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12-2-13 Costs of Teacher Evaluations...Dyslexia Bill Moving with Amendments...Universal Enrollment in Newark with Charters included...Common Core Tech Capacity at Issue
The Record - Teacher ratings can strain New Jersey school districts

Star Ledger - Newark's big play on charter schools: Moran … "The doomsday scenario is that the students in greatest need are stuck in the most struggling schools"

NJ Spotlight - Bill Requiring Schools to Screen for Dyslexia Finally Makes Headway…Amendments address concerns about costs and scope of testing for reading-related disorders

The Montclair Times - In Montclair: Common Core testing a matter of bandwidth…’ Montclair School District administrators are analyzing whether the district's server can support the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers [PARCC], online, standardized testing for the Common Core curriculum set to begin in the next school year…’

The Record - Teacher ratings can strain New Jersey school districts

Saturday, November 30, 2013    BY  LESLIE BRODY

New Jersey’s law requiring districts to start new teacher evaluations this year has become a bonanza for the firms that are helping schools comply.

Many districts have spent tens of thousands of dollars on new online tools for collecting data on teachers’ goals and techniques in the classroom, and training staff members how to use them. Many superintendents are grumbling that on top of the enormous investment of time required to conduct more frequent and in-depth evaluations, these bills are an unfair financial burden imposed by the state.

Ridgewood, for example, has spent $40,000 for a new data system and extensive training on how to use it. Fair Lawn has spent $33,000 so far. And Glen Rock and Hawthorne have paid $25,000.

One four-school district in Ocean County took its complaints further last week, alerting lawmakers and superintendents across the state that its Board of Education had passed a resolution asking Governor Christie to pay it $206,540.61 annually for complying with the new rules — and to compensate all districts for their extra costs as well.

When state leaders “come up with these great ideas, I don’t think they realize there is a dollar value” to them, said Laura Venter, school business administrator in Berkeley. She said the district had to hire two additional supervisors just to handle evaluations. In a small district, she added, “we don’t have as much wiggle room.”

These new expenses represent mere fractions of multimillion-dollar budgets. But superintendents say every penny counts when they are laboring under a 2 percent cap on tax levy increases and facing mounting costs for technology, insurance and special education. Many applaud the goal of giving teachers more stringent evaluations but express frustration at the price and complexity of the state’s mandates. The new state rules typically require at least three annual observations of each tenured teacher, up from one before.

Some argue that such micromanagement is unnecessary in schools that are already demonstrating high achievement.

“I would have allowed local schools to have greater control over this process,” said Patrick Fletcher, superintendent of River Dell Regional and president of the Bergen County Association of School Administrators.

“My opinion is we didn’t have to go to this length to improve, at this cost,” added Fletcher, whose district provides middle school and high school education for River Edge and Oradell.

As part of the tenure-reform law passed last year, the Christie administration overhauled evaluations in hopes of boosting the quality of instruction, rewarding the best teachers and removing the worst. Mike Yaple, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, disputed superintendents’ claims that the new evaluations imposed unfair expenses. He said that state aid could be used to pay for some professional development and that buying data tools was a choice, not an obligation.

Different options

Indeed, some district leaders have chosen software available free online, or used Excel spreadsheets to crunch numbers tied to evaluations. But many superintendents say the state’s requirements are so intricate they need to buy high-tech help.

Each teacher has to be rated on a scale of 1 (ineffective) to 4 (highly effective) after observations of his classroom techniques, and another rating of 1 to 4 on how well his students meet certain academic goals. Further, teachers of Grades 4 through 8 in math and language arts will get a state-made rating of 1 to 4 on how well students progress on standardized tests.

These elements carry different weights. A state memo says that a fifth-grade math teacher, for example, who gets 2.60 in observations, a 2.75 in helping her students meet academic targets, and a 3 in test score gains would end up with a final grade of 2.74. She would be deemed “effective” — because the cutoff for earning that rating is 2.65.

Aside from soothing some teachers who bristle at being tagged by a number, administrators have to compile an array of calculations — and prepare observers to give fair, consistent reviews. And vendors approved by the state have jumped to promote their products as the best for doing so.

A firm called Teachscape, for example, quickly developed contracts with many districts; on top of start-up fees, it charges $45 a teacher annually for tracking evaluation data. Teachscape, a well-established, San Francisco-based company with contracts across the nation, is the only firm licensed to provide software tied to an evaluation method designed by Charlotte Danielson, a Princeton-based consultant. About 58 percent of New Jersey’s roughly 600 districts are using her evaluation tools.

With Teachscape on a laptop, an administrator can type in a wide range of details reflecting whether a teacher uses techniques believed to help students, including greeting them by name and telling them a lesson’s goal at the start of the class. An observer can also check off signs of students’ engagement — are they raising their hands to answer questions or snoozing with their heads on their desks? Is the teacher asking sophisticated questions to provoke analytical thinking?

The fees for data tools can mount up. Englewood, for example, spent $79,000 last year on training staff on the evaluation guidelines, and expects to spend $47,000 annually on Teachscape, which also provides online webinars and instructional videos.

“Everything is a lot but you are trying to really shift mind-sets,” said Rosemary Seitel, supervisor of educational technology for Englewood schools. “It’s not a gotcha; it’s about deepening the conversation about learning.”

Teachscape spokeswoman Lory Pilchik said many schools clamored for help to keep up with fast-changing rules. She said Teachscape “has always been in the business of improving teacher effectiveness.”

Another firm, Stronge & Associates — developed by a professor at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. — charges districts $24 a teacher annually for its data tool, on top of a $3,000 setup fee and initial training starting at $3,000 a day. Stronge’s firm quickly signed up 76 New Jersey districts for teacher evaluations and 40 districts for evaluations of principals.

Tight budgets

Patricia Raupers, superintendent in Waldwick, refused to spend money on this mandate after a rough year that required cutting 8 percent from every line in her budget, eliminating middle-school sports and canceling health benefits for aides. She picked a free evaluation tool from a consultant named Kim Marshall, whose rubric was chosen by many Bergen County districts.

“We were already cutting $400,000” from the budget, Raupers said. “I wasn’t going to spend a dime” on an evaluation tool or training.

Some superintendents say the new rules consume so much time that some administrators can’t do much else. Each observation needs a pre- and post-conference with the teacher, and a write-up. Now principals “are not out in hallways, mingling with students,” said Michael Polizzi, superintendent in New Milford. “They’re sequestered a great deal of the time, which is not healthy for the overall culture of the school.”

Educators wonder whether the evaluations will substantially change ratings. Among the districts in a two-year pilot project testing new evaluations, most teachers got good news. The state found that only 3 percent of teachers were deemed “ineffective.” Meanwhile, 25 percent were “partially effective,” 66 percent were “effective,” and 7 percent were “highly effective.”

Some teachers express optimism that this heightened focus will lead to better instruction.

Robert Byrne, an eighth-grade science teacher in Maywood, said the increased attention has led teachers to reflect more carefully on their craft. “It’s great,” he said. “It’s putting people on their toes.”

Email: brody@northjersey.com
Twitter: @lesliebrody



Star Ledger - Newark's big play on charter schools: Moran … "The doomsday scenario is that the students in greatest need are stuck in the most struggling schools"

By Tom Moran,  Follow on Twitter on December 01, 2013

Cami Anderson, the superintendent of Newark schools, has taken enormous heat for nurturing the growth of charter schools, which now educate roughly 1 in 4 kids in the city.

She’s helped them raise money. She’s made space for them in district schools. She’s been heckled at public meetings for defending them.

But now she is worried, because some of the charter schools are not taking their fair share of students facing special hurdles, including extreme poverty or learning disabilities.

That rigs the game against the district. It means the toughest cases are concentrated in district schools, a segregation that makes it even tougher to get good results. And because the charters are growing so fast, the problem can no longer be ignored.

“The doomsday scenario is that the students in greatest need are stuck in the most struggling schools,” she says. “If you only have students who are struggling, it makes it harder. Diversity is critical.”

Her answer? The district itself is taking over the assignment of students to charter schools and will put its thumb on the scale to make sure they take on more tough cases.

For the first time, Newark families will get a menu of school options, with charter and district schools in the mix. They will rank their choices, and the district will make assignments. The days when parents had to run around town chasing rumors and joining lotteries are coming to an end.

This is a vintage Anderson move. A veteran of New York City’s charter wars, she is the sort of woman who seems always ready to bang her head into a brick wall to get her way
The new system might not even be legal. The state’s charter school law goes to great length to guarantee open admissions and lotteries at charters, a move intended to make sure their doors are open to all. The only preference the law explicitly allows when filling vacancies is to favor siblings of enrolled students.

Anderson is going well beyond that, considering poverty, special needs and English proficiency — as well as geographic proximity.

“There is some gray there,” she concedes. “But my feeling is there is a consensus on what the intent of the law was.”

But wouldn’t it be better if the state law were amended to explicitly permit this?
“Ideally, yes,” she concedes.

So far, though, the launch is going well. About 20 percent of the charters have told her to back off, with 80 percent agreeing to play.


Ryan Hill, who runs the TEAM Academy’s six charters in Newark, is considered a hero by many in the movement. His schools are showing remarkable results, and he takes his fair share of tough cases. The North Star Academy, which runs nine schools, is in the same class.

“We basically bombard the poorest neighborhoods with as much information about our schools as possible,” he says.

His staffers bring fliers to grocery stores and barber shops. They target mailers to low-income homes with kids and follow up with phone calls. They let families sign up any way they want — in person, online, by phone, by fax, by email. Parents are not required to attend a lottery or stand in line. Even a busy parent — or a dysfunctional one — can handle it.

“That’s why our population is what it is,” Hill says.

On the other end of the spectrum is the most famous charter of them all, the Robert Treat Academy. A K-8 school, it is producing the highest scores in the city and beating many suburban schools as well.

But it’s precisely the kind of school that worries Anderson: Just 52 percent of its kids qualify for free lunches, compared with 84 percent in district schools. Only 3 percent are in special education programs, compared with 16 percent in district schools. The same pattern holds for English proficiency.

So the game is rigged.

“The easiest way to get high outcomes is to get students who can generate those numbers for you,” says Bruce Baker, a professor at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education. “That’s true for charters, and it’s true for district magnet schools.”


Robert Treat is refusing to join Anderson’s new system, and so it will again pick its own students next year.

“We are seen as the bad guys if we don’t buy into this,” says Wilfredo Caraballo, a board member and former state assemblyman. “We have a system that has produced some pretty good results.”

The school is indeed an inspiration. Students wear uniforms, stay late every day and attend classes on Saturdays. And unlike many charter schools, Robert Treat has low turnover. Families get in and they stay put, with one sibling following another.

As for the mission of finding the toughest kids to educate, Robert Treat officials point to the second school they opened in the Central Ward, a poorer area than the North Ward, where the founding school sits.

They can’t get answers to simple questions, such as how vacancies that occur during the year will be filled. And they simply don’t trust the competence of the school district.

“It (the district) is not an organization with any record of success,” says Robert Treat board member James Caulfield, a former suburban superintendent.

Newark will have a new mayor next year, and that makes the school’s officials nervous, too. The leading candidate, Councilman Ras Baraka, has been mostly hostile to the charter school movement. What if he is elected and the state finally surrenders control of the school system to the city? Why would Robert Treat risk its success by committing to this partnership now?

“We get attacked all the time,” Caraballo says. “And now we’re being asked to go back into the system?”

A final concern: Federal aid to charter schools might be lost if Newark gives some students preference in admissions.

“We are absolutely in favor of this policy,” says Carlos Perez, president of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association. “But we feel somewhat torn.”


In 2008, traditional district schools educated 95 percent of Newark children. That’s down to 78 percent now, and Anderson expects it to drop to 60 percent within three years. It seems inevitable that charters will eventually educate the majority of Newark kids.

This is why Anderson is in a rush. She fears that if admissions to charter schools remain a free-for-all, with each charter recruiting its own students, her doomsday scenario will become reality. The toughest kids will be concentrated in district schools, creating a new hurdle for the students.

It would be perverse indeed if the charter movement had that effect. Most of the people running these schools are driven by the desire to bring new opportunity to urban kids trapped in failing districts. That’s why most swallowed their hesitations and signed up for Anderson’s new system.

“The bottom line is this is about equity,” she says. “Those without time, without a car and without the ability to push back in the face of bureaucracy, they tend not to exercise choice.”

For next year, their choices will be listed on a single menu and placed on every kitchen table. Most charters will get a new crop of students with a healthy mix of challenges.

Robert Treat will only watch for now. And that means its success will come with a caveat. It is winning the race. But part of the reason is that it gave itself a head start.

Tom Moran may be reached at tmoran@starledger.com or (973) 392-5728.


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NJ Spotlight - Bill Requiring Schools to Screen for Dyslexia Finally Makes Headway…Amendments address concerns about costs and scope of testing for reading-related disorders

John Mooney | December 2, 2013


Once considered a long shot for passage, a bill that would require screening of young children for dyslexia and other reading-related disorders seems to be gathering momentum in the Legislature.

The bill was part of a package of a half-dozen proposals spearheaded by a group of parents seeking to raise awareness of dyslexia and to make schools do more to address the disorder.

Most of those proposals ultimately passed the Legislature and were signed by Gov. Chris Christie, including bills requiring training of teachers and specific identification of dyslexia in regulations and law.

But the capstone of the legislative package -- the screening bill -- was separated from the others and was always seen as the toughest one to pass, since it demanded the most of schools and would likely come with significant costs.

But the bill made significant progress two weeks ago with a unanimous endorsement by the Assembly’s appropriations committee and it may be headed to the full Assembly for a vote later this month. It has already passed the Senate once, but would likely need another vote on amendments.

The bill has gone through some significant changes to address concerns raised over costs and logistics. In its original form, the bill would have required screening of all students by the end of kindergarten for reading disorders.

The bill has since amended several times, moving back the deadline for screening to the middle of second grade and, most recently, limiting the screening to children who show other identifiable signs of difficulty with reading. The bill would also require “evidence-based” interventions for those found to have such disorders.

“Is it the bill we always dreamed of, no,” said Liz Barnes, a member of Decoding Dyslexia NJ, an advocacy group, who testified before the Assembly committee. “But it has promise and it is definitely better than the nothing we have now.”

Barnes said she was encouraged that the revamped bill may be heading to a final vote.

The fact the committee didn’t have any issues with it (as amended) makes me hopeful,” she said.

The bill has drawn concerns from some school organizations, especially when it initially called for screening of all students. The potential cost and time required for such universal screening were the major stumbling blocks.

A fiscal analysis of the bill by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services initially put the potential costs at $1.8 million statewide for the screenings alone, but it said the latest amendments would bring down the price significantly.

“By limiting the required screening to students who have exhibited potential indicators of dyslexia or other reading disabilities, the amendments reduce the number of students who are required to be screened, and may reduce both the number of students required to receive an assessment and, ultimately, evidence-based intervention strategies that address the disability,” read the OLS’ final analysis.

A spokesman for the Assembly majority said no decision has been made yet on whether to post the bill at the Assembly’s next voting session on Dec. 19.

On the Senate side, its prime sponsor, state Sen. Jeff van Drew (D-Cape May), said he was also was hopeful the bill could pass within the next month. Its Assembly sponsor, state Assemblyman Nelson Albano (D-Cape May), was not reelected to the Assembly, so this would be his last chance to see the bill pass while still in office.

“We’re going to push for it, and I think it is a real possibility,” Van Drew said last week.

Van Drew said the cost issue is probably the biggest challenge to passage, and he would be willing to amend his Senate bill to address it.

“If there is some amending to do, I’d be open to it,” he said. “I’m not sure there is a huge cost issue, but if we could show there would be testing without those costs, I’d be open to it.”

The Montclair Times - In Montclair: Common Core testing a matter of bandwidth…’ Montclair School District administrators are analyzing whether the district's server can support the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers [PARCC], online, standardized testing for the Common Core curriculum set to begin in the next school year…’

Andrew Segedin, Nov 25 2013

Montclair School District administrators are analyzing whether the district's server can support the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers [PARCC], online, standardized testing for the Common Core curriculum set to begin in the next school year.

A "very ballpark estimate" of 5,000 Montclair public school students are expected to take the assessment, according to Brian Fleischer, chief operating officer for the school district.

New Jersey School Board Association Deputy Executive Director Frank Belluscio III told The Montclair Times via email that, based on a survey consisting of 400 school districts, 20 percent of respondents say that they do not have the hardware to implement the assessment while 22 percent are unsure.

The survey also reveals that 19.2 percent of respondents do not believe they had sufficient bandwidth, with 16.1 percent unsure. In the survey, 10.8 percent indicate that their districts do not have appropriate server capacity, with 26.5 percent unsure.

In an email to The Times, Montclair Superintendent of Schools Penny MacCormack stated that she and the district were investigating Montclair's standing and potential technological needs as they pertain to testing.  "We had a Technology Audit completed this month which allows us to know the particulars regarding bandwidth, etc. we will need to be prepared for PARCC assessments," MacCormack wrote. "We are looking into how to best leverage these testing needs with effective technology for learning."

Fleischer told The Times yesterday, Wednesday, that the results from the audit have come in and that he and MacCormack are in the process of reviewing the findings.

Though the township and district have separate information technology personnel, the two share a common server. "I think we're in decent shape," Fleischer said of Montclair's capability to support the Common Core testing. "Just because we share bandwidth with the township, we will probably want to increase bandwidth to be perfectly safe. I do think we will probably make some investments, [but] I don't think we're in bad shape regarding bandwidth."

As he and MacCormack are in the midst of reviewing the audit, Fleischer said that it would not yet be appropriate to confirm whether or not investments will be made and to what extent.

Alan Benezra, the district's technology administrator, told The Times on Monday that he felt comfortable with where Montclair was in terms of bandwidth as it pertains to supporting the assessments. Benezra, however, added that it would not be until after the audit is reviewed that the district would be able to know whether it can support the server's other needs during testing.

Benezra said that he would like for the district to participate in a "dress rehearsal" prior to the assessments as to test the server and make modifications as needed, noting that it would go a long way toward preventing any assessment-day issues.  In the unforeseen event of outages or other last-minute concerns occurring, Benezra described technology staff oversight during the assessment test-taking as a "necessity."

State aid

Belluscio stated that NJSBA has hosted webinars and special programs to aid districts as they prepare for testing.  Alongside NJEdge, a nonprofit technology consortium, NJSBA has created a program to enable school districts to secure server virtualization services at reduced rates, according to Belluscio.

In an email to The Times, spokesperson Richard Vespucci of the New Jersey Department of Education stated that the NJDOE is in the process of managing its PARCC outreach and education initiatives with school districts.

Aside from common outreach and support, the NJDOE will be launching NJTRAx, an interactive database system designed to better facilitate districts in assessing their technological readiness and needs.

The NJDOE has also hired 13 consultants to its Office of Education Technology in an effort to increase outreach and planning assistance, according to Vespucci. Outreach is scheduled to begin on Dec. 2. Beginning on Dec. 9, the department will also host the first of three regional technical assistance sessions.

The sessions will be held as follows: Dec. 9 at Clearview Regional High School in Mullica Hill, Dec. 11 at Passaic County Technical Institute in Wayne and Dec. 16 at NJ Forensic Science Technology Center in Hamilton.


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