UNION COUNTY, NJ — There has been considerable debate over how New Jersey teachers would do in the first round of assessments using the new evaluation system, but when everything was tallied, 97 percent were rated effective or better.
Four years ago teacher evaluations in New Jersey, and across the country, were extremely inconsistent. Although that inconsistency resulted in over 99 percent of educators getting a pass on their effectiveness, that evaluation system is a thing of the past as of the 2013-14 school year.
While the 97 percent receiving an effective or better rating with the new AchieveNJ evaluation was significant in the eyes of the New Jersey Department of Education, there were 2,900 teachers, or 2.3 percent, rated partially effective or ineffective, which is considered substandard by the state.
Earlier this month the DOE released the Final Educator Evaluation Report for the 2013-14 school year using new guidelines under AchieveNJ. They saw the new rating system as “a significant step forward” in improving the statewide educator evaluation system.
Education Commissioner David Hespe applauded local district leaders who helped to successfully launch the new evaluations, but did not address the issue of educators who failed to make the grade.
“AchieveNJ was very purposefully designed by educators to ensure that those impacted by these policies and activities are the ones leading in each district,” Hespe said.
With the new evaluation system now in place, the report noted, New Jersey teachers are no longer subject to a single-measure evaluation that fails to differentiate between strengths and weaknesses.
According to DOE Assistant Commissioner Peter Shulman, teachers are now being evaluated through multiple measures offering considerably more detailed and individualized information.
Shulman, though, did mention the 2,900 teachers identified in need of additional support, pointing out that these teachers affected approximately 13 percent of all New Jersey students, or 180,000.
While this showed a change from the 2012-13 school year when only 0.8 percent of teachers were given unsatisfactory ratings, state officials did warn that one year of new data using the AchieveNJ evaluations was not enough to make conclusions using one broad stroke.
In prior years teachers were simply rated satisfactory or unsatisfactory, which could be based on as little as one observation by an administrator. That evaluation system was frowned upon by the DOE, and revamped by TEACHNJ, which called for at least three observations for new teachers, consideration of student academic growth on local and state testing, or decline on annual standardized tests.
The report indicated 85 percent of teacher evaluations were weighed 85 percent on administrator observation and 15 percent on student growth and testing.
The other 15 percent had their scores based on 55 percent observation, 30 percent on student improvement and testing scores and 15 percent student growth.
Information in the DOE report came directly from 113,126 teachers and 4,058 school leaders, who said most educators “met or exceeded the expectations of their supervisors.”
“Overall,” Shulman said in the report, “the vast majority of teachers in New Jersey earned high ratings, while nearly three-quarters were rated effective by their supervisors and almost a quarter were rated highly effective.”
Broken down this came to 23.4 percent of teachers rated as “highly effective,” the highest of the four categories; 73.9 percent “effective,” or the second highest rating and the minimum needed to retain tenure; 2.5 percent “partially effective,” the second lowest rating, which can place a teacher in peril of tenure charges; and 0.2 percent, or the approximately 200 teachers statewide rated “ineffective.”
The report, though, did not mention in which school districts these 200 teachers taught or if the districts involved would be notified of these poor evaluations.
Shulman did stress the intent of the program was not to “punish” teachers, but rather improve their instruction techniques.
The report also cautioned that ratings could vary widely from district to district and although this was rumored to be a big factor, student test scores had little impact on the overall evaluation process.
Despite that close to 3 percent of teachers were found to be partially effective or ineffective, the DOE said they are making significant progress in addressing that issue compared to any previous teacher evaluation methods in the past.
The report also commended teachers, school leaders, superintendents and school board members for their commitment to this endeavor, but did not ignore the need for improvement.
“Although this year represents a big step in the right direction, there is much room for improvement,” the report noted, mentioning more specifically there are districts focused more on only the achievable rather than more ambitious goals.
“Throughout the 2013-14 school year, we worked with districts to better understand implementation challenges and to grant flexibility,” the DOE report noted.
For example, the report said, when DOE managers visited schools to answer questions and provide guidance, the department utilized two key mechanisms for broader support – waivers and regulation updates.
Although during the past year educators voiced concerns about the transition from NJASK to PARCC testing as ultimately impacting their evaluations, the DOE said AchieveNJ was designed to handle transitions across different types of assessments, including the controversial PARCC testing.
The DOE said they fully intend to continue to listen to any input school districts may have to improve teacher evaluations and provide continuing education and guidance, which they have been doing all along.
Since the spring of 2013, the report noted, departmental staff members have participated in hundreds of presentations and workshops, reaching over 350 school districts and 25,000 educators. This summer, for instance, the DOE intends to offer other programs to address educator’s greatest concerns.
“We must move forward with our work under this new system to make good teachers great,” said Essex County State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, chairwoman of the education committee, regarding the DOE report. But, not everyone was as happy with hearing 2,900 of their own were targeted as substandard in their teaching.
The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s dominant teacher union, applauded the high ratings, but also questioned the methodology for teachers who did not do as well.
“NJEA will vigorously represent any member who believes his or her evaluation is flawed or inaccurate,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer, but did add that given the challenges teachers, administrators and districts faced in the first year of AchieveNJ evaluations, he felt the result were “exceptional.”
“This evaluation system is tremendously complex and we will work to ensure it is not misused to target or punish teachers unfairly,” said Steinhauer.
In the recent past Steinhauer has pointed out that parents, students and educators were very troubled about the impact PARCC testing might have on teacher evaluations. He called for a moratorium on using the results of this new online testing in teacher evaluations for three years and while this bill already was approved by the assembly, it is now in the hands of the senate education committee for their approval.
At one point PARCC testing was supposed to account for 30 percent of teacher evaluations but the NJEA negotiated a compromise with the governor to reduce this number.
Last week Steinhauer testified before the New Jersey DOE about the Common Core State Standards and PARCC, pointing out NJEA supports Common Core, but that is as far as it goes.
Although Steinhauer agreed he and Gov. Chris Christie share many of the same views, including setting educational standards and measuring student achievement, he also felt they were far apart on the fact the effectiveness of teachers can be judged by the academic performance of students on a test tied to standards he said are not working.
“It is completely illogical and unfair,” said the NJEA president.
If New Jersey needs new standards, Steinhauer said, it needs a new test. He told the DOE it is unfair to students and teachers alike to use a test based on standards the governor says are “simply not working.”
The NJEA has continued to object to the PARCC testing, which they say has no history, no baseline and a “plethora of problems.”
Mark Weber, a researcher, teacher and Rutgers University doctoral student with an education blog, Jersey Jazzman, writes extensively about education reform, and had definite views on the entire teacher evaluation process.
He felt, because of all the variables involved, it was not clearly evident if these 2,900 teachers were “bad” or if the system is now prone to giving false negatives.
“Let’s, however, assume it’s correct. There is still no evidence that ‘not acceptable’ in the old system is equivalent to ‘ineffective or partially effective’ in the new system,” said Weber, who felt that was a problem.
“Think about the term ‘partially effective.’ Yes, you are only doing things right some of the time, but not all of the time. If you were a total screw up, you’d be ‘ineffective,’ and your administrators would either be applying a very intensive intervention or, more likely, showing you the door,” he said.
“Let’s be blunt,” Weber said “this report is really a commercial the NJDOE made for itself, not a serious program evaluation. There are many things we still do not know about AchieveNJ, and I believe the only way to really evaluate the program is to turn the data over to an outside source and let them conduct a proper assessment.”
“Most are probably working outside the tested areas of math and language arts. Many may not even be teachers, but instead student support personnel,” he added, noting that he is “all for requiring remediation for these folks; if that doesn’t take, they should be dismissed.”
Weber feels the notion of hordes of bad teachers roaming the halls of New Jersey schools should not be a primary concern in state education policy, pointing out “we have much larger issues to address.”