In testimony before the Senate Education Committee, Education Law Center urged legislators to put off changes to New Jersey’s tenure law until the State’s teacher evaluation pilot program is completed.
The testimony, delivered by Stan Karp, ELC’s Director of Secondary Reform, addressed Senate Bill 1455, known as the TEACHNJ Act and sponsored by Senator Teresa Ruiz. Under S1455, new teachers and principals would not be eligible for tenure unless they receive a rating of “effective” or “highly effective” for three consecutive years based on a new “evaluation rubric” approved by the Commissioner of Education. Two years of poor ratings would cause them to lose tenure.
The NJ Department of Education is currently conducting a program in which 11 school districts are piloting a new teacher evaluation process that bases 50% of a teacher’s rating on student test scores. The DOE recently announced that the pilot will continue through the 2012-13 school year. However, under S1455, districts would be required to adopt the new system by December 31 2012, before the pilot is completed and evaluated.
Karp emphasized that because the pilot program is supposed to assess the feasibility and reliability of using the Department’s “student growth” scores to evaluate teacher performance, adoption of S1455 is especially “premature.“ The bill would attach “significant consequences” to the new teacher evaluation system before the pilot is even completed.
“S1455 would do more than put the cart before the horse,” said Karp. “It would preempt the public discussion and review of the results of the pilot that must take place if new evaluation guidelines are to have the credibility they need to succeed.”
ELC also identified several other major problems with the proposed bill, including the unknown costs to local districts and schools of implementing new student tests and teacher evaluation systems. While the proposed bill would require the State to provide funds to implement the new evaluation system, it has not identified what those costs are.
ELC is urging legislators to hold off on changes to the current teacher evaluation and tenure laws until the results of the pilot can be publicly vetted by all stakeholders. ELC is also calling for a renewed effort “to build consensus for a transparent, credible evaluation with broad public and professional support. Completing the current pilot, rather than adopting new legislative mandates, is the next, best step towards that goal.”
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