Thursday, July 10, 2014

NJBOE Testimony Part I: Educators stand up, speak out, fight back

Be sure to check out Parts II and III.

Yesterday was an NJEA Lobby Day at the NJ State Board of Education, and as usual, our members didn't disappoint. There was a good crowd, among which were many first-time speakers. I'm proud to be part of an association that includes so many articulate and passionate educators who know the facts and are not blinded by empty rhetoric nor cowed by bullying and aggression. I'm optimistic that the number of new speakers is a sign that more voices will join what I call 'The Fight' as we inch closer to PARCC testing madness. In the next few posts I'll be highlighting some of the testimony.

NJEA has been pressuring the state board and the state legislature to slow down the implementation of the PARCC testing and form a task force to study the efficacy of the tests and the Common Core. S2154/A3081, the bill originally sponsored by Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland), made it out of committee and the assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support. As of this writing, we are anxiously waiting to see if Senate President Steve Sweeney will post it for a vote. Save Our Schools NJ has been posting updates on their Facebook page as information becomes available, and NJ Spotlight is reporting that Gov. Christie may opt for some sort of compromise. The details are still unclear, but a decision could be made this week. 

What is very clear however, is that educators all across the state are overwhelmed by the increased burden of teaching to a test that has never been proven to do what it claims to do. Far too much instructional time is now devoted to test prep of one form or another, and far too little time is available for educators to do the job right. And starting with the 2014-2015 school year, we go live with this new evaluation system where PARCC scores count for 30% of some educators' summative evaluations.   

The following testimony is from 7th grade math educator, Mary Steinhauer. She highlights the fact that, when PARCC goes live, educators may be working for 6 additional months before they know the results of their evaluation. If the aim of this new system is to weed out all those 'bad teachers', why would it be structured so as to let them remain on the job an additional half year?


There are three things I would like to discuss with you today:
  1. Evaluations
  2. Testing - PARCC
  3. SGO/SGP scoring

First, I want to say thank you for allowing me this time to address you. I am a 35+ years classroom teacher representing Burlington County Education Association as the president of its 10,000 members, and also representing the NJEA Instruction Committee as its chair.

I am a highly effective teacher in my practice, but left school in June not knowing what my final summative score is. You see I teach 7th grade math, a tested subject area. So I must wait until December or January to finish my evaluation for 2013-14. This is almost halfway through the 2014-15 school year. This is unacceptable to me as I prepare over the summer for the next school year. Do we wait 6 months for results from the doctor? Do we wait 6 months to find out if we are pregnant? Do we wait 6 months for anything that could affect our livelihood? Well, this is what you are asking the tested area educators to do.

I have no control over how the SGP score that I am waiting for is determined. And how do I even know if it is correct? (emphasis mine)

As I stated the last time I was here, this SGP score is 30% of my evaluation while I am only in contact with the students 1/8th of their day, and statistics show that the school environment is only accountable for 1/3 of the student’s development. Therefore, this calculates to us being a little more than 4% responsible with a weight of 30% accountability. Somehow this doesn’t add up nor make sense.

Let’s talk about what determines this SGP: a test that the 3rd through 8th grade students take on a computer. Right now, it is expected to be the PARCC tests next year. I have been serving as a PARCC item reviewer and can tell you clearly that if my career is going to be determined by this test, I might as well retire like many other veteran educators. Have you gone on the PARCC website and tried the samples? Most [school districts] are not tech ready, the questions are too lengthy for a computer read, and there are going to be multiple select instead of multiple choice questions. Let me explain this. The students will need to identify all the correct answers out of 7 to get the problem correct. Where the students are to model an answer for an extended response, they are going to only be able to write an equation with the equation creator. They cannot make a graph, chart, diagram, or a picture. In my classroom, my students learn to think and discover how to get to a good answer, not just write an equation. Can you see these students sitting at these computers for over 2 hours to complete this test?  Can you concentrate for 2 solid hours at a computer screen? 

I am frustrated, angry, and just plan worn out from all of this, as are my county members and my Instruction Committee members. I don’t know how you plan on drawing the best and brightest college students into this career that I love, but if this doesn’t get fixed, you will have no veteran teachers, and no new teachers to serve and dedicate their lives to the students of this great state of New Jersey.

I love working with my students, watching them grow, seeing them become well-rounded adults, and instilling in them a love for learning. If we don’t stop this craziness, we will lose a whole generation of creative, innovative and well-educated children.  Please slow this down, and let’s get this right for our children, my students, and the future educators of this state.

Mary Steinhauer is a 7th grade math teacher, President of the Burlington County Education Association, an NJEA Professional Development Consultant, a Certified Smartboard™ Trainer/Lesson Developer, a Smart Exemplary Educator and a PARCC Item Reviewer/Sensitivity and Bias Reviewer.