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2-6-13 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Independent Report: Teachers Remain Skeptical About New Evaluation System….Study also raises concerns about deadlines and reliability, but lead author finds reasons to be optimistic

The Record -Study: Many N.J. teachers wary of new evaluations

NJ Spotlight -School Superintendents Try Once More to Overturn Cap on Pay...Petition to NJ Supreme Court asserts governor’s action overstepped his authority

NJ Spotlight - Independent Report: Teachers Remain Skeptical About New Evaluation System….Study also raises concerns about deadlines and reliability, but lead author finds reasons to be optimistic

By John Mooney, February 6, 2013 in Education|1 Comment

With less than nine months and counting, New Jersey’s rollout of a statewide teacher evaluation system is moving ahead, but the deadlines are tight, reliability remains an issue -- and the system has yet to win the confidence of the teachers it's intended to evaluate.

Related Links

Rutgers: New Jersey Teacher Evaluation, Year 1 Report

Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee Internal Report

That was the bottom line of a sweeping report by a team of Rutgers researchers that is following the early implementation of the system.

According to the state’s new tenure law, every district must have a revamped evaluation system in place by next school year.

The cautions and caveats of the report were tempered by the fact that the study was only looking at the first 10 pilot districts in their first year (2011-2012). Another 20 districts are in a second-year pilot that will be reported on this summer.

The report also did not delve into a central piece of the new process: the use of student achievement scores as a significant part of the evaluation.

Still, there were some sobering findings. For instance, just one-third of the teachers in the first-year pilot thought the system accurately measured their classroom performance.

The approval rate was twice as high among administrators.

Researchers also said that time was in short supply -- both to train educators and to complete the evaluations. And there also were questions about the consistency of the evaluations and their statistical reliability, the researchers said.

Still, the chief author yesterday said the study of the first-year pilots gave him reason to be optimistic about statewide implementation -- albeit with the reservations spelled out in the report.

“It’s a challenge, but people are working hard at it, and making some real progress,” said William Firestone, the researcher with Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education hired by the state Department of Education to do the external review.

The Christie administration celebrated the report, putting out a press release that called it -- along with an internal study prepared by the Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee -- a “positive” review.

“While we never expected the first year of the pilot to be perfect, we are motivated by the finding that educators are having more meaningful conversations than ever before about effective teaching, which of course is the first step to helping continuously improve student outcomes,” said state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf in the press release.

Nevertheless, how much the report will influence the state’s fall rollout remains to be determined. The education department has already taken several steps to address local challenges, adding some flexibility as to when and how districts need to have the systems in place.

But other questions about the reliability of the evaluations have gotten less public attention, as is true for the lukewarm reception from the teachers themselves.

The state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, has been working closely with the department, seeking to influence the development of the program. Union officials are meeting again this week, and its team leader said that the teacher reaction reported by the Rutgers study was reason for pause.

“Teachers are honest in saying these evaluations do not always reflect what is actually happening in their classrooms,” said Rosemary Knab, an associate director of research with the NJEA. “There seems a very strong disconnect between the teachers and the administrators on this.”

The next big step will come next month, with the introduction of the new state regulations about teacher evaluation and tenure reform. Student performance measure are also scheduled for rollout.

The department so far has not divulged any of its plans. It did say yesterday that it remained on track to have the new systems in place for next fall, but it added that it's willing to make adjustments as necessary.

“As districts launch their evaluation systems in the fall, the Department will continue to gather feedback, analyze research, and engage practitioners in a cycle of continuous improvement,” read the state’s announcement.

“Lessons learned from all districts across the state will inform future plans," it continued, "including new or modified proposed regulations as needed.”


NJSpotlight (http://s.tt/1zr1E)

 

The Record -Study: Many N.J. teachers wary of new evaluations

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 Last updated: Tuesday February 5, 2013, 5:15 PM

Associated Press

TRENTON — School administrators in New Jersey districts that tested a new ways to evaluate teachers are bullish on the changes, but teachers remain skeptical, according to a report from Rutgers University.

The state Education Department released the results Tuesday from a study it commissioned on the changes. It also released a second study of the same districts from an advisory committee.

In a statement, Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said there are good signs and lessons from the reports, particularly that participating schools developed a culture where teachers and administrators wanted to improve.

"While we never expected the first year of the pilot to be perfect, we are motivated by the finding that educators are having more meaningful conversations than ever before about effective teaching, which of course is the first step to helping continuously improve student outcomes," he said.

But the reports, which looked at 10 districts where new evaluation methods were tested in the 2011-12 school year, also found some complications.

In the tests, teachers were subjected to formal evaluations two or three times per year and informal evaluations twice per year.

The Rutgers study found that 74 percent of administrators in the test districts felt the new evaluations gave accurate assessments of teachers. But just 32 percent of teachers felt the same way.

There were also gaps in perceptions between teachers and administrators about whether the new efforts offered meaningful feedback or had positive impacts on their own, their colleagues' or their school's professional development.

In a memo to school districts, the Education Department said administrators may be more confident in the new methods because they have more training in them.

Teachers also said the new structure increased bureaucracy. Both administrators and teachers said administrators spent far more time on evaluating teachers — something that was expected. But in some cases, the Rutgers study found, that came to the detriment of administrators' time to deal with school discipline.

How teachers should be evaluated has become one of the key issues in efforts to improve the state's schools. In the past, most New Jersey public school teachers we essentially given pass or fail marks based on limited classroom observations. Most teachers passed.

But starting next year, districts across the state will use a more thorough system and it will have higher stakes: Teachers who do poorly may be denied, or stripped of tenure protections. The more controversial part of the change has been the other part of evaluating teachers: using standardized test scores and other measures of student progress.

 

NJ Spotlight -School Superintendents Try Once More to Overturn Cap on Pay

Petition to NJ Supreme Court asserts governor’s action overstepped his authority

By John Mooney, February 6, 2013 in Education|1 Comment

Into its third year and no less controversial, the Christie administration’s cap on school superintendent salaries is getting one final legal challenge before the state Supreme Court.

Related Links

Another Cap from Christie, This One on Superintendents’ Salaries

School Superintendents Petition to NJ Supreme Court

State Opposition to School Superindents’ Petition to NJ Supreme Court

The New Jersey Association of School Administrators and two of the superintendents who first contested the 2011 cap have petitioned the high court to hear their argument that the administration overstepped its bounds.

The appeal’s odds for success are long, after several court rejections of this and various other challenges, including an appellate court defeat last fall.

But with Christie signaling he has no plans to amend the cap and the Legislature mostly silent on the measure, the main plaintiff said it is worth one more shot.

“On the court side, it has been fairly disappointing,” said James O’Neill, the former superintendent of Chatham schools who first brought the case.

“I know it’s tough to even get a hearing and even tougher to get them to overturn a lower court,” said O’Neill, now the interim superintendent in West Orange. “But I thought it was worthwhile for me and also the younger people who are left with this.”

Announced by Christie in late 2010, the caps set what were among the nation’s toughest limits on local school administrator salaries.

Under the new regulations effective in early 2011, new superintendent contracts were limited to set amounts depending on the size of the district, topping out at $175,000 – Christie’s own salary -- for districts with at least 6,000 students. The very largest districts over 10,000 students could exceed the cap with a specific waiver from the commissioner.

The measures – enacted without needing legislative or state Board of Education approval – has turned the superintendent profession on its head in New Jersey.

More than half of all districts have seen superintendent turnover in the last two years with retirements or transfers, with experts and the administrators themselves saying the salary limits were a big contributing factor. More than a dozen superintendents left for jobs in New York and Pennsylvania, where there are no such caps.

Meanwhile, the NJASA and O’Neill were among those contesting the legality of the measure, with their legal argument focusing on the education commissioner’s authority to set salaries that are by statute the dominion of the local Board of Education.

In nearly every case, the courts said the state had wide statutory authority under previous law.

“In this case the Commissioner has done what the Legislature directed -- promulgate a regulation setting standards for contract review that will reduce excessive administrative expenditures,” wrote appellate Judge Jane Grail in October.

The NJASA and O’Neill, along with the third petitioner, Long Hill Superintendent Renee Rovtar, contended that the appellate court’s ruling was in error and actually counter to precedents set by both the education department and the Legislature.

“In making this determination, the Appellate Division relied not on the legislative history (which expresses no intent to cap salaries) but the commissioner’s own statements when the regulations were initially proposed,” read the petition.

The state Attorney General’s office argued it differently, saying the appellate court’s ruling was based on “well-established” principles of statute and code.

“The court soundly reasoned that the commissioner made an adjustment – the salary caps – that conformed to the Legislature’s express direction to focus on per-pupil administrative costs,” the state’s brief read.

The Supreme Court is expected to take several months to decide whether to hear the case.

O’Neill said yesterday that his case and that of Rovtar both involved the administration retroactively cutting their salaries after their contracts had been carried over and before the new regulations were put in place.

But the state still had final approval, and in O’Neill’s case, his salary was cut from just over $200,000 a year to the cap of $165,000 for the Chatham district. O’Neill subsequently retired, but went on to serve as interim superintendent in Roxbury and then West Orange.

Ironically, O’Neill noted that with his pension, he’s actually now paid more than he was before.


NJSpotlight (http://s.tt/1zr1V)

 


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