New Jersey Lawmakers Reconsider Testing’s Role on Evaluations

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The New Jersey Assembly Education Committee approved a bill this week that would remove student standardized test results from having any bearing on how teachers and administrators are evaluated.

Susan Livio, writing for Advance Digital-New Jersey, said the continued overemphasis on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC), which is the state’s standardized assessment, is the reason for the bill. The testing pertained to only 15% of educators, teachers, and principals in New Jersey and accounted for 10% of those teachers’ evaluations until this year.

In August, Deputy Education Commissioner Peter Schulman declared that the results of the test would affect 30% of an educator’s rating.

“Using test scores to evaluate teachers puts pressure on teachers to teach to the test, which takes away from invaluable classroom instruction and learning,” said Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), one of the bill’s sponsors. “If the end goal is to ensure teachers are indeed reaching their students, then let’s use measures that will give us a more accurate glimpse of who is doing a good job, and who is lacking.”

The state’s historic tenure reform law was put into action during the 2013-2014 academic year, and that is when students’ test performance was added to the formula for some teachers’ evaluations.

In 2014-2015, the importance of student test scores was decreased from 30% to 10%, which is also when New Jersey changed over to PARCC. During the second year of administering the PARCC, students across the state improved on almost every exam. But the majority of pupils in grades 4-8 still did not meet grade level goals.

The state’s largest teachers union with 200,000 members, the New Jersey Education Association, testified for the A4122 bill.

The changes in tenure for educators is one of Gov. Chris Christie’s pet legislative achievements, according to Michael Symons, reporting for WKXW Radio, so he may be reluctant to sign the bill. And some legislators who seem to want to keep the test scores as part of teachers’ assessment might consider putting new limitations on their importance where evaluations are concerned.

Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D-Bergen), the sponsor of the bill, said in the three years that PARCC has been administered, there has not been a year without problems. She adds that she has no confidence that the standardized tests do a good job of evaluating a child’s performance.

Assemblyman Robert Auth (R-Bergen) said he thought the bill was “a wholesale sellout” for children who attend underperforming schools.

The Department of Education was given authority by the tenure law to decide on the percentage of weight the test scores would have on teacher evaluations, as long as it was not the largest factor.

But the PARCC test is only an issue for those teachers who teach math or language arts in grades 4 to 8.

“We feel this evaluation pits tested teachers against non-tested teachers and doesn’t set up a good dynamic,” said Melanie Schulz, director of government relations for the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.

This different treatment is a path that may dissuade educators to teach in grades and subject areas that are tested. There is also the question of fairness. Why should some teachers have evaluations that are based to some degree on standardized testing, and others do not?

Newsworks’ Phil Gregory writes that New Jersey Education Association Vice President Marie Blistan says standardized tests are not able to account for the realities of life and the issues that affect student learning inside and outside the classroom.

Supporters of the bill say teachers should be evaluated through energetic rating systems that are not connected to standardized tests.