In Letter to Hespe, Sweeney and Ruiz Ask for New COmpromise on PARCC

John Mooney | April 28, 2015 | Education
Top Democrats request another year of limiting test results to 10 percent of a teacher’s rating

Senate President Stephen Sweeney
The Senate’s Democratic leadership has been playing it coy about the protests over the state’s new PARCC exams and how they are being used to judge schools and teachers. They haven’t dismissed the opposition outright, but they also haven’t moved on its most important bills.

Yesterday, two of the leading players — Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, the chair of the Senate’s education committee — showed their hand, proposing a compromise to the Christie administration that would slow the use of the tests in teacher evaluations, at least for now.

In a letter to Education Commissioner David Hespe, Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Ruiz (D-Essex) requested that the test results account for 10 percent of an applicable teacher’s rating for another year.

In a compromise struck last year, the administration reduced the weighting of the tests to 10 percent this year and 20 percent next year, from a previously planned 30 percent.

Yesterday, the Democrats asked Hespe to compromise again.

“[Last year’s] decrease showed a good-faith effort to allow schools and teachers to adjust to the new statewide assessment over three years,” Sweeney and Ruiz wrote.

“Today we are asking you, the commissioner, to extend the 10 percent weight to next year as well,” they continued. “We, as Legislators, always want to take a measured approach to policy. Teachers are the most important individuals when it comes to a child’s educational experience, and we must ensure that we are taking a responsible approach.”

[related]Whether Hespe will go along is another question. The same holds for the many critics among legislators and advocates who have called for a far more significant retreat. As part of a four-bill package, the Assembly overwhelmingly approved a bill that would set a three-year moratorium on the use of the tests in both school and teacher accountability.

Up to now, the administration has been steadfast in sticking to its prescribed plan until it can review the results of this year’s completed tests. Yesterday, Hespe’s staff took a conciliatory tone, and indicated it was receptive to the request.

“We would like to thank Senators Sweeney and Ruiz for their leadership on behalf of our children,” said Michael Yaple, Hespe’s chief spokesman, in an email.

“Last year the Department, in cooperation with legislators and education groups, made a commitment to be responsive, and we kept the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation that is based on student performance data low in the opening years of the new assessment.”

“Although we haven’t set the percentage for next year and will not until after we have had discussions with stakeholders, our goal is to continue that level of responsiveness moving forward so educators have a chance to get comfortable with the data.”

The critics may be tougher to appease, including the New Jersey Education Association, the statewide teachers union that has led a multimillion dollar advertising campaign against the tests.

“NJEA appreciates Senator Sweeney’s and Senator Ruiz’s acknowledgment that the stakes for PARCC should not be raised next year,” said NJEA president Wendell Steinhauer in a statement.

“However we still strongly support legislation placing a moratorium on all use of PARCC results for at least two years,” he said. “Parents and educators alike are clearly very troubled by PARCC, and for good reason. We call on the Senate to pass all four bipartisan PARCC bills that have already passed the Assembly by overwhelming margins.”