Taking a Closer Look at NJ Teacher Evaluations

By Briana Vannozzi

After mounting pressure and several OPRA requests from media outlets, the state Department of Education posted the results of the new teacher and principal evaluations under the TEACHNJ reform law.

It’s a district-by-district breakdown showing the number of teachers placed in categories ranging from ineffective up to highly effective and the narrative being drawn from it isn’t being received well by many educators.

“I think we have to stay away from the fact that the evaluation was supposed to be some kind of ‘gotcha’ system. It’s a well thought out system,” said New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association Executive Director Patricia Wright.

The information is already a year old — from the 2013-2014 school year. In June, the department announced that 97 percent of New Jersey’s evaluated teachers were deemed effective, but 205 in the state ineffective.

The newly released data finds that Paterson, a state controlled district, has the highest number of teachers deemed either ineffective or partially effective under the system at 16 percent, Camden had 15.7 percent, Newark 14.7 and Irvington 13.9 percent. Yet in three of the state’s largest cities — Jersey City, Elizabeth and Trenton — every teacher was rated either effective or highly effective.

Wright says we shouldn’t be too quick to judge the numbers.

“Once we start pitting this district has more highly effective, first of all many districts are using different frameworks and how their implemented in each district can look very different,” she said.

Data for this last school year is still not available, and there are gaps in the analysis. The state redacted numbers if it applied to 10 or less teachers to ensure confidentiality.

“To release that data and try to paint any kind of a picture is just strictly irresponsible and it’s absolutely a distraction to what really should be going on, instead of focusing on the real ways to strengthen teaching and learning now the focus is based on flawed data,” said NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan.

“We don’t know from this data, for example, how many teachers or principals could have been effective at the first rating and because of feedback provided are now highly effective. We keep looking at who is partially effective,” Wright said.

Wright says there’s too much focus on which districts have more or less highly effective teachers and says the real question should be, which districts are providing the best support for their teachers and leaders?