Back in 2012, the overwhelming passage of New Jersey’s new teacher tenure law was, in part, based on the notion that the new system would do a better job of culling out the weakest teachers, helping the struggling ones, and rewarding the strongest educators.
Four years into the law, the latest data released by the Christie administration indicates some progress has been made — while steep challenges remain.
According to the state’s data from the 2015-2016 school year, nearly two-thirds of the state’s 112,000 teachers were found to be “effective” and another third were “highly effective” in the four-tier ratings used in the new system, known as AchieveNJ.
Just 2 percent — or about 2,000 teachers statewide — were rated “ineffective” or “partially effective” by their superiors.
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For instance, a third of the teachers rated below “highly effective” in the first year of the law had improved from one level to another, the report said.
“For example, of teachers with a rating of Effective in 2013-14, nearly one-third improved to Highly Effective over the following two years,” read the summary report, released on Friday.
“With three years of certified evaluation data available at this point, the New Jersey Department of Education is optimistic that New Jersey’s educators are improving their level of instruction,” it concluded.
The law, signed by Gov. Chris Christie and passed unanimously by the Legislature, requires every district to use a standardized evaluation system based on accepted classroom observation practices and some measure of student performance.
Questions and concerns
But the report raised obvious questions and areas of concern, especially about how the system does in addressing the weakest teachers. With 98 percent of teachers found to be effective or better, is the bar high enough?
For instance, according to the state, 165 districts — or roughly a quarter of those statewide — reported no teachers at all in the past three years who were rated below “effective.”
In addition, just 22 tenure charges have been brought against the weakest teachers as determined by the new tenure law, according to the report — almost the same number as before the law was enacted.
Of those districts with all “effective” teachers or better, state officials said that while they weren’t making judgments, it’s possible that an opportunity may have been missed in providing teachers needed support, whether it’s coaching or additional training. The 165 districts serve close to 150,000 students.
“The Department encourages districts to look closely at their own evaluation and scoring systems to determine whether they are fully utilizing AchieveNJ to provide assistance to teachers who need extra support,” the report read.
And while tenure charges have been few, state officials said a third of the teachers rated as “ineffective” or “partially effective” chose to leave the profession before any tenure charges were leveled. And of those who stayed, improvements were made.
“Of those who have remained in the classroom after a Partially Effective first-year rating, 90 percent were rated Effective or better after two more years,” the report read.
“This observable improvement in the practice of struggling teachers is a testament to the hard work of these professionals, and a commitment by their administrators to help them grow.”