Unwanted changes to teacher evaluations imposed Aug. 31

On Aug. 31, as teachers and administrators were busy getting ready for the new school year, a memo was sent by the state Department of Education to inform a seemingly abrupt change to teacher evaluations. Since New Jersey switched to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers in 2014, the weight associated with median student growth percentile was reduced to 10 percent. This weight, used to assess teachers based on PARCC scores, has now been tripled.

Those affected by the increase are mSGP educators – those who teach grades four through eight in language arts and grades four through seven in math, which make up for approximately 15 percent of the state’s public school teachers.

Evaluation component weights for mSGP teachers will be 30 percent mSGP, 15 percent Student Growth Objective and 55 percent teacher practice, which is determined by observations often using a standard rubric. Non-mSGP teachers’ weights will also be 15 percent SGO but 85 percent teacher practice.

“And keep in mind that the department established the 30 percent weight on mSGP, in part, on the Measures of Effective Teaching research study that showed a balanced educator evaluation system has between 30-50 percent of the components be from student growth on assessments,” said David Saenz Jr., press secretary for the NJDOE.

The state DOE memo explained the evaluation weights had been set at 30 percent prior to PARCC implementation and were reduced to allow students and educators to “get acclimated.” Members of the DOE felt schools had successfully transitioned to the new assessments.

Board of Education President Andrea Spalla argued otherwise.

On the evening before the first day of school, Spalla spoke on behalf of the board and on behalf of Princeton teachers and administrators in defiance of this unexpected adjustment to how the educators of the district are going to be assessed.

“As teachers and principals joyfully, nervously prepare for their students and their shared work, the state Department of Education delivered what can only be described as the regulatory version of a suckerpunch to the gut,” she said. “The reasons given for this sudden, arbitrary change were based on false claims about the timeliness and usefulness of the PARCC exam data.”

Spalla feels there is no connection to the fabric of how one teaches in a dynamic and interactive classroom – how that teacher influences or inspires or helps their students – to how those students do on a standardized test, particularly one that remains in its initial phase of administering. She believes the state’s choice to “triple down” on the use of PARCC scores in teacher evaluations will only be crippling to classroom time, to teachers and to students.

Spalla brought up the recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Acts – the federal law that encourages states to adopt more flexible measures of student achievement and school success and to place less emphasis on standardized testing.

“In this way, the NJDOE is out of step with the direction of the entire country, as well as the majority of public school communities that it is supposed to guide and serve,” Spalla said.

Spalla, alongside Superintendent Steve Cochrane, has begun corresponding with neighboring district school boards and superintendents as well as with the Princeton Regional Education Association teachers’ union presidents to examine next steps about the “issue” at hand.

“On this, as on so many other issues, the interests of this board and our employees are fully, 100 percent aligned,” Spalla said. “As we always do in the face of senseless, arbitrary mandates out of Trenton, we turn to each other, to our work and to our shared aspirations for our community’s children.”

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida