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4-17-14 In the News - PARCC and CaliforniaTeacher Tenure Case
NJ Spotlight - Over 60,000 New Jersey Students Take Part in Field Test of Online PARCC Exams...Early reports indicate trials went off without major headaches, although some relatively minor glitches were encountered

NY Times - Competing Views of Teacher Tenure Are on Display in California Case

NJ Spotlight  - Over 60,000 New Jersey Students Take Part in Field Test of Online PARCC Exams

John Mooney | April 17, 2014

Early reports indicate trials went off without major headaches, although some relatively minor glitches were encountered


More than 62,000 New Jersey elementary and high school students were part of the nation’s first large-scale test of the online PARCC exams, an early trial that officials are calling a success -- despite some glitches.

New Jersey’s participation over the past month was among the largest in the country, topped only by Illinois and Ohio.

And depending on who is talking, the trial went fairly well, with comments still coming in. NJ Spotlight is conducting its own survey, too, for our readers to share their experiences.

The chief spokesman for PARCC -- the acronym for the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- said yesterday that the field tests, which involved more than 200,000 students in more than a dozen states, went about as expected, with no major problems but plenty of smaller issues to be addressed.

Taking place in more than 1,000 New Jersey schools, the trial was in the performance-based piece of the PARCC exams for language arts and math, in which students are asked to complete writing assignments or more complex math computations.

PARCC released new versions of the practice exam last week, allowing the public to take the language arts and math tests themselves.

Another trial will take place in May, the so-called end-of-year tests that will focus more on the content required at each grade level. The trials lead up to the full roll-out of the PARCC exams in every school in 2015.

David Connerty-Marin, the communications director for PARCC, said that so far the problems have largely been isolated and centered on technology, such as difficulties with certain computers and network issues.

A call center set up by the private administrator of the test, Pearson Education, received more than 2,300 requests for help during the three-week field test.

In New Jersey and other states, Connerty-Marin said there was some confusion about basic test instructions, which caused hundreds of students to prematurely click the button to finish the tests, when they should have been only gone to a new section.

“In those cases, we had to [refresh] the tests one at a time,” he said.

The state Department of Education has yet to release any summary on the first phase of the trial, but a sampling of local officials said they, too, saw a process that went pretty much as expected, with some minor issues but no major problems.

For some, the trial foreshadowed a scheduling challenge, in which three or four days of state testing will now be spread across grades and subject areas.

“Planning for next year when everyone is taking the test will be a whole different ballgame when all of the classes must be tested,” said Paul Pineiro, assistant superintendent in Westfield.

“The adjustments to schedules are no longer in three-day chunks per grade. Now they take place over the course of 20 school days and by sections of grades and not full grades levels,” he said.

“Typical scheduling conventions that enabled principals to limit the disruption of testing are now not plausible,” he added. “To some extent maybe the answer is reimagining scheduling altogether.”

Emil Carafa, principal of the Washington School in Lodi, said there is no doubt now that the PARCC exams pose some new challenges for students.

“Students are asked to look deeper into their reading pieces, and they have to connect items together,” he said. ”It is no longer a read the question pick an answer.

“The math seemed to be more involved,” Carafa added. “Some problems ask the student what is wrong with the problem and how can they correct it. This is different than what we have been doing in [state] assessments.”

Still, there was plenty of chatter in New Jersey and elsewhere about deeper problems with the exams, although the evidence at this point is anecdotal. Various blogs have surfaced, most of them critical, where teachers said that the computers froze or questions made little sense to either students or educators.

One anonymous New Jersey principal wrote on one listserv: “The directions provided in test administrator manuals were unclear and poorly written, leading to confusion on the part of not only the test proctor but also the school coordinators.” “Students responded that the test was very long. A lot of stamina was needed for writing,” the principal wrote.

School groups also are seeking comments. The New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, has begun a survey of its members.


|NY Times - Competing Views of Teacher Tenure Are on Display in California Case


LOS ANGELES — These are two vastly different portraits of California’s education system. In one, poor and minority students are frequently placed in front of incompetent teachers whose blackboards are filled with basic misspellings and who play irrelevant movies instead of devising lesson plans for class time. In the other, the vast majority of teachers are providing students with all they need to learn, and well-run school districts are able to ferret out and dismiss the ones who are not.

For more than two months, lawyers have been arguing in state court over whether California’s laws governing teacher tenure, firing and layoffs violate students’ constitutional right to an education. And by the beginning of July, Rolf Treu, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, will deliver the first legal ruling on the case, which has attracted national attention. In states around the country, opponents of tenure rules, who have tried and largely failed to bring about changes through state legislatures, are looking to this case as a test of whether taking their arguments to court could prove more successful.


Lawyers for the students named in the case, Vergara v. California, have argued that California students are subject to an unfair system that deprives them of a fair education, which translates into the loss of millions of dollars in potential earnings over their lifetimes. But lawyers for the state and the teachers’ unions counter that the problems in the system have little or nothing to do with the rules that govern how teachers are hired and fired.

In many ways, the case echoes the political debate over tenure that has gone on for years. Some school superintendents and education advocates have pushed to loosen laws granting teachers permanent employment status, which they argue are anachronistic and harmful. Unions and their allies, however, say such laws are necessary to protect teachers.

Three states and the District of Columbia have eliminated tenure, and a few other states prohibit using seniority as the primary criterion to determine who is laid off. But efforts to enact similar changes have repeatedly failed in California and New York, where teachers’ unions hold considerable sway over the state legislatures.

Students Matter, a group backed by David F. Welch, a Silicon Valley technology magnate, recruited a group of students to file as plaintiffs against the state of California and hired a high-profile legal team to try to win the debate in the courtroom. No matter what Judge Treu decides, the case will almost certainly be appealed, and Mr. Welch has said he plans to help bring similar cases around the country.

Under California law, teachers are eligible for tenure after 18 months on the job, and the teachers who are hired most recently are the first to lose their jobs during layoffs. School administrators who try to dismiss a teacher with tenure for poor performance must complete a lengthy procedure.

“Students taught by grossly ineffective teachers fall behind for years,” said Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, who is best known for winning the case that struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Students who are taught by such teachers lose up to $1.4 million in lifetime earnings compared with those who are taught by average teachers, according to a study by Raj Chetty, an economics professor at Harvard who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Continue reading the main story

Continue reading the main story


In another study cited in court testimony, students in the Los Angeles Unified School District lost a full year’s worth of learning when they were placed with teachers in the bottom 5 percent of the district in terms of effectiveness. Assuming that 1 percent of the state’s roughly 275,000 teachers are ineffective, it would take more than 12 years to dismiss them all, according to the plaintiffs’ closing brief. And according to the plaintiffs, students who are black, Latino or poor are far more likely to be placed with a low-performing teacher than their white and more affluent peers.

“Even if funding and time in school are equal, students still cannot be assured of equal educational opportunities unless they have equal access to effective teachers,” Mr. Boutrous wrote in the final brief, submitted last week.

But lawyers for the state and the teachers’ unions say that while the plaintiffs have relied on complicated algorithms and emotional speech, they have done nothing to prove that students’ constitutional rights are being violated by existing teacher employment laws. In fact, the state’s lawyers argued in closing briefs, one of the teachers cited by plaintiffs as “grossly ineffective” was awarded “Teacher of the Year” by the Pasadena school district.

“Due process ensures that competent teachers aren’t dismissed unfairly or improperly,” James Finberg, a lawyer for the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, wrote in his closing brief. The achievement gap, as the disparity between wealthy white students and poor minority students is often called, “has many causes, the majority of which involve out-of-school factors,” Mr. Finberg wrote, before arguing that high teacher turnover in low-income schools could be improved with additional funding, not a change in employment law.


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