by David Levinsky
in the Burlington County Times on Monday, September 19, 2016

New Jersey lawmakers are looking to stop Gov. Chris Christie’s administration from increasing the weight that the controversial PARCC standardized test plays in some teachers’ annual evaluations.

In fact, some legislators are looking to ditch standardized test results from evaluations altogether.

Legislation to eliminate the use of assessments from teacher and principal evaluations was debated for over two hours in the Assembly Education Committee on Monday before the panel voted 8-1 to advance the measure.

Afterward, lawmakers held a news conference with leaders of the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s powerful teachers union, which supports the legislation.

“My belief is that teachers should not be evaluated based on the outcome of any standardized assessment,” Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, D-36th of Ridgefield, said during the news conference.

Caride, who chairs the Education Committee, sponsored the legislation.

She said it was a response to the state Department of Education’s recent announcement that the PARCC exam, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, will count for 30 percent of the evaluations for English teachers in grades four to eight and math teachers in grades four to seven.

Since the PARCC’s launch in 2014-15, the test has counted for 10 percent of those teachers’ evaluations.

“We’re addressing a situation where our own Department of Education felt the need to increase the percentage to 30, which is a significant evaluation of a teacher,” Caride said, adding that about 15 percent of the state’s public school teachers would be impacted.

“While this bill does not in any way remove the need for evaluations of our teachers, it does remove the linkage of the evaluations of those 15 percent from a standardized test,” she said.

Standardized test results have been used for English and math teacher evaluations since the 2013-14 school year. The change was part of the state’s landmark teacher tenure reform law of 2012.

At the time, New Jersey was competing for federal education funding and seeking an exemption from the federal No Child Left Behind law, based in part on its implementing a teacher and principal evaluation program that factors student test scores and improvement.

But education reform legislation signed by President Barack Obama last year ended many of the No Child Left Behind mandates, among them that federal funding would impact teacher evaluations linked to standardized test results.

Caride said her bill merely reflects the change in federal law.

“There are children that just freeze up when they take these tests. I would hate to know a teacher was being evaluated because of my inability to take a test,” she said during the committee hearing.

Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association, applauded the legislation, calling it a “powerful stance on a common-sense issue.”

“Most people don’t realize (federal law) decoupled its obsession with test scores and teacher evaluations. … It’s time we do the same for our school staff,” Steinhauer said.

Not everyone agrees with eliminating standardized test scores from the evaluations altogether. Several lawmakers, advocates and parents testified that they want teachers to be evaluated based on an objective measurement.

“Our greatest concern is this proposed legislation would deny using information available to have a complete picture of teachers,” said Janellen Duffy, executive director of the education reform group JerseyCAN. “(A test score) should not be the only measure, but it should be a factor, as the original law articulated.”

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, also expressed concerns about eliminating test results from the evaluations completely, and he abstained during the vote.

“I think some objective measure is necessary,” Singleton said. “I think the department has gone way too far with the percentage associated with it without consultation from this legislative body.”

Assemblyman David Rible, R-30th of Wall, also expressed concerns, asking why the legislation doesn’t seek to return the weight to 10 percent.

“I’m not a fan of standardized testing. I think to get an evaluation of a teacher we shouldn’t beat up our children’s brains to get it. But is there reason we didn’t go back to 10 percent?” Rible asked.

Caride repeated that federal law no longer encourages tying teacher evaluations to test results.

Other lawmakers on the panel supported eliminating the weight, describing it as unnecessary and unfair to math and English teachers.

“Principals understand what goes on in a school,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo D-28th of Nutley. “It’s not a secret who does a good job.”

Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-39th of Old Tappan, cast the lone no vote, arguing that the legislation was a “wholesale sellout” of students and parents from underperforming schools.

The legislation must still be approved by the full Assembly and Senate in order to be considered by the governor. Christie has said he strongly supports using test scores as part of teacher evaluations.


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