New panel will study effectiveness of student assessments

Burlington County Community College president David C. Hespe (left) and Gov. Christie observe a physics lesson. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Burlington County Community College president David C. Hespe (left) and Gov. Christie observe a physics lesson. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 16, 2014

A new commission will study the effectiveness of student assessments, and the weight given to new standardized tests in teacher evaluations will be temporarily reduced, under a compromise announced Monday by the Christie administration.

An executive order signed Monday by Gov. Christie calls for creation of a nine-member study commission, appointed by him, that will present recommendations on student assessments used in New Jersey and the Common Core curriculum standards.

This coming school year, new standardized tests, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Career (PARCC) exams, which are aligned with the Common Core standards, will be rolled out statewide.

As part of the compromise, acting Education Commissioner David Hespe announced that for the next two years, the weight of the new tests in teacher evaluations will be reduced.

For teachers who teach math and language arts in grades four through eight - about 20 percent of all teachers - student growth calculated by test results will count for 10 percent of the teachers' evaluations in the 2014-15 school year and 20 percent the following year.

Last school year, that data made up 30 percent of those teachers' evaluations.

Legislation that passed the Assembly and is likely to clear the Senate called for a two-year moratorium on using the new tests in teacher evaluations or for student or school accountability. For the Class of 2019, the high school PARCC is scheduled to become a graduation requirement.

Other states also are looking at slowing down the effects of new standardized tests linked to Common Core. New York, for one, recently agreed on a moratorium.

New Jersey's bill called for a task force that would look at alternatives to standardized tests.

"I'm back to half a loaf is better than no loaf," said State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D., Cape May), a cosponsor of the bill, noting that Christie had threatened to veto the legislation.

"It's a move in the right direction," Van Drew said.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, had supported the legislation, but spokesman Steve Wollmer said the compromise at least slows down a process for which districts were not uniformly ready.

"It was a train wreck waiting to happen, so we're slowing down the train," Wollmer said. "It's very good news."

The compromise, however, will not be good news to parents and others who oppose standardized tests, particularly high-stakes exams, and who wanted the state to abandon or at least move away from relying on them.

"This is a partial win. The bill would have been much, much better," said Julia Sass Rubin, a leader of the pro-public school Save Our Schools New Jersey.

Her group held that the PARCCs were untested locally and needed to be studied before using them to judge teachers, students, or schools.

While the compromise lessens the possible impact on teachers, she said, the new tests still will affect them. And the compromise doesn't delay using the tests to evaluate students or schools, she said.

"The punishing impacts of PARCC will kick in immediately," she said.

She also found the duties of the study commission as described in the order vague.

The executive order states that study commission is supposed send an initial report with recommendations to the governor no later than Dec. 31 and its issue its final report by July 31, 2015.


rgiordano@phillynews.com

856-779-3893 @ritagiordano

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