Author Archive: A New Jersey Farmer

New York State of Mind

As if what is going on in Texas schools isn’t enough of a warning, New York City will be going ahead and testing its public school students beginning tomorrow on material they haven’t even learned yet. And to make it all nice and neat, teachers will be evaluated based on the scores their students earn.

The New York Times article is here. The operative quote is at the end:

As Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city’s chief academic officer, told parents on Staten Island: “Everyone is in the same boat.”

I think we all know the name of that boat.

The Texas Education Back-Step

A perfect example of why we have to watch other states. Promoted by Rosi.

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

From the state that gave the United States the worst idea in school reform since Joe Clark prowled the halls of East Side High School in Paterson, NJ, Texas, comes this remarkable admission: High stakes testing has taken over the curriculum to the point where the Lone Star State is now rolling back the number of assessments students must take every year. Not only that, the reform that Bush wrought is proving that a laser-like focus on college prep curricula won’t hit every child.

Here’s the story, and here are some stunning facts:

The Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill this month that would reduce the number of exams students must pass to earn a high school diploma to 5, from 15.

Fifteen tests just to pass high school? Let’s talk about out-of-control standardized assessments. Let’s further talk about the Texas requirement that all students take four years of English, science, social studies and math, including an advanced algebra class, because all students must be college-ready and matriculate at an institution of higher learning. Never mind students who are not proficient academic learners or who would benefit from a vocational curriculum. It’s vitally important for all students to get a foundation in the liberal arts, but young people also need exposure to non-academic courses and classes that do not rely on a test.

The Smiths and the Folly of Testing

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

Whenever I read about the foolishness of using standardized tests to evaluate teachers, I am immediately reminded of my own experiences in school, and how even a competent student like me could have done serious damage to otherwise excellent teachers. I understand the danger of generalizing my experience to the larger issue, but I’m sure that I’m not alone, and I know that many teachers face the same issues I have.

Miss Smith was both my algebra and geometry teacher when I was in high school. She was an imposing women who asked great deal from us, and she didn’t tolerate either fools or students who didn’t want to learn mathematics. She was an excellent teacher in every way. The problem is that I learned very little according to the tests I took in class, and if 50% of her yearly evaluation was based on my, and some of my classmates’, performance on a standardized test, then she would have been in real trouble.

But the problem was not hers. The problem was mine. I studied, but algebra was a foreign language and geometry was an alien language. I did my homework. I went after school for help. I just didn’t, and couldn’t, get it. As the school years progressed, I lost some interest in math, which didn’t help my performance in Miss Smith’s class. So if I had to take a year-end test that would in any way tell the administration how effective a teacher Miss Smith was, my score would have impacted her evaluation. And that would be a terrible injustice to her.

Trenton Math: Where 50-50 Isn’t A Tie

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

Good news for responsible educators was difficult to come by yesterday as the New Jersey State Department of Education released a 104 page document that details the new rules for the teacher evaluation system. All of the anti-reformer’s greatest hits are in the new rules including the new guidelines on teacher retention, setting up an evaluation rubric and stating, rather emphatically, that the state sees no employment ramifications from the new rules.

There’s a great deal to digest in these new rules, but the key to it all is how teachers are going to be evaluated, rated and either retained, let go or brought up on tenure charges for not adequately performing their jobs. Those regulations were issued separately by the DOE and are contained in

this memorandum and summarized in this article.

It is here that we learn that a 50-50 split is actually a loaded proposition that is stacked against effective teaching and learning, and assumes that tests can measure how well an educator is doing their job. It is scary, and it’s coming to a school district near you in September.

The Final Teacher Evaluation Rules. Until They Change.

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

When my colleagues and I met with Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf and his staff in January, he alluded to March 6 as the date when the State Board of Education would be issuing its final rules on teacher evaluation. He reminded us that final rules meant that because of public comments the rules could change, but that we could confidently move ahead with our evaluation system based on what they said. If any were changed significantly, he said, we could also alter ours to adapt to the new rules.

That day is just around the corner. Next week, all interested parties are on notice that they can testify before the State BOE on the new rules, and that this will be the final time that the state board will hear comments. They are then set to consider any last minute changes and adopt the final rules in September. If this seems to be a tight time frame, it is. By design. Unless you’re in one of the Pilot I or Pilot II districts, you basically have this spring to work out any kinks in your evaluation plan, test it, get feedback from the faculty and staff, and get ready to fully implement it beginning in September. Curiouser, the state timeline says that all staff must be trained on their chosen system by August 31. So if there are any changes in September…well, that’s not on the agenda next week. But it would be fun to ask about it, yes?

Skeptics On Evaluation? Don’t Doubt Us

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

An independent report of the first year pilot of the state’s teacher evaluation system shows that teachers are skeptical that it measures their effectiveness.

Of course we’re skeptical. Why wouldn’t we be? The task force that recommended this evaluation system had not one NJEA member on it. That didn’t surprise me given the Governor’s antipathy towards effective teachers with a consistent voice behind them, but the consequences of that decision are fairly obvious. If you don’t own it, you don’t feel connected to it. And when you know that the people who do own it don’t respect you or your profession and ridicule you when you speak out and blame you for conducting association business in front of third graders, then skeptical is a rather mild term to describe what you’re really thinking.

What makes this system even  more suspect is that the report shows that twice as many administrators as teachers approved of the evaluations. What’s worse, the report didn’t even discuss using student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. I would surmise that teachers would be even more skeptical of the system if that was included, but only because using test scores is a terrible idea.

Skeptics On Evaluation? Don’t Doubt Us

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

An independent report of the first year pilot of the state’s teacher evaluation system shows that teachers are skeptical that it measures their effectiveness.

Of course we’re skeptical. Why wouldn’t we be? The task force that recommended this evaluation system had not one NJEA member on it. That didn’t surprise me given the Governor’s antipathy towards effective teachers with a consistent voice behind them, but the consequences of that decision are fairly obvious. If you don’t own it, you don’t feel connected to it. And when you know that the people who do own it don’t respect you or your profession and ridicule you when you speak out and blame you for conducting association business in front of third graders, then skeptical is a rather mild term to describe what you’re really thinking.

What makes this system even  more suspect is that the report shows that twice as many administrators as teachers approved of the evaluations. What’s worse, the report didn’t even discuss using student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. I would surmise that teachers would be even more skeptical of the system if that was included, but only because using test scores is a terrible idea.

Skeptics On Evaluation? Don’t Doubt Us

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

An independent report of the first year pilot of the state’s teacher evaluation system shows that teachers are skeptical that it measures their effectiveness.

Of course we’re skeptical. Why wouldn’t we be? The task force that recommended this evaluation system had not one NJEA member on it. That didn’t surprise me given the Governor’s antipathy towards effective teachers with a consistent voice behind them, but the consequences of that decision are fairly obvious. If you don’t own it, you don’t feel connected to it. And when you know that the people who do own it don’t respect you or your profession and ridicule you when you speak out and blame you for conducting association business in front of third graders, then skeptical is a rather mild term to describe what you’re really thinking.

What makes this system even  more suspect is that the report shows that twice as many administrators as teachers approved of the evaluations. What’s worse, the report didn’t even discuss using student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. I would surmise that teachers would be even more skeptical of the system if that was included, but only because using test scores is a terrible idea.

The Teacher Evaluation Traveling Road Show Plays Trenton

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

Bright lights, big city, prime time. Yes, the Teacher Evaluation Traveling Road Show played Trenton on Tuesday, and the reviews are in. Here’s mine.

Halfway through the meeting yesterday that Madison Superintendent Dr. Michael A. Rossi (and four of his Superintendent colleagues), Madison Board of Education President Lisa Ellis, and yours truly had with Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf and three of his Assistant Commissioners, we learned that the DOE “was taken aback” by Dr. Rossi’s letter because, as the Commissioner said, “we really need to come from the same set of facts.”

What became apparent was that the DOE officials believed that Dr. Rossi didn’t have the facts and that, worse, those facts were available and that he must be, well, unfacty.

But then a most curious thing happened. We asked our questions again, and we got answers.  Answers that we hadn’t really heard before. Answers that led to more questions. Answers that underlined the fact that the state hadn’t given us all of the information they could have. Answers that would…wait for it…help us implement an effective evaluation system in our schools.  Score.

For example:

We were concerned about issues surrounding students with IEPs who might need accommodations to successfully take the PARCC tests. The answer is that all 22 states that participate in PARCC will need to follow the same protocols. There will be no deviation by state or district. What’s good for Kentucky is evidently also good for New Jersey. We raised the issue of what happens if the protocols don’t accommodate a particular student’s IEP. Sorry. One size fits all.

Students who have trouble keyboarding will have difficulty with the PARCC tests. According to the DOE, “we see implementation challengers.” I’ll say. There will be draft policies by spring that apply to visually impaired students who might have trouble taking a test on a computer, but that’s all we have to look forward to for guidance in this area.

We also learned that once the PARCC tests are up and running in 2015, they will only be used to measure grades 4 through 8 in Language Arts and Mathematics. That’s it. Therefore, only about 20% of New Jersey teachers will have the evaluation piece covered by PARCC tests. No high school subjects will be PARCC’ed for at least three years.

What does this mean for the rest of the teachers in the district whose evaluations will not be measured by a standardized test? Teachers and administrators are supposed to work together to determine an appropriate student growth measure for any given academic year. Art teachers, for example, can use a student’s portfolio, history teachers can use a pre and post test or document analysis assignments, and mathematics teachers can use a project or series of quizzes as their evaluation piece. In short, any teacher can use any classroom measure to determine student growth. Further, these student growth measures do not have to apply to all of a teacher’s students. A teacher can choose to use a specific cohort of students and measure their growth over a specified period of time, probably September to March so that the data is available for the summative evaluation in May. This is a key piece of a teacher’s yearly evaluation, 50%, and should be designed very carefully.

Evaluating nurses, guidance counselors and other non-teaching employees is “emerging” at this point, which means that there’s nothing formal from the state. Districts are again allowed to have administrators work with their staffs to determine an appropriate growth measure.

As for our technological concerns about PARCC (it doesn’t work with Internet Explorer and Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP), we were told that it’s up to each district to purchase or transition to a platform that will support the test. The DOE did say that starting in February, PARCC will allow a district to input information about their system and PARCC will recommend what levels of technology they’ll need and approximately how much it will cost to implement or upgrade.

Our request for more time to implement and teach the Common Core Standards was rebuffed out of hand because the timelines are a function of the legislation, and the legislature has no plans to alter it. The Common Core is here and we’d better get used to it. I put up a spirited defense and I think I got their attention by noting that testing data is always preferable to starting a live system cold, and that every district should have the opportunity to pilot their evaluation program to work out the problems. Dr. Rossi and I will speak further with one of the Assistant Commissioners about some timing flexibility and I will post updates as I get them.

But we also got some of the same vague answers that have plagued this rollout from the beginning. We were told that the state wouldn’t have the regulations ready until March 6, and that we could use those regulations to finally implement our evaluation system. Unless those regulations change, of course, but Commissioner Cerf assured us that they wouldn’t change all that much between then and September when the State Board of Education is set to adopt them. Unless, of course, they do change. In which case we’ll need to, um, change our system. But otherwise, all systems are go.

The DOE was clearly upset and annoyed by Dr. Rossi’s letter, in large part because they believe that they’ve given the districts enough information to adequately plan for the TEACHNJ law. More than once, one of the assistant commissioners and Cerf himself made the point that this was a 3 year process that began in 2010 and that districts should have started to plan for the changes. Assistant Commissioner Tracey Severns made an interesting, and telling, point when she opined that wealthy districts were the slowest to implement the changes because they didn’t feel the urgency that “A or B” districts did. Wealthy districts were used to high achievement, she said, so they didn’t see the need to rush to make changes. She prefaced her words by saying that she wasn’t casting aspersions on those of us from wealthy districts, but we couldn’t think of any other reason for her to say those things other than as a condescending comment on our tardiness. We did have a representative from a not-so-wealthy district who was also finding it very challenging to implement the law, but that contradiction to Severn’s point didn’t merit a mention.

Commissioner Cerf stuck to the broad outlines of why we needed an evaluation system “with teeth,” and he noted that there were only a handful of tenure charge cases brought in the last ten years as evidence of why we needed a new system, clearly implying that there were far more ineffective teachers in our schools than there were cases. He also mentioned that bringing tenure charges under the old system was prohibitively expensive, but never put together the obvious conclusion: districts had ineffective teachers, but it wasn’t the ineffectiveness that prohibited them from bringing charges, it was the money. Presumably the new, less expensive system will solve that and unfortunately enable districts to bring charges against others who are effective, but are also difficult employees.

These issues aside, we were impressed by the knowledge, commitment and energy the Assistant Commissioners, Bari Erlichson, Chief Performance Officer, and Peter Shulman, Chief Talent Officer, provided us. Erlichson certainly knows how to read and interpret data and Shulman understands the policy’s implications. And he did make me feel better by saying at one point, “This is not about merit pay and firing teachers.” They answered our questions as best they could and understood that we had concerns, even if they did say that we should have aired them two years ago.

So what’s next? Administrators and teachers need to make sure they work together to create a viable evaluation system and make sure it’s implemented in September. Contact the DOE with your district’s concerns. Ask questions. Guess where necessary.  And for heaven’s sakes, learn the facts. Until they change.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Teacher Evaluation: Getting It Right Takes Time

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

The reaction to the Madison letter asking the state to slow down a bit with its new education initiatives has been overwhelming and positive. Clearly, there are many other school districts that believe, as we do, that in order to produce a transparent, valid, seamless evaluation system, we need a full school year to test and assess the program. That would give all districts the opportunity to accurately measure the data they’ve generated and work out the rather substantial obstacles that are both obvious and anticipated.

And since the State Board of Education won’t consider the final version of new state regulations until September 4, 2013 and the  Office of Administrative Law won’t put the final regulations into effect until October 7, 2013, we figure that we have a good case. Look at those dates again and consider; every school district in the state is supposed to have a fully functional evaluation system in place by September 1, but the final rules won’t be approved until October.

Make sense? Read on.