Repollet Looks to Ease Back on Key Gauge of Teacher Accountability

Education commissioner wants to reduce weighting of student growth objectives from 25% to 15%
State Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet

Eight years after New Jersey’s landmark teacher tenure reforms were enacted, the Murphy administration is moving to further scale back some of their strictest measures of accountability. State Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet yesterday presented to the state Board of Education a series of revisions to the 2012 law’s administrative code, including a reduction of the weight assigned to quantitative measures of teacher performance.

Specifically, the proposal calls for reducing the amount that so-called student growth objectives contribute to a teacher’s overall evaluation to just 15%. The measures, known as SGOs, are annual targets agreed upon by teachers and their supervisors that reflect academic gains separate from standardized test scores. SGOs are currently 25% of a teacher’s final grade.

Repollet had already reduced the weighting of standardized scores for applicable teachers to just 5% of the overall rating, down from a high of 30% when the law was enacted.

Return to tradition?

The state board yesterday moved the administration’s proposal forward, but it led to a spirited discussion about the value of an evaluation system that will rely increasingly on a supervisor’s traditional — and more subjective — observations of teacher practice.

The 2012 law, pushed for and signed by former Gov. Chris Christie, was intended to break the practice of automatically granting teachers lifetime tenure after three years, moving instead to more incremental and quantitative measures of teacher performance. Christie initially had even pressed for student test scores to contribute to more than half of a teacher’s evaluation, although he ultimately compromised and reduced that weighting in the final law.

Yesterday, most of the pushback came from one of Christie’s appointments to the board, Vice President Andrew Mulvihill, who was leading the meeting in the absence of President Kathy Goldenberg.

Mulvihill pressed Repollet’s staff about why it was not increasing the quantitative measures for teachers, rather reducing them. He added that the board was apprised only of the changes this week, and now was being told it needed to move ahead or the previous rules would expire.

“Holding teachers accountable for student achievement and using testing, whether state level or developed locally, is a very good measure,” he said. “We already dropped the use of standardized tests, and now we’d have even less accountability.”

Not enough time

Others on the board did not wholly agree with Mulvihill, but some did concur that the state board should have more time to weigh the proposal. “It would be interesting if we could get a compilation of all the hard-and-fast research,” said member Ronald Butcher.

Assistant commissioner Linda Eno, in presenting the changes, said that the department was only trying to align the use of SGOs across all teachers. She added that recent research has shown the use of test scores and other quantitative measures in teacher evaluations have not necessarily been a good driver of student achievement.

“The recent research shows that we do not produce the kind of impact on student achievement we had hoped for by tying to educator evaluation,” she said, citing a 2018 study by the Rand Corp. of three large school systems.

Eno said the greater impact comes instead from conversations between teachers and supervisors about school curriculum and student growth, including the hard data on performance but not exclusively so.

“The research is not convincing that tying that (data) to teacher evaluations improves student outcomes,” she reiterated.

Not attending the meeting was the architect of the tenure reform law, state Sen. Teresa Ruiz. In an interview with NJ Spotlight last night, she sounded none too pleased at the changes but also stressed she was withholding judgment until she could review them further.

Ruiz, chair of the Senate’s education committee, said she was not apprised of the proposal and was worried it had been presented at the last minute. She also added a worry that the strictest accountability in her law was being chipped away.

“It does a disservice to the (teaching) profession,” Ruiz said. “I don’t know why we want to strip away the key measures of their work.”