Concerns Loom Over Evaluation Pilots in New Jersey

A New Jersey teacher and principal evaluation system that initially was piloted in the 2011–2012 school year has expanded to include additional teachers and principals through 2013, and will expand to include all state school districts in 2014.

Based on recommendations released in a March 2011 report from the New Jersey Educator Effectiveness Task Force established by Gov. Chris Christie, the new evaluation system claims to provide meaningful, actionable feedback to educators and district leaders as they strive to help all students succeed.

The 2012–2013 expansions included 12 new districts and 14 principal evaluation districts, designed to help teachers and principals become more effective.

Many educators remain highly skeptical.

“There is a general concern among educators that the evaluations are not being conducted fairly,” AFSA Regional Vice President and President of the New Jersey State Federation of School Administrators, Dr. Leonard Pugliese said. “Now that [evaluations] can lead to expedited tenure charges, the stakes become much higher.”

Christie’s task force began by recommending an evaluation system based on measures of teacher effectiveness broken down into two categories: student achievement and teacher practice. Each category is weighted 50 percent, but 70 to 90 percent of the student achievement portion is based on student improvement on state standardized tests.

Emphasis on Standardized Tests

“The evaluations differ from previous evaluations because they add student achievement in as part of the assessment process,” Pugliese said. “There is still a large emphasis on standardized tests.”

In a September 1, 2011 Huffington Post article, Associate Director of Research and Economic Services for the New Jersey Education Association Rosemary Knab, Ph.D., said the new evaluation program still places too heavy an emphasis on standardized tests, and said “these tests were never meant to be used in this way.”

In the same Huffington Post article, Manchester Township (N.J.) Board of Education President Donald Webster Jr. described the tests as “poorly designed” and that “They neither provide districts with a true picture of where our students stand academically nor do they give us information as to where they are deficient.”

In the end, this is only a pilot program meant for revisions. Teachers and administrators will have the opportunity to work together to critique and develop this evaluation system to better fit their needs.

“Both boards of education and educator groups have many questions regarding the implementation of the new law,” Pugliese said. “As with any new and radical change in the law, many of the critical questions will be answered along the way.”