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Student Scores Get their First Test in Grading Teachers

Pilot districts get test scores tied individual teachers, so far with little controversy.

New Jersey’s first effort to correlate student test scores to individual teachers quietly began this month, as nearly a dozen districts were sent data that does exactly that.

The new data, which uses a measure called “student growth percentiles” (SGP), was mailed early this month to the first 11 districts involved in the state’s teacher evaluation pilot -- from large ones Newark and Elizabeth to smaller ones like Bergenfield and Alexandria.

The measure compares the median of a student's progress against comparable children statewide, and pairs that progress -- or lack of it -- to a specific teacher. The progress reports only cover teachers working in math and language arts in grades 3 through 8, the grades covered by the state’s annual NJASK (New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge) tests.

Assistant Commissioner Peter Shulman said in his letter to districts that the initial data is meant as a first foray into the information that will be central to the state’s evaluation system.

“The purpose of this data distribution is to help pilot districts and the Department to learn more about this student achievement measure as part of the piloting process,” he wrote.

The data is almost surely the most controversial component of the evaluations. And this release was just the start of a torrent of similar numbers to be provided districts over the next year, using SGP to assess not just teachers but also schools and entire districts.

The stakes will be especially high for teachers. Evaluation systems will be mandated for every district by next fall, although student performance will not necessarily be part of a teacher's grade from the start.

Student test scores are only one of several measures to be used to grade teachers, and then only for those whose students take the state’s tests. Shulman repeatedly stressed that the pilots are a work in progress, a template to help determine the state's guidelines on which factors are to be used. Those much-anticipated regulations are expected this spring.

“The purpose of our current pilot is to collaboratively develop more meaningful evaluation systems that will help all educators continuously improve their practice,” Shulman wrote to the pilot districts. “As a central … tenet, we believe that educators should never be evaluated on a single factor or test score alone, but on multiple measures of both effective practice and student learning outcomes.”

The early reaction from a handful of local administrators contacted last week was generally positive.

By and large, the administrators said the data looked consistent with their own measures of individual teacher performance, as observed in classrooms and schools.

“Our early data is pretty positive in connecting our own feedback on teachers with their student outcomes,” said Rachel Goldberg, Elizabeth’s director of staff development, whose district received the data on 278 of its more than 2,000 certificated staff.

“It was pretty consistent,” she said. “It has been a definite reinforcement in terms of the feedback we were already giving to teachers.”

Continue reading on NJSpotlight.com.

NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

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