Changes in Much-Debated Teacher-Evaluation Policy Being Put Into Practice

State board to review new regulations implement scaled-back use of student testing results

teacher and apple
The nitty-gritty of any political decree is in the administrative code that follows it.

Gov. Chris Christie’s move last month to relax some of the strictures of the new teacher-evaluation system is taking some twists as policy is turned into practice.

Today, the State Board of Education will review teacher-evaluation regulations that implement Christie’s compromise plan to reduce the use of new online testing next year to measure teacher performance.

Under pressure from advocates and the Democrat-led Legislature, Christie announced he would pull back on the use of student test scores from the new PARCC testing to no more than 10 percent of certain teachers’ evaluations next year and 20 percent the year after.

The new regulations presented today will codify the change through specific procedural steps. The code itself doesn’t set the precise percentage levels, but instead will widen the window for how much the state says that school districts may take into account student performance in teacher ratings.

Currently, the range is 40 to 50 percent, but the proposal will lower that to 30 percent. That will allow the administration, as announced, to reduce the use of student test scores to 10 percent next year and the use of other “student growth objectives” to 20 percent.

In addition, the administration will extend the deadline for the state to set the percentages each year until Aug. 31, eliminating the current April deadline. That will permit the change for next year, as announced.

The code proposal also details a new appeals process for the just-concluded 2013-14 school year. Teachers can appeal if their SGOs placed them in a “partially effective” or “ineffective” category.

Administration officials concede that the SGOs process has seen its bumps in the first year, with many complaints that the objectives are being imposed on teachers and that the process has been less collaborative than envisioned.

“While I think overall, we did quite well, there were some pockets in the state where it was not implemented in the most accurate manner,” said Peter Shulman, the state’s assistant commissioner and chief talent officer.

Shulman is slated to give a presentation to the state board on the SGO process today.

The added wrinkle in the new code is that the Christie administration has thrown in an appeal provision for school administrators, too. They will be allowed to contest their own ratings and the use of similarly determined “administrative goals” in their evaluations.

Under the proposed code, principals and other supervisors who were rated as below satisfactory due to a failure to meet those goals this past year will be able to appeal and contest the findings.

All of these appeals steps will only apply to the 2013-14 school year, and will not extend to future years.

Shulman said yesterday that the changes represent a further fine-tuning of the teacher-evaluation system, which he noted from the start was an evolving process. Another set of less consequential changes in the teacher-effectiveness code is already winding itself through the State Board of Education.

He said the state is also about to embark on a study of two-dozen districts’ implementation of the new system to determine its strengths and weaknesses. The districts have yet to be selected, but he said the report will be a “deeper dive” that looks at both anecdotal and survey feedback as well as data and other empirical evidence.

The first report will be released in the fall, he said, and a second report will be issued next spring once final evaluations are completed.

“Since I’ve got here, I’ve preached the model of continuous improvement,” Shulman said. “We’re continuing to learn, we’re continuing to refine, and we’re continuing to improve.”