NJSBA testified at the Sept. 5 State Board of Education meeting to provide guidance on the proposed regulations of the "Educator Effectiveness Evaluation System." Besides calling for language to clarify portions of the proposed regulations, NJSBA strongly urged the State Board to ensure local boards of education are provided with the appropriate resources to implement the new teacher-evaluation system.
The new educator-evaluation system is the foundation of the TEACH-NJ tenure-reform act that was signed into law last month. The State Board’s 49 pages of proposed regulations – which cover teaching staff members, including certificated staff ranging from teachers and principals to school nurses and school athletic trainers – detail how the evaluations will be implemented under the TEACH-NJ law.
The law requires schools to implement a four-level evaluation system of teachers and principals. Superintendents are required to file tenure charges against teaching staff members after two unsatisfactory evaluations (unless the superintendent defers the filing of charges a year due to extraordinary circumstances). After the superintendent files charges, the local school board has 30 days to certify the charges to the state Education Commissioner, or charges will be dismissed. The commissioner reviews whether charges have merit, and refers cases to arbitrators, who have 90 days to hear and decide tenure cases. In addition, new teachers can obtain tenure after four years, not three.
The State Board heard public testimony at the New Jersey Department of Education headquarters in Trenton. NJSBA provided the following testimony:
(N.J.A.C. 6A:10-2) State Board of Education September 5, 2012
Michael Vrancik, Director of Governmental Relations, New Jersey School Boards Association
The New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), a federation of 587 local school districts with 68 associate charter school members, thanks the State Board of Education for the opportunity to provide testimony on the Educator Effectiveness Evaluation System Regulations.
NJSBA strongly supports the goal of these regulations: to advance academic achievement by ensuring that every New Jersey student has access to a highly effective teacher.
We want the new evaluation process to succeed. With this goal in mind, NJSBA raises three issues. First, local school districts will need resources and funding from the state, as stated in the TEACH-NJ Act, to implement the evaluation model. Second, the code must distinguish clearly between the responsibilities of the local board of education and school district administration. And third, confusing and contradictory language in the proposed regulations should be amended to ensure smooth implementation of the evaluation process and compliance with the intent of the TEACH-NJ Act.
Adequate Funding The proposed regulations will not be published in the New Jersey Register until at least November 2012. However, each local school board will be required to establish a District Evaluation Advisory Committee by October 31 and adopt educator evaluation rubrics, including a district teaching practice evaluation rubric and a principal practice evaluation rubric, by December 31. Furthermore all districts will be required to have in place a pilot of an approved version of the approved evaluation methodology by January 31, 2013.
This is where the question of adequate funding becomes acute. Thirty-six school districts, along with 19 individual schools that receive federal School Improvement Grants, are currently piloting selected versions of the new teacher evaluation system. A July news release from the New Jersey Department of Education indicates that, just for the pilot programs in these districts and schools alone, the state has invested $1.4 million for 2012-13.
Will the state make additional resources available to the remaining 551 districts that need to establish their own pilot programs within the next five months?
Section 20 of the TEACH-NJ Act (P.L. 2012 c. 26) is clear: "The Department of Education shall provide the funds necessary to effectuate the provisions of this act." Those statutory provisions include the establishment of a statewide evaluation process. NJSBA, therefore, believes it is reasonable and necessary for the state to provide additional funding to enable the local boards of education to meet the proposed additional deadlines.
Right now, general fund unreserved surplus is the only non-federal source that local school districts may use for this purpose. The proposed regulations appear to assume that local entities will provide the resources to effectuate the new evaluation models. Yet, current-year school district budgets were struck before the signing of the TEACH-NJ Act and the drafting of the proposed regulations. Those budgets did not include the funds needed to meet the new timelines and requirements reflected in the proposed regulations.
And the requirements are extensive. For example, Section 6A:10-2.2 ("Evaluation of teaching staff members") requires district boards of education to adopt procedures that provide—
Similar requirements apply to the procedures for applying the principal practice evaluation instrument. These include—
Additional compliance requirements for each local board of education include the establishment of school improvement panels which have far reaching responsibilities. The panels will oversee the mentoring of teachers and will identify professional development opportunities for all instructional staff members that are tailored to meet the unique needs of the individual school’s students and staff.
Local boards of education are also required to provide training on the adopted teaching practice observation instrument by July 1, 2013, to teaching staff members. Staff members hired after May 1, 2013 must be trained prior to August 31, 2013. Training shall include detailed descriptions of all aspects of the teaching practice evaluation instrument, as well as detailed and concrete descriptions of applied instrument use.
Clarification of Local School Board’s Role As the proposed code sets out the local responsibilities, it shifts from the term "local board of education" to the term "school district." Are the two terms used interchangeably? Or do the proposed regulations intend to apply certain responsibilities to school district administration as opposed to local boards of education? If so, further clarification is needed.
The requirements that the proposed regulations assign to "school districts" include—
Finally, there is a requirement to report to the Department of Education by April 30, 2013 and August 31, 2013 on the progress of implementation of the requirements in accordance with Department guidelines. Who would issue the report—the school district administration, the local board of education or the administration upon the approval of the school board?
Clarification of Code Language This represents just one example of proposed code language that is unclear, confusing and inconsistent with provisions of the TEACH-NJ Act
The proposed code contains terminology that is not in the TEACH-NJ Act and is sometimes left over from regulations governing the current evaluation process and which may or may not be consistent with the new system. Terms are used interchangeably in various sections of the proposed code and the TEACH-NJ Act, and their meaning becomes unclear. Some procedures set out in the proposed regulations are convoluted and confusing. Areas in need of refinement include the following:
Let me be clear: The New Jersey School Boards Association strongly supports the establishment of a fair and consistent evaluation process based upon student achievement and sound teaching practices. We offer these comments so that local school boards will have the resources and the clear and consistent direction necessary to implement the new evaluation process envisioned by the TEACH NJ Act.