Teachers Get High Marks in New Evaluation System

By Briana Vannozzi

The education community isn’t the least bit surprised.

“We are consistently ranked as one of the highest public school systems in the nation and that must mean that our teachers are doing something right,” said teacher and education blogger and teacher Mark Weber.

97 percent of New Jersey teachers are considered effective or highly effective under the state’s new teacher evaluation system. It’s the first round of assessments since New Jersey implemented the highly debated tenure reform law called TEACHNJ.

The report, released by the Department of Education, shows 23.4 percent rated as highly effective. Nearly 74 percent effective, 2.5 percent were partially effective and an even smaller number — two-tenths of a percent — ineffective.

Those bottom two tiers translate to approximately 2,900 teachers in need of additional support out of more than 113,000 evaluated. The state says that’s double the amount found under the old system.

“The problem is they don’t have the data disaggregated so you can drill down and see exactly what, you know, were they brand new teachers, were they basic skills teachers, were they special education teachers? Once we can get that information it will be better to figure out,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer.

NJEA’s president called the results exceptional, crediting the quality of teachers across the state. But the organization has long questioned the use of student test scores for the ratings.

“I think the teachers will feel more comfortable with it in the fall and that way the 90 percent is based on what they’re really doing, rather than a test score. Every researcher of credibility has said you can’t use test scores to evaluate teachers,” Steinhauer said.

The state says it’s not about punishing teachers, but providing support for the ones in need. And conceded this is just a snapshot.

“While one year of this new data is insufficient for identifying sustained trends or making sweeping conclusions about the state’s teaching staff, we are proud of this significant improvement,” said New Jersey Department of Education Chief Talent Officer Peter Shulman.

Teachers are now evaluated three times a year, instead of one. The breakdown for their scores gets a bit more complicated and was highly politicized in the roll out. Eighty-five percent of most teacher’s evaluations were based on observations, and 15 percent for student growth on tests and quizzes. But a smaller portion of teachers had their results include student scores on standardized tests. The result? It didn’t make a difference either way.

“We’re going to take them and we’re going to try and do the best thing that we can with them. But at the end of the day I feel like those were put in place because it seemed like the tested area teachers, the ones that are in grades 4-8, were having this extra thing imposed on them. And to make it a little bit easier for the rest of us to swallow, the state decided to put the SGOs in place. But again there’s really no evidence that shows that these things are actually going to help our practice,” Weber said.

Teachers with the lowest scores will now have two years to improve under a corrective action plan or risk termination.