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3-18-13 Education Issues in the News
Star Ledger - Time spent on standardized tests set to increase in 2014-2015 school year

Star Ledger - Time spent on standardized tests set to increase in 2014-2015 school year

By Jessica Calefati/The Star-LedgerThe Star-LedgerMarch 17, 2013 at 6:19 AM, updated March 17, 2013 at 6:21 AM

Starting next year, New Jersey public school students will spend eight to 10 hours taking standardized tests — an increase of up to four hours per year for each child depending on grade level, according to guidelines released by state education officials earlier this month.

The changes come as New Jersey and nearly two dozen other states prepare to implement a uniform set of new standardized math and language arts tests developed by the Partnership of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Using the new tests will allow states to accurately compare their students’ test scores for the first time.

Though some school superintendents said they’ll be ready when the new tests are rolled out during the 2014-15 school year, others said they had reservations about the extra time it will take to administer the exams, which all students will take online twice a year.

“It will be burdensome to schedule time for all our students to take the tests on a limited number of computers. That’s definitely a con,” said Union Superintendent Patrick Martin.

“But the online tests will also be a more authentic test of student learning, so it’s not really wasted instructional time.”

Currently, students in third through eighth grade spend five to six hours each year taking NJASK, a multiple choice test of students’ math and reading skills. Instead of asking students to select answer a, b, c or d, over and over again, the PARCC tests will ask kids to demonstrate their knowledge of a concept by interacting with the computer, Martin said.


For example, instead of asking students to pick the correct ruler measurement from among four possible answers as they do on NJASK, PARCC math tests will ask students to drag their computer mouse over a specified spot on the digital image of a ruler.

“In the old days, students answered these kinds of questions with pencil and paper,” Martin said. “With multiple choice, you always have a 25 percent chance of guessing the right answer. Not with PARCC. This online format will take away a lot of the guesswork.”

Last week, state Department of Education officials introduced regulations that will govern the teacher tenure reform law Gov. Chris Christie signed last summer, including rules on the role students’ standardized test scores will play in a teacher’s annual evaluation.

Test scores will comprise 35 to 50 percent of fourth- through eighth-grade teachers’ annual evaluations. Classroom observations and other indicators will make up the rest of the rating. Teachers with the lowest ratings on a four-tier scale will lose their tenure and possibly their jobs under the new law, which goes into effect statewide this fall.

Though districts across the state have more than two years to prepare to administer the new PARCC tests online, some towns probably will struggle to afford and install the technology the tests require.

Schools with three tested grades must have at least one computer for every two students in the largest tested grade. Middle schools in South Brunswick, Morristown and Flemington all have grades with more than 350 students, meaning they will need to have at least 175 computers available for testing.

K-8 schools must have at least one device per student for the largest tested grade, according to the guidelines, meaning a K-8 school with an eighth grade class of 500 must have 500 computers and the bandwidth to support 500 online test takers at once.

Paul Pineiro, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and programs in Westfield, said he is not worried about the forthcoming PARCC tests because districts will have flexible, monthlong windows to get all students tested.

“We could get half a grade in for testing in the morning and the other half in the afternoon,” Pineiro said. “You always have a concern about lost instructional time, but this seems manageable.”

 

NJ Spotlight- From Pilot Teacher Evaluation Systems, Words of Encouragement, Warning…At recent forum, educators share experiences, insights about new teacher evaluation systems

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By John Mooney, March 18, 2013 in Education

With every New Jersey school district tasked with having a new teacher evaluation system in place by next fall, the experiences of the handful of districts that have been testing the tools for the past two years are in high demand.

The New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association on Friday hosted a panel of school leaders and officials from some of the 30 pilot districts, asking them to share stories from the front.

Among the questions asked and answered: How did the district handle all the classroom observations stipulated for every teacher? Is there enough time in the day for the administrators? What about teachers building their own objectives to be measured by? And what is their reaction to “student growth percentiles” (SGP), a new yardstick based on state test scores?

The following are excerpts from the hour-long forum, held at NJPSA’s headquarters in Monroe.

Michael McGovern, Principal Catherine A. Dwyer School, Rockaway

“Your time as an administrator will be greatly affected. There is time in the classroom and time out of the classroom where you are doing work you haven’t done before. There are quality-of-life issues with this, I want to be totally honest with you.”

“But we are moving forward. I was absolutely floored by what our teachers could come up with [for their objectives]. Our teachers are really talking instruction, they are really looking at the data, and I think that will really fine-tune our building and take it to the next level. We were having these discussions before, but they have moved to a deeper and more intense level.”

Deborah Grefe, Superintendent, Rockaway

“Another positive is it brought us all together, as we are in this together. You will hear I don’t have enough time, there is no time, but you seem to make the time and that is what it boils down to. It is good for kids, it is good teaching, and it will raise the bar. Regardless of whether you are a phys-ed teacher, art teacher, a 4th grade teacher or a 2nd grade teacher, you are all there to raise the achievement.

“It’s nothing really new. As a teacher, you want the kids to grow, except this time we will show you the growth you’re doing. We have seen the SGP for the last three years, and it is really not a mystery. It’s really strong data, something we have not had before. It is so much more energizing to be able to share how much a child has grown and not just whether proficient.”

Robert Goodall, Principal, Monroe High School, Monroe

“With the amount of observations that you have to do as a high school principal, I just don’t have the administrative support, in terms of the number of administrators. We consistently over the last number of years have lost administrators to do the evaluations, so that is a big negative.

“The positive is I make that time to work with teachers. Those conversation with especially new teachers has been a very good experience. It has made me make the time to work with teachers, but in truth it has also caused me to not have the personal touch I used to have in working with some of the students and parents. I just haven’t been able to gain that same access, because of how hectic my day is.”

Timothy Matheney, Director of Evaluation, NJ DOE

“The requirements in our pilot districts are considerably higher than what we have proposed in our regulations [for districts going forward]. Our regulations afford much more flexibility to you, in that observations need to be a minimum 40 minutes for a long observation and 20 for short ones. We arrived at that 20 minutes because consistent research said that what you learn beyond 20 minutes in an observation is not significantly different than what you learn in the first 20 minutes.

“We know that the more times an administrator is in the classroom, the better teacher performance is.

“The layoffs during the recession really impacted supervisors greatly. I think we in the department have the responsibility to get the word out that supervisors are critical ingredients for this to succeed.”

Pam Kelly, Principal, Harker-Wylie/Isaiah Haines School, Pemberton Township

“Being an elementary school principal, you celebrate the first 100 days of school, it’s a big deal. I looked at my calendar, and I saw that in those 100 days I had been pulled from my building 20 full days. That was to do six days of evaluations in other buildings, there was all the training around it, and also the training on other initiatives. I thought if I was a teacher absent 20 days, I’d probably be writing myself up.

“It has created a culture change. In our other model, you were basically effective or not effective, and now we do have the four-point scale. We had to teach the teachers that you can be proud to be ‘effective,’ that’s a good thing. It’s hard to be ‘highly effective,’ and not everyone is going to walk away that way. But they are now having the professional conversations to how they move from one level to the next.

Kristin O’Neill, Curriculum & Instruction Director, West Deptford School District

“One thing we learned is there better be a building fire or something if you are ever going to cancel an observation.

“I have the SGP of my teachers, we got them as a pilot, and were able to sit down with our teachers and talk about them. I have to tell you, if you are already looking at your building and growth, and know your at-risk, and high-growth and low-growth [students], there really weren’t too many surprises, at least not in my district. But the conversation from the SGPs, that’s the conversation that is happening in my building.

“It’s time. It’s money. It’s summer time. I’m creating webinars, my teachers are getting tired of my voice, my teachers want it to stop. But you are trying to figure out creative ways to do it, and empowering teacher leaders. We can argue about all the red tape, but it’s what you are doing because it is good practice.”

 

 

NJ Spotlight - In Man-Bites-Dog Scenario, Christie Visits NJEA for Endorsement…Just by showing up for interview, governor demonstrates how his relationship with union has evolved.

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By John Mooney, March 18, 2013 in Education|Post a Comment

The fact that Gov. Chris Christie didn’t win the New Jersey Education Association’s endorsement for governor this weekend wasn’t all that unexpected.

The surprise was that he participated in the process at all.

Four years after Christie sent a public letter rather than showing up for his pitch to the NJEA, the governor walked across West State St. in Trenton -- right on time for his 6:30 appointment.

In what was described as a cordial back and forth, Christie spent 45 minutes in front of the 15 union leaders who make up the screening committee, responding to probing questions about everything from pensions to teacher evaluation.

Ultimately, the union’s PAC picked the Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), by a unanimous vote of its 130-member operating committee.

“It’s a very democratic process, with a small 'd',” said Ginger Gold Schnitzer, the executive director of the PAC and the union’s chief lobbyist. “The decision is not made by a small group of people in a room, but we have a lot of different voices in that room.”

It has typically been a big "D" process, too, at least for governor. The union has almost exclusively endorsed Democratic candidates for at least the past 20 years. (It sat out the 1992 race between Christie Whitman and James Florio, and endorsed Gov. Thomas Kean once before that.)

And whether the union and its ample coffers and army of 195,000 members can help Buono against the long odds the polls says she faces, will be among the NJEA’s biggest challenges yet.

In announcing the endorsement, NJEA president Barbara Keshishian made clear that Christie still is antithetical to the union on a number of issues he is pressing.

“It’s time for a new set of priorities in Trenton,” Keshishian said in a statement. “Barbara Buono is listening to the middle class and the state’s 10 percent unemployed, and their concerns will be heard when she is elected.“Barbara Buono rejects the misplaced priorities of the past -- priorities like tax cuts for millionaires while blocking an increase in the minimum wage; shortchanging public schools while allowing property taxes to increase by 20 percent; and demanding taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools while underfunding public schools by billions of dollars,” Keshishian said.

The Christie campaign said it wasn’t counting on the endorsement, either. But the fact that Christie showed up for the interview at all spoke volumes about the narrowed distance between the union and the governor.

“We had zero expectation of getting their endorsement given the differences of opinion on key areas of government spending,” said Michael DuHaime, Christie’s political strategist, in an email last night. “That said, there has been a constructive dialogue over the past year, and we hope it can continue.”

There are plenty of differences still, and the Christie administration’s backing of online charter schools and the imposition of a new teacher evaluation system could rekindle the tensions.

But the two sides also sat together on the new teacher tenure law, and the heat of the rhetoric has clearly cooled.

“There hasn’t been a lot of opportunity . . . For the governor to come to the NJEA and sit and talk with us." Gold said. “There’s a lot of water under the bridge, but it’s not lost on me where we are now.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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