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8-6-Education in the News

The Record - N.J. freezes impact of student testing on teachers; exams still count as 10 percent of evaluations

August 5, 2015, 11:45 Pm    Last Updated: Wednesday, August 5, 2015, 11:49 Pm

By Hannan Adely

New Jersey won’t increase the weight of state tests on teacher evaluations in the coming school year — to the relief of educators whose reviews are based in part on students’ scores.

Student performance on state tests will count for 10 percent of a teacher’s job review in the coming school year, the same as in the past year, state officials announced Wednesday.

The state could have made test scores account for as much as 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation under a revised policy adopted last year. But state officials backed down amid an outcry from teachers against use of standardized state tests in their reviews.

“We don’t think this is a proper use |of test score data, but it is a step in |the right direction that they’re freezing it rather than raising it,” said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

David Hespe, the state education commissioner, said the decision was made because data from the new tests haven’t been received and reviewed yet and because the state was still transitioning from its old tests.

“This is the right move to keep teacher evaluations strong and successful into the future,” Hespe said at a state Board of Education meeting.

The state’s evaluation system was created after New Jersey passed an education reform law in 2012 requiring annual evaluations and stricter tenure rules.

But educators argued that it was unfair to use student scores, especially from the tests known as PARCC, because the online tests were based on revised academic standards and because schools needed time to adjust. The tests are also controversial because some educators and parents consider them to be confusing and overly difficult. Last spring, thousands of families refused to let the children take the exams.

In a compromise, Governor Christie changed the system last summer to lessen the weight of scores from state tests on teacher evaluations from 30 to 10 percent in 2014-15. Under the policy, the impact could have risen to 20 percent in the following two years.

Statewide, about 20 percent of teachers are judged based on student improvement on state tests, which are given in math and English language arts. Those teachers also are judged based on observations and “student growth objectives” — or student achievement in other areas such as final exams, advanced placement tests and projects.

Measures also will stay the same in the coming school year for teachers who don’t teach state-tested subjects. Student growth objectives account for 20 percent of their evaluation, and the rest is based on observations by supervisors.

Principals and vice principals will continue to be evaluated in the same way, based on student growth in their schools, leadership and observations by an in-school supervisor or superintendent.

The New Jersey Association of School Administrators also welcomed news Wednesday that the weights in their evaluations would be the same. Executive Director Richard Bozza said it was “a positive step as we still wait to learn the results of the first year of ­PARCC assessments” and that education chiefs would continue discussions about the use of testing in the learning process and evaluations.

The evaluations are a heated subject for teachers as they could affect their jobs and tenure. Those who are rated ineffective or partly effective in their evaluations would be put on corrective action plans and get extra support. If they don’t improve over two years, they could lose their jobs.

Teachers also argue that “high-stakes” testing puts pressure on them to teach to the test rather than teach what they feel is best for their students.

The first results of the new evaluation system, released in June, showed the 97 percent of teachers were rated as effective or better, a result that eased fears about |the state’s initiative to link the state test to their performance reviews.

But that result was based on an old test, not the new PARCC test.

Email: adely@northjersey.com


Star Ledger - Judge says schools can't sue families of alleged bullies)

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By Dave Hutchinson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Somerset Reporter
on August 04, 2015 at 2:29 PM, updated August 04, 2015 at 2:30 PM

SOMERVILLE — Stating that the actions of students who allegedly bullied another student over the course of several years didn't prove negligence on the part of their parents, Somerset County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone ruled that the parents couldn't be held financially liable by two Hunterdon County school districts.

But the judge did rule that one of the school districts could pursue claims against five students, three for assault and battery against the alleged victim and two for battery against the alleged victim.

In those incidents, the parents could be held indirectly liable and thus responsible for any financial compensation awarded the alleged victim.

In a decision handed down Tuesday, Ciccione dismissed with prejudice the third-party complaints filed against the parents of the alleged bullies by the school districts.

The Flemington-Raritan and Hunterdon Central Regional School Districts were attempting to have the families of the alleged bullies held partly responsible for any financial compensation awarded if the alleged victim wins his lawsuit against the school districts.

Ciccone will allow the Flemington-Raritan district to pursue claims against five students for incidents that happened at the middle school.

In a potential landmark case, the school districts had claimed negligence on the part of the parents. Although Ciccone ruled in favor of the parents in this instance, more school districts may opt to file similar third-party complaints when sued by alleged victims of harassment and bullying.

"While the court certainly sympathizes with the plaintiff, it cannot find that mere insults such as name-calling, although alleged to be over repetitive and annoying, routine poking on the plaintiff's sides, repeated insinuations that he was a homosexual, the onetime throwing of food, the exposing of the plaintiff's genitals and buttocks on two occasions and the aiming of dodgeballs at the plaintiff's groin" rise to the definition of extremely outrageous for the purpose of a negligence claim against the parents, Ciccone wrote.

Ciccone added that while "the actions of the minor third-party defendants are inexcusable and may constitute moral wrongs, the court is only tasked with evaluating legal wrongs. That the conduct of the minors might be deserving of discipline isn't a determination to be adjudicate by the judiciary.'

During oral arguments on June 24, Hunterdon Central Regional School District attorney Robert Gold argued that the job of a parent doesn't end when that parent's child is at school, and that job must be shared by the parents and the school.

But Ciccone ruled that the argument "fails to rebut the arguments of the third-party defendants that the districts are responsible for the acts of the child during the school day."

In March 2014, Ciccone ruled that two Hunterdon County school districts could file suit against 13 students and their parents for alleged bullying incidents. She heard oral arguments from the attorneys represents the students on June 24 and rendered her decision on Tuesday.

The alleged victim sued the districts last year, claiming they failed to stop harassing and discriminatory behavior despite years of complaints. The teen did not sue the individual students — it's the districts' own suit that seeks to hold the alleged bullies responsible.

RELATED: Do parents share blame when school bullies get out of control?

"It's incumbent on the parents to instruct their children," Gold said during oral arguments. "There's no responsibility on the parents, period? It (preventing bullying) has to be a collaborative effort. It doesn't just start and end with the schools. This can send a huge message to parents and kids over age seven to act appropriately."

Gold wasn't immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Lawyers representing the families alleged bullies argued Ciccone would be setting a dangerous precedent if she didn't grant the motion to dismiss them from the suit.

Ciccone said that just proving that the bullying took place isn't enough to hold the parents of the alleged bullies responsible. She wrote "negligence must be proved and will never be presumed."

"I think it's an important decision," said Somerville-based attorney Brian M. Cige, who represents the alleged victim. "It's more about what type of claim a board of education can bring against students when its being sued for harassment and discrimination in the form of bullying."

In the initial lawsuit against the districts, the alleged victim claimed he had been targeted by classmates for years — starting at the Copper Hill School in East Amwell, and then continuing at the the Reading-Fleming Intermediate School, at J.P. Case Middle School and at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, all in Flemington.

Students made fun of his weight and called him anti-gay slurs, according to the suit.

In one case, in the sixth grade, two classmates allegedly pulled down his pants to expose his underwear, and another youth threw sauce-covered pasta on him at lunch. The suit says he eventually developed anorexia.

The suit says the school failed to adequately address the bullying, despite complaints by the teen and his mother.

Dave Hutchinson may be reached at dhutchinson@njadvancemedia.com.Follow him on Twitter @DHutch_SL. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


NJ Spotlight - New Superintendent Promises ‘Trust’ and ‘Healing,’ But Offers Few Specifics…Cerf pledges steps toward local control while vague on ‘One Newark’ and dealing with looming budget gap

John Mooney | August 6, 2015

Chris Cerf had two audiences yesterday when he came before the State Board of Education as Newark’s newly minted school superintendent.

One was obviously the board itself, which narrowly approved the former state education commissioner for the Newark job last month in the wake of a contentious debate over who could best lead the state’s most tumultuous school district.

Related Links

Cerf’s Presentation to State Board of Education

But as he made his first extensive public comments as superintendent, Cerf also faced a larger audience, both in and outside Newark, which has been hopeful but wary about how much will change under the man who first appointed controversial former superintendent Cami Anderson.

For a day at least, Cerf seemed to do well with the first audience, delivering a conciliatory and upbeat message, and with some board members who voted against his appointment saying that would now fully support his efforts.

Whether he fares as well with that larger audience remains to be seen.

Cerf's talk yesterday – he gave a brief presentation, followed by a longer question-and-answer period -- was clearly meant to send a message that he would set a different tone from Anderson and would move to close some of the rifts that marked her tenure.

He used the word “trust” and “healing” a number of times. And he repeated his commitment to returning the district to local control after 21 years, the central piece of the compromise reached by Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka that saw Anderson exit and Cerf replace her.

But he was light on details on how he planned to win back the public's trust and how the transition to local control would take place. One reason, Cerf acknowledged, was that he was still getting a handle on that task ahead.

“I’ve been at this all of 28 days, so I want to level set around the degree I can fully report on my work,” he said. “But I will say I have been enormously grateful to the many, many people I have been able to meet with, learn from, and work with.”

“The community has been very warm, very open and very responsive to turning the page and moving forward,” Cerf said.

One of the vaguest topics was the status of the Newark district’s billion-dollar budget. Cerf acknowledged that he faces a wide revenue gap going into the school year. Afterward, though, he deflected questions when reporters asked him to be more specific about the extent of the deficit, saying he first wanted to update the local school board, which next meets Aug. 25.

“I think it is very important, and a matter of respect, that my first comments [on the budget] are directed to the school board,” he said.

Under Anderson, various numbers were circulated, with some reports that the budget gap could be high as $50 million-$60 million, portending extensive layoffs in the district.

While Cerf wasn’t giving specifics, state Education Commissioner David Hespe said afterward that the latest estimates were not as high as $50 million, nor as low as $10 million.

“It is in the tens of millions,” Hespe said.

Another prime topic was "One Newark," the reorganization plan started under Anderson, in which students enrolled in both district and charter schools through a central choice system.

"One Newark" may have been Anderson’s most disputed initiatives. Critics said it hurt neighborhood schools and favored charters, while requiring some students to cross the city to their schools.

Asked if he would change anything in "One Newark," Cerf only said that he supported the plan's intent to give parents broader choices. But he also acknowledged that the system left some families unsatisfied and that there are conflicts to work out.

“Whenever we make a decision, there will be winners and losers,” he said. “And the losers will be unhappy.”

Related Stories

Settling Into New Job, Cerf Must Come to Terms with Opposition to ‘One Newark’

The state is saying the controversial enrollment program remains in place for now, but critics are already calling for its elimination

Cerf Wins Newark Schools Job in Narrow Vote – and Now Comes the Hard Part

New superintendent faces tensions over ties to Cami Anderson and community frustration with state control of district

Anderson’s Departure from Newark Schools Marks End of Tumultuous Period

Hespe announces that his predecessor, Chris Cerf, will pilot stormy district – with local control next goal

Board member Joseph Fisicaro asked Cerf what would happen in the next year or two to prepare the district for local operation that didn’t happen in the last 21 years of state control.

“We are going to return local control,” Cerf replied. “The timeline for that is not cast in stone, but I’m sure of at least that.”

Board President Mark Biedron ended the meeting by asking Cerf what he views as his biggest challenge.

“The single biggest challenge here is to restore a sense of civility and openness and transparency around a shared vision that every child deserves a quality education,” Cerf responded.

“There is a lot of healing that needs to happen,” he continued. “But I also know that there are also a lot of good, smart things that are happening, too.”

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