New Jersey teachers of English Language Arts started the school year with some frustrating news. Governor Chris Christie announced that the state will triple the weight of PARCC scores in teacher evaluations. Teachers of students in grades 4-8 who take the PARCC English test will have 30 percent of their annual evaluations based on the scores.
This decision to increase from 10 to 30 percent returns the weights to levels required under the first year of AchieveNJ, a bipartisan statute passed in 2012 that required the use of multiple measures, including standardized test scores, to evaluate teachers. The weight was reduced to 10 percent when the state adopted the PARCC test in order to give teachers and students a chance to adapt to the new exams. According to a memo sent to school administrators by Deputy Commissioner Peter Shulman, “As New Jersey now enters into its third year of PARCC testing, schools have successfully transitioned to the new assessments,” and therefore the increase is warranted.
This recent decision is frustrating news for middle grade ELA teachers, who, along with their counterparts teaching Grades 4-7 math, seem to be singled out by the state in counting student test scores in their evaluations. Though this year’s tests showed gains from NJ students over the initial year of PARCC testing, questions about the validity of the assessment remain.
Clearly, NJ missed the recent ruling in New York where the court sided with a teacher who sued over her ineffective student growth rating. Educational experts agree that using test scores to evaluate teachers is inappropriate. Using them to evaluate such a small percentage of teachers (approximately 15% of the teachers in NJ) is incomprehensible. It seems that Grade 4-8 ELA teachers in NJ are being punished for doing a most important job: developing literacy at a critical age.