TRENTON, N.J. – An official with New Jersey’s largest teachers union says educators are feeling “terrorized” by the state’s revamped teacher evaluation process which, for the first time ever, considers student achievement in determining a teacher’s overall job performance.

oh no ladyThe Asbury Park Press reports that New Jersey’s 117,000 educators are starting to be evaluated by a new formula that weighs not only teacher practice – as determined through an administrator’s classroom observations – but also student achievement, as measured by their educational growth over time and their standardized test scores.

For nearly eight of every 10 New Jersey educators, student achievement will only make up 15 percent of their overall job evaluation, with traditional classroom observations comprising the remaining 85 percent, according to the Asbury Park Press.

The other 20 percent of teachers will face a more even split: 55 percent of their job reviews will be based on an administrator’s observation of them at work, while the other 45 percent will be based on student achievement.

The 55-45 evaluation “split” appears to affect mostly 4th– through 8th-grade teachers, the Press reports.

Judging from their hyperbole about the new system, New Jersey Education Association leaders prefer the old observation-only system because it was more subjective, and therefore, less threatening.

Under the old system, the vast majority of teachers were found to be “effective,” even as student performance indicators such as test scores and graduation rates were in free fall. That was okay with NJEA leaders, whose main focus is to protect the jobs of all their dues-paying members.

Department of Education Assistant Commissioner Pete Shulman tells the Press the new, data-driven approach to evaluations will help school leaders identify each teacher’s strengths and weaknesses, and to get them the support and training they need to improve.

The system will also presumably make it easier to identify the chronic low-performers and remove them from the classroom.

While marginal teachers might be sweating the new system, New Jersey educators who are confident in their abili0000ties seem to welcome the tougher scrutiny.

“This (system) us meant for the teachers who are just passing out dittos and kicking up their feet and reading the newspaper and not really teaching the kids the way they could be or should be,” design and technology teacher Wendy Green told the paper.

However, Green does share concerns that holding teachers accountable for the academic performance “of kids who are being abused at home” or “worried about their next meal” isn’t very fair.

That’s a valid concern, one that’s shared by a lot of hard-working teachers.

Obviously, no one wants to see decent, conscientious educators losing their jobs over test scores. While such a scenario isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility, it does seem unlikely given that classroom observations still comprise the majority of a teacher’s job review.

As long as school administrators like the way a teacher is doing his job – and as long as his students are showing academic growth over time (which is a more forgiving measurement than raw test score data) – it seems probable the teacher will stay employed.

We’ll admit the new evaluation system isn’t perfect, but as Winston Churchill once said of democracy, it’s still better than any other system that’s been tried.

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