I was a New Jersey school principal and district superintendent for more than 25 years. I estimate that I did more than 2,000 formal teacher observations. The process by which New Jersey teachers are evaluated has changed dramatically in the last several years. However, this process is seriously flawed and occasionally has been politically motivated.
A recent report by the New Teacher Project that examined the performance of thousands of teachers and administrators in 12 districts and four states found that less than 1 percent received an unsatisfactory rating. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sarcastically remarked, “Today in our country 99 percent of our teachers are above average.”
There is a critical need for teacher evaluation systems that distinguish levels of teacher performance. Most important to distinguishing teacher performance is the concept of value added, which is the most controversial educational reform of the past decade, but which also holds the greatest potential to lead to meaningful teacher evaluation. Value-added evaluation usually involves subtracting the achievement gains of a teacher’s students at the beginning of the school year from the scores at the end of the year, then making statistical adjustments for variables outside of the influence of the teacher.
The current New Jersey teacher evaluation system consists of two components for the great majority of teachers: teacher performance as indicated by classroom observations, which accounts for 85 percent of the evaluative score; and Student Growth Objectives (SGOs), which are determined by the teacher and administrator and account for the other 15 percent of the evaluative score.
For the great majority of New Jersey teachers, there is no value-added component whatsoever. For teachers of math in grades 4-7 and language in grades 4-8, there is a third component: Student Growth Percentiles (SGP). The SGP for math and language teachers in these grades represents the only use of value-added in New Jersey teacher evaluation. At the beginning of the current school year, the Murphy administration reduced the percent that SGP counted in the overall evaluative score from 30 percent to 5 percent, from a practical perspective essentially abandoning the use of value-added entirely.
Serious questions for NJ school officials
There are serious questions that New Jersey school officials must address before adopting meaningful value-added reform in teacher evaluation.
First and most important, the value-added information must be valid and reliable. The serious issues surrounding the PARCC assessment must be addressed as soon as possible. (The results of the PARCC assessment generate SGPs.)
Second, assuming that the information is valid and reliable, there is the politically charged question of what to do with meaningful value-added data. This information should not be released to the public as was done in 2010 by the Los Angeles Times, creating great controversy.
Third, utilizing value-added data in a meaningful and multi-faceted evaluative system, while not perfect, will lead to better decision making regarding high stake issues such as the awarding ot tenure.
Fourth and even more challenging, will involve hot-button issues such as teacher seniority, compensation, promotions, and layoffs.
Value-added is not a perfect system of assessment. There is, in fact, no perfect system of assessment. However, the current state of teacher evaluation in New Jersey all but ignores an extremely important tool to distinguish levels of teacher performance.
All stakeholders, including the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Education Association, local school boards, and the public must work together to begin to include value-added assessment as an integral component of a fair, meaningful, and multi-faceted system of evaluating teacher performance.