In contrast to the languid days of August, yesterday’s meeting of the NJ State Board of Education, was characterized by strong presentations and debate concerning a changed NJDOE direction and “theory of action” on the critical topics of student assessment, graduation requirements and educator evaluation. At the July 11 State Board of Education meeting, Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet introduced proposals to revise our current Standards and Assessment Code, N.J.A.C. 6A:8, for the 2018-19 school year and beyond.
These proposed changes signal a move to Phase II of the Department’s campaign to engage educators, and the public in the discussion of the issues related to student learning, assessment and readiness for college or career. During the months of May and June, the NJDOE conducted an extensive statewide listening tour across stakeholder groups, communities and school districts. The Department’s outreach team conducted 75 in-person sessions with various groups including NJPSA members, held three live webinars, solicited written comment and ultimately heard from more than 2,300 students, teachers, school and district leaders, educational advocates, parents and community leaders. In response to these conversations, the NJDOE has proposed interim code changes for the new school year (and beyond) to create the opportunity to do the important work needed to revise our teaching and assessment system for the future while “doing no harm” to current students:
These proposed changes, if adopted unchanged by the State Board of Education, will modify the current approach for existing students to meeting state graduation requirements in the following ways:
Important Policy Discussion
An important presentation by Dr. Arthur VanderVeen of New Meridian, a subcontractor engaged by the NJDOE to assist New Jersey with technical support in the development of a new state assessment system, sparked yesterday’s extensive discussion. New Meridian’s mission is to work with states to develop assessments ‘focused on critical thinking, reasoning, research, and communication skills in ways that are more in-depth and creative than traditional large-scale assessments.“ The company does this in a variety of ways including content licensing and subscription with 11 states licensing shared content in 2018 including New Jersey.
Dr. VanderVeen discussed current trends in the assessment landscape across the country. Topics included the test design process, the continuation of the “opt-out” issue, the move from consortium developed assessments to shared content licensing in the context of custom test design by states, the issues surrounding the use of SAT/ACT as a graduation requirement (standards alignment and access), and the movement toward closing the so-called “honesty gap” between state proficiency standards and NAEP (New Jersey has no gap).
Throughout this presentation, State Board members peppered Vanderveen and Dr. Linda Eno, NJDOE Assistant Commissioner in the Division of Teaching and Learning, with substantive policy questions which led to a lively discussion. State Board President Arcelio Aponte raised concerns about maintaining high expectations of student performance in all districts, particularly if New Jersey considers a reduction in standardized testing. VanderVeen acknowledged important research highlighting the critical importance of a high quality, standards-aligned curriculum across districts as the most important indicator of student success. He also noted the importance of professional development, supportive instructional resources, teacher/ leader quality and standards alignment system wide. Eno signaled a new “theory of action” by the Department focused on maintaining New Jersey’s high quality learning standards with an aligned curriculum and system of state and local assessments designed to support every student’s learning.
State Board members also raised the question of the validity of utilizing standardized test scores in educator evaluation (teachers and principals). Noting the importance of teacher and leader quality in student performance, he cited the mixed research on this issue. Commissioner Repollet advised the State Board that he is currently considering a reduction in the weight that standardized test scores will have in the evaluation scoring of teachers and principals for the 2018-19 school year. Repollet is convening a steering committee next week to review New Jersey’s data on the effectiveness of this policy. The Steering Committee will be comprised of NJDOE staff, legislators and members of the Governor’s office. Repollet will announce his decision on the new evaluation weight for standardized test scores for the 2018-19 school year before the end of August.
State Board members raised other critical issues including the link between assessment cut scores and dropout rates, appropriate alternate measures of college and career readiness, equity/ access issues, data quality/ timeliness, test structure, length and administration issues, and the potential impacts of eliminating four PARCC assessments at the high school level (Geometry, Algebra II and ELA 9 and 11).
Significantly, the NJDOE, through New Meridian, is already working to reduce the length of time for both the ELA 10 and Algebra I from a four-hour assessment to a three-hour assessment. Since the fall of 2017, New Meridian has been working on the development of a shorter assessment in these areas with working groups comprised of test experts and educators. The shortened test is still in the validation process, but may be an option for New Jersey in the near future. This shortened test would be a subset of ELA 10 and Algebra I maintaining a comprehensive, in-depth coverage of New Jersey’s Learning Standards, the use of textual evidence within the ELA test, math tasks utilizing mathematical reasoning to solve authentic problems, and an established scale benchmarked to our 2015 PARCC baseline.
The State Board will continue this discussion at its September meeting at which there will be additional opportunities to share your views to engage on this important topic.
Public Testimony Session
Following its meeting, the State Board held a public testimony session. NJPSA Executive Director Patricia Wright and NJPSA President-Elect Karen Bingert testified in support of the proposed code changes. After acknowledging the hard work of Commissioner Repollet and the NJDOE team, Wright expressed NJPSA support for a transition to a more balanced assessment system with “the right tools and framework in place so that the new assessment system drives continuous improvement of teaching and learning.” “We must look toward creating a learning system in which the next generation assessment system is tightly aligned with the rigorous NJ Learning Standards in a way that ensures that the resulting data provides actionable and timely information to students, parents, and educators to enhance learning,” urged Wright.
Hillsborough High School Principal Karen Bingert shared her students experience with PARCC, noting the unintended consequences of PARCC testing on the instructional life of her building and her students. Bingert noted the disruptive impact of the current testing system on the instructional schedule of her school, the duplicative nature of some of the mandated testing and the questionable data that results when students see no relevance of a particular assessment to their future. “In a perfect world, the state assessment test required for high school graduation will align with our state learning standards and objectives, but will also be relevant to high school students.”
Next month, the State Board of Education will continue its discussion at the September 12 meeting. If you are interested in presenting either written or oral testimony to the Board, NJPSA is available to assist you. You may sign up to speak at the public testimony session by registering during the sign-up period of August 9, 2018 to noon on September 6, 2018. You can sign up online at www.homeroom5.doe.state.nj.us/events or simply call the NJ State Board of Education office during this window at (609) 376-9071. For further assistance, please contact the Government Relations Department at NJPSA (609) 860-1200.