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3-14-13 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Teacher Evaluation Plan Gets Mixed Reviews in First Public Forum…Educators raise questions, concerns about heavy emphasis on student test scores

Star Ledger - Newtown, Conn. school superintendent talks security with N.J. administrators

Associated Press-Star Ledger - Privacy advocates blast database with students' personal information

NJ Spotlight - Teacher Evaluation Plan Gets Mixed Reviews in First Public Forum…Educators raise questions, concerns about heavy emphasis on student test scores

By John Mooney, March 14, 2013 in Education|

The Christie administration took its new teacher-evaluation system on the road yesterday -- and the maiden trip left few doubts there are going to be some bumps along the way.

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State Department of Education staffers held the first of a half-dozen public presentations on the new system, this one at Toms River High School North.

Held at the end of the school day, it drew more than 200 people, many of them educators who will be judged under the new system. Many were from the Monmouth and Ocean counties, although some traveled from as far away as Ridgewood and Westfield.

Most of the two-hour session was a tutorial on the detailed process, unveiled last week, that will rate every teacher and principal based on a mix of measures -- including student performance – starting next year.

There were few objections voiced when the new regulations were initially presented to the State Board of Education. But questions and comments from the audience yesterday indicated the plans may get a tougher reaction as they are presented around the state.

At the end of yesterday’s session, there were still plenty of people in the audience with questions, including local union leaders whose members will soon face the new rating system.

The president of the Toms River Education Association – one of the largest locals ion the state, with 3,200 members -- said afterward that she remained worried about the most contentious part of the new process: the use of test scores in judging any of her members.

“How do they come up with these numbers?” said the union leader, Kathy Eagan. “My members don’t know about the test score part, and I think that will kill them.

“What if a kid went through a hurricane like we did, or takes the test after learning his father is sick,” she said. “None of the individual things with kids are taken into consideration, and that’s the problem.”

It’s a familiar refrain, and one the Christie administration is sure to hear again around the state. The use of test scores and a new measure called “student growth percentiles” will be applied to only about one-fifth of teachers, but even that left some teachers uncomfortable.

“Don’t you think that will create competition between teachers who have tested and non-tested kids, and not necessarily the collaboration we want?” asked Pamela Kellett, a science teacher at Neptune Middle School, during the presentation.

The state education officials tried to quell such worries.

“Actually, I think this is a huge opportunity to inspire collaboration in schools,” answered Timothy Matheney, the state’s director of teacher evaluation, who led the presentation. “The hope is a more data-oriented approach to encourage teachers to collaborate and look more at their practice.”

Still, Kellett said she was still worried, as she packed up afterward.

“If tenure is an open door, and you are basing it upon growth and looking at a student as a score and a number, as opposed to the socio-economic conditions they are coming from, you are going to lose a lot of really good, dedicated teachers,” she said.

There were a few revelations in the presentation. For instance, in addition to the use of test scores and SGP, much of the discussion focused on separate achievement measures for each teacher that will be developed by individual teachers and their principals.

Called “student growth objectives” (SGO), they may be locally developed tests or other assessments that determine whether a child or a class has mastered certain skills. For teachers in specialized areas, such as arts and physical education, as well as most teachers in the earliest grades and in high school, the SGOs will be the main measure of their students’ growth.

But state officials conceded this was probably the least defined piece so far, and stressed that they are starting with having the SGOs accounting for a relatively small share of the overall ratings. Under the proposal, SGOs would represent about 15 percent of the final rating, compared to SGPs representing 35 percent of the rating for teachers in tested grades.

“It is possible that percentage will change as this evolves,” Matheney said of SGOs. “But we want to be very careful about weighing that too high at this point… We recognize this is something new to the state.”

Still, others said the evaluation system is being rolled out too quickly, as schools are just starting to grapple with training for the new evaluation system and even the accuracy of class lists is now coming under extra scrutiny, given the stakes.

“We don’t set up classes for accountability purposes,” said one special-education teacher. “I agree with the need to make this all more effective and tighten things up, but we need the time to do this right.”


Star Ledger - Newtown, Conn. school superintendent talks security with N.J. administrators

By Jeanette Rundquist/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger
on March 13, 2013 at 1:00 PM, updated March 13, 2013 at 6:05 PM

EDISON — When she first heard the news from a school bus driver who called her secretary to report a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the superintendent of schools in Newtown, Conn., thought the report couldn't be true.

"I said, 'it's impossible. It must be a domestic dispute in the area," the superintendent, Janet Robinson, recalled today. "I said, 'Call the school and see if it's close, if we need to do a lockdown."

The Newtown educator soon learned the horrific truth: That a gunman had entered the elementary school in her district and killed 20 children and six educators, before killing himself.

Today, nearly three months to the day after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, Robinson addressed more than 200 New Jersey school administrators at the New Jersey Association of School Administrators School Security Conference in Edison.

In her keynote speech, which was closed to the press, she discussed what schools could learn from the tragedy.

"There isn't a lot we could have done differently," she said in a press conference afterward.

Robinson urged school officials to constantly review security — "keep the topic alive" — and she suggested schools "find out what technology can offer" to improve security, and make entrance to buildings more difficult, thus delaying attackers.

But also cautioned against turning schools into "fortresses."

"I think as a reaction, people do overreach. They want too many guarantees, they want to turn our schools into fortresses," she said.

Robinson said a decision on putting armed guards in schools should be made by each community individually.

The Newtown superintendent began her address by showing the names of the 26 victims at her school, according to attendees. Some in the audience said they were moved to tears.

"It was very emotional," said Brielle Elementary School Vice Principal Marci Grabelle.

River Dell Assistant Superintendent Tom Bonfiglio called the tragedy "unimaginable" for a school leader. "It is very, very difficult to try to visualize what she has been going through," he said.

Robinson, who is leaving Newtown in June to become superintendent in Stratford, Conn., said feelings in Newtown are "still really raw." The community has not yet decided whether to reopen the school. Sandy Hook students have attended school in a nearby town since the December tragedy.

"There are people who say "that's our tradition, we should go back," and teachers and parents who say, 'I'll never go back in that building again," she said.

Richard Bozza, executive director of the Association of School Administrators, said New Jersey is already very strong on school security.

Since Newtown, however, many districts have worked to improve security. In Livingston, for example, Superintendent Brad Dreager said the intercom system was changed so any teacher can announce a lock-down in case of emergency.

Today's conference also featured an architect who described ways schools can enhance security. Many are costly, said architect William D. (Ted) Hopkins. Bullet-proof glass costs $300 per square foot; building a second set of doors inside the front door can run between $20-50,000, he said.

The idea is to slow down attack.

"If we can slow down someone entering building, there can be more lives saved," he said.

Associated Press-Star Ledger - Privacy advocates blast database with students' personal information

By The Associated PressThe Associated Press on March 14, 2013 at 7:53 AM, updated March 14, 2013 at 7:56 AM

NEW YORK — Privacy experts are blasting a new national database that compiles personal student information for educational companies that contract with public schools.

The Daily News says New York State officials, working with the city, have already uploaded students' names, addresses, test scores, learning disabilities, attendance and disciplinary records into the inBloom database.

Educational companies can use the data to create teaching tools for students.

State Education Department officials say no data will ever be sold.

The New York Civil Liberties Union blasted the city for failing to disclose the plan to the public or offer parents a chance to opt out.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio protested the move in a letter to city and state officials.

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