Vote on N.J. school bill delayed, compromise sought

Posted: July 11, 2014

The New Jersey Senate is delaying a vote on a bill that would slow down use of a new standardized test to judge teachers' performance, as well as those of students and schools, one of the law's sponsors said Wednesday.

The hope is to reach a compromise that would contain some of the key aspects of the bill, a companion version of which overwhelmingly passed the Assembly, said cosponsor Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D., Cape May).

"There seems to be some positive, productive discussions between the governor's staff, Senate staff, and the NJEA," he said, referring to the New Jersey Education Association. "That's why we're holding off."

The Senate was poised to vote Thursday on the bill, but since the Christie administration had indicated the legislation would be vetoed, a compromise seemed the most likely way to achieve some of the bill's supporters' goals, Van Drew said.

"If he goes with an absolute veto, we have zero," he said.

The bill would create a task force to study the implementation and impacts of the Common Core State Standards and the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams. It would postpone for two years using results of the new test, which is slated to be rolled out statewide this school year, in teacher evaluations or student or school accountability.

Among possible compromise components being discussed, according to Van Drew, are some kind of task force or study effort, as well lessening the weight given to PARCC results in teacher evaluations, at least temporarily.

As of this past school year, teachers whose students took the state standardized tests in math and language arts had 30 percent of their evaluations based on student growth percentiles calculated from test results, 15 percent on more goal-oriented growth objectives, and 55 percent on classroom observation and practice assessment.

Van Drew said he also wants the impact on students to be limited until the curriculum and tests can be studied and evaluated.

The NJEA has come out in support of the bill. In the in-progress compromise, NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer said the union wants to at least limit the impact of test results on teacher evaluations.

Another key issue to the union, he said, is forming a study group or committee that would include teachers and administrators - "the people working on this on a daily basis."

On Wednesday, a bipartisan coalition of grassroots groups from around the state put out a statement calling on Christie to support the legislation.

"This coalition is calling on the governor to honor the will of the people by signing this bipartisan and very popular legislation, following its passage by the Senate," said Carolee Adams, president of the conservative Eagle Forum.

"While we support authentic assessments which inform education," said Susan Cauldwell, a leader of pro-public education Save Our Schools New Jersey, "we do not believe that our students, our teachers, or our public schools should be evaluated on the basis of standardized tests, particularly the PARCC test, which is experimental and unproven."

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