a vote. On hand were those from Save Our Schools NJ, a pro-public schools organization, and the Eagle Forum, a conservative group against the new testing and Common Core State Standards as a whole, as well as members of some of the state’s Tea Party groups.

“Our coalition members want a Senate vote and then a decision by the governor as to whether he will sign the bill,” said Julia Sass Rubin, a leader of SOS-NJ.

“We want to be able to hold the legislators and the governor accountable for their actions,” she said. “No more backroom deals!”