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3-16-15 Education in the News - Charters, Evaluation Facts, Testing

Star Ledger - 7 things to know about PARCC's effect on teacher evaluations

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By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
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on March 16, 2015 at 7:30 AM, updated March 16, 2015 at 7:39 AM

That much is simple to explain.New Jersey parents and students may have heard that data extracted from the new state tests in English and math will count in the performance evaluation of some teachers for this school year.

But how that data is calculated, which teachers will have it applied to their evaluation and how it can affect a teacher's performance rating is much more complicated.

As students across the state continue taking the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams, here's seven things to know about how PARCC affects teachers evaluations.

1. Not all teachers will have PARCC data factored into their evaluations: Teachers who could have their performance rating affected by PARCC in 2014-15 are those teaching math in grades 4-7 or English/Language Arts in grades 4-8.

2. For those teachers, the data from PARCC will count as a 10 percent weight in their evaluation The rest of their performance rating will be based 70 percent on observation and 20 percent on other measures of student achievement.

Next year, PARCC data will count for 20 percent of those teachers' evaluations and observation will be lowered to 60 percent, according to the state.

3. The student score factored into teacher valuations is based on academic growth, not overall performance: Students who take the test will receive a score on a 100-point scale to measure their annual academic growth. It's a percentile comparison of how much progress they have made versus other students across the state with similar academic histories.

A student with a low or moderate score on PARCC can still earn a high mark for growth. This year's growth scores will compare a student's performance on PARCC with their performance on NJ ASK in 2013-14.

4. The median student growth score from a teacher's class is the score that is factored into that teacher's evaluation: So, for example, if Mrs. Smith has 25 students take PARCC, the 13th best student growth score is the one that would count for toward her performance rating. That score is converted to a scale of 1-4 and counts for 10 percent of a teacher's evaluation.

5. If a teacher's median student growth score in 2014-15 is lower than prior years, it won't be counted alone: What if Mrs. Smith's median growth score of her 25 students this year is 55, but her score from last year's 24 students was 75? Since this year's score is lower, the state will calculate the median growth score of all 49 students she taught over the past two years. If the two-year median growth score is higher than her median growth score for this year, the state will use the two-year number toward her evaluation.

6. A teacher can't be fired based on one year of PARCC data: Under New Jersey's tenure reform, a teacher must have substandard, or "partially effective," overall rating in two consecutive years to be in jeopardy of losing tenure.

7. Principals are also evaluated based on PARCC data: Principals of schools with any grade from 4-8 taking the PARCC tests will also have a median student growth score used as a 10 percent weight in their evaluations. For principals, the median student growth score of all students in the school is the score factored into the evaluation.

Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind NJ.com on Facebook.

NJ Spotlight -Only One New Charter School Gets Go-Ahead, While Two Others Must Close

John Mooney | March 16, 2015

While renewing 14 charters for existing schools, state officials also reject closely watched plans to turn two Camden public schools into charters

The Christie administration has approved just one new charter school in its latest application cycle, while rejecting two applications to convert existing Camden district schools to charters.

Meanwhile, it also approved the renewal of 14 charter schools now operating, and announced two others will be closing.

Related Links

Hudson Arts and Science Charter High School Approval Letter

Camden Arts High School Rejection Letter

MetEast High School Rejection Letter

Galloway County Charter Non-Renewal Letter

Central Jersey Arts Closure Letter

The state Department of Education released the information late Friday, and said it would provide more information in the coming days.

But the dearth of new approvals and the rejection of the two proposed conversions were notable in themselves, given the debate over the administration’s charter school policy and the ongoing discussion in the Legislature over the state’s charter application process.

The one newly-approved school was the Hudson Arts and Science Charter High School, serving Jersey City and Kearny. The plan is for it to open in 2016; it will require one final approval before the opening.

The two proposed conversions had been more closely watched, as they were the first existing public schools in the state to seek charter school status. The fact that they were both in the Camden school district, newly placed under state control, made it even more interesting.

But state officials said in the letters to the schools’ leaders that they did not meet the state’s standards. The two schools were Camden Arts and MetEast High School, both small specialty schools in the district.

“The application did not provide sufficient evidence that it could effectively implement an art based program in a charter school,” wrote state Education Commissioner David Hespe in the rejection letter to Camden Arts.

“The application was poorly written and did not demonstrate the founders have the organizational capacity to convert from a functioning public school to charter status.”

Hespe said in the letter to MetEast that it had not shown it could provide the promised program.

“The proposed program is heavily reliant on developing community partnerships and creating a comprehensive internship program for students,” Hespe wrote. “There was little evidence in the application that the founders have the support of the community to implement this program that is vital to the educational program.”

The two schools that the state said will close at the end of this school year are Central Jersey Arts Charter in Plainfield and Galloway County Charter in Atlantic County. Both had been on probation for several years, and state officials said in letters that required improvements had not been achieved.

At the 15-year-old Galloway County Charter, Hespe said academic performance continued to lag, and that site visits confirmed those findings.

“Based on this evaluation, it is been determined that the school is not providing a high-quality education to its students,” Hespe wrote.

The evaluation of the Plainfield charter school, in its ninth year, was even more damning. Hespe, in his letter to the school, said its state test scores remained “dismal,” with few signs of positive growth. Just 32 percent of its students were found proficient in language arts in the state’s tests last year, and just 58 percent were proficient in math.

In addition, he said there were deficiencies in the Plainfield school’s fiscal controls and in the general operations of the school as seen in site visits.

“In summary, there is a lack of evidence that the school is providing students with a quality education or that it has the capacity to dramatically improve student achievement in the future,” Hespe wrote.

All schools not approved or renewed by the department have the opportunity to appeal the decisions, although rarely – if ever -- are those decisions overturned.

NJ Spotlight - Surveillance of Twitter Feeds Turn Attention to Online Test Security

John Mooney | March 16, 2015

Pearson reports that student tweets raise concerns about possible PARCC cheating


Security on standardized tests has always been a thorny issue, from the years of shrink-wrapped test booklets to more recent shoe-leather investigations of educators conspiring to doctor answers.

Now, with the advent of new online testing in New Jersey and elsewhere and the ubiquity of the Internet in general, the ways to check for possible cheating are expanding – and so is debate over those methods.

Related Links

Letter to Watchung Hills Community by Superintendent Jewett

Bob Braun’s Ledger

Los Angeles Times Article about Testing Security Breach in Long Beach, CA

The latest controversy: News that Pearson, the London-based testing vendor hired this year by PARCC, has been monitoring Twitter traffic – and found evidence that some students may have tweeted messages divulging PARCC questions, or at least parts of them.

Officials in at least two New Jersey school districts – and probably more – said they had been informed by the state about suspicious student messages found on the social media platform. Details of the messages were not disclosed.

Pearson informed the state Department of Education, which then informed the districts through a scripted process of “security alerts” and “corrective actions.”

With the PARCC testing already a lightning rod for criticism in New Jersey, news of the Twitter surveillance -- first disclosed by numerous bloggers -- touched off a social media storm of its own over the weekend.

'Spying' by 'Big Brother' alleged

Some accused Pearson and an accommodating Christie administration of “spying,” while others likened it to Big Brother. The incident even garnered its own Twitter hashtags -- #pearsoniswatching and #peepingpearson.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan tweeted: “How many think this is just WRONG?”

Such monitoring of the Internet is not new when it comes to modern-day standardized testing security. Recent cases in New York City and California saw students caught and punished for messaging or publicly posting cell phone pictures of test questions.

The College Board, which administers the college entrance SAT and Advanced Placement tests, explicitly warns against that practice and prohibits students from bringing cell phones into the testing. The worry over divulged questions is one of the reasons its tests are all given at the same time, the College Board said.

That’s not the case with the PARCC exams, which are administered over a month-long period, on different dates in different districts.

The PARCC testing has its own set of security rules, including a required pledge by test administrators and proctors not to discuss the test content with anyone, including on social media. It is not that explicit with students, but does prohibit cell phones or any Internet-accessible devices in testing sites.

Still, reports about Twitter feed monitoring especially touched a nerve at a time when student data privacy has become such a sensitive point.

A bill is already pending in the Legislature to toughen privacy protections pertaining to the testing. Another bill would set a statewide policy for the growing number of families who are refusing to have their children take the PARCC tests.

Just last Thursday, state Education Commissioner David Hespe came before a Senate committee to defend the tests, although the issue of test security never came up.

That prompted one critic to question whether the department was telling all it knows.

“Student data privacy was raised at Thursday's hearing and, like nearly every other concern that was raised that day, was dismissed by the Commissioner as misinformation,” said Susan Cauldwell, a leader of Save Our Schools NJ, a group critical of the new testing.

“In the eyes of many NJ parents, the credibility of the DOE is suspect,” she said.

Monitoring defended

Both Pearson and PARCC over the weekend defended the use of the monitoring.

“We welcome debate and a variety of opinions,” wrote Stacy Skelly, a Pearson spokeswoman. “But when test questions or elements are posted publicly to the Internet, we are obligated to alert PARCC states. Any contact with students or decisions about student discipline are handled at the local level.”

A spokesman for the state Department of Education wrote a lengthy response defending the practice as well.

“Each year, we see test breaches where students use cellphone cameras to post test questions publicly online, or they post a description of the content of a test question publicly online, so anyone with an Internet connection can see,” Yaple wrote.

“Test breaches have occurred every year, even with the old paper tests. Likewise, test security measures are not new, nor are they unique to this test.”

Yaple yesterday could not provide the number of such cases this year or in prior years.

He promised his department would review any allegations of student privacy being violated.

“The Department always wants to be vigilant to ensure vendors are acting appropriately,” he wrote. “The concern with test breaches is when questions are posted publicly, for any person with an Internet connection to see, and it is our intent to ensure that no one intrudes upon any student’s personal space.

“If any parent or educator believes the company has over-stepped its bounds, let the Department know and it will look into the matter.“

The districts involved weren’t much talking publicly themselves, at least not intentionally. The stir began when an internal email from Elizabeth Jewett, superintendent of Watchung Hills Regional High School District in Somerset County, was leaked to Bob Braun, a prominent education blogger and former Star-Ledger columnist.

In the email, which she sent to several colleagues in other districts, Jewett said her district was called at 10 p.m. on March 10 by a state official who reported the potential security breach discovered on Twitter.

Initially, according to Jewett’s email, the state said a student had tweeted a picture of the test while he was taking it, but then followed up and confirmed that there was no picture and the information was apparently tweeted after the student had left school.

She said in the email that the state official had told the district that the student should be disciplined, but Jewett did not disclose what, if any, discipline was taken.

She acknowledged in the email that she was taken aback by the news that Pearson was monitoring Twitter traffic.

“I have to say, I find that a bit disturbing,” Jewett wrote. “If our parents were concerned before about a conspiracy with all the student data, I am sure I will receive more letters of refusal once this gets out (not to mention that the DOE also wanted us to issue discipline to the student).”

Jewett would not comment further this weekend, but she posted a letter to the Watchung Hills community on the district’s website acknowledging the email – while stressing she had nothing to do with its release -- and standing by her comments. She subsequently confirmed that two additional students had been cited in a separate incident the next day.

“I completely stand behind my comments as they represent not only my views and concerns; they also represent the views and concerns of our Board of Education,” she wrote in the community letter.

“Our main concern is, and will always remain, supporting the educational, social and emotional needs of our students,” she concluded. “The privacy and security of student information remains the utmost priority for our district.”

Yaple, the department spokesman, did not directly address whether the department had told the district to discipline the student, but said that would not be appropriate.

“The local school district has authority over discipline,” he said. “The DOE does not discipline students.”

Not all superintendents were surprised by the monitoring, saying that it is a byproduct of a world where even innocuous tweets or other messages are public.

“I can understand people not being happy that a testing company is monitoring their children on social media,” said Erik Gundersen, superintendent of Pascack Valley Regional High School District. “However, I'm not sure why people are surprised that Pearson may be monitoring social media for test security breach information.

“My understanding is that most large companies constantly track what people are saying about their products and what is trending on social media. We strive to make sure our students know that when the post something online, it is public for all the world to see.”




Star Ledger - 7 things to know about PARCC's effect on teacher evaluations

1. Not all teachers will have PARCC data factored into their evaluations

2. For those teachers, the data from PARCC will count as a 10 percent weight in their evaluation

3. The student score factored into teacher valuations is based on academic growth, not overall performance

4. The median student growth score from a teacher's class is the score that is factored into that teacher's evaluation.

5. If a teacher's median student growth score in 2014-15 is lower than prior years, it won't be counted alone

6. A teacher can't be fired based on one year of PARCC data: 

 7. Principals are also evaluated based on PARCC data

Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608