Christie bends on state tests, parents thrown under the school bus

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The Bros
The Bros

                Gov. Chris Christie has agreed to a two-year delay in fully using the results of new standardized tests to evaluate New Jersey public school teachers, according to Statehouse and other sources. He also will reduce, from 30 percent to 10 and then 20 percent, how much the scores will count in future teacher evaluations.  He will not, however, agree to delaying other uses of test results pending the work of a special study commission that would have at least two years to study the new testing program. The compromise, expected to form the basis of either an executive order or newly proposed regulations to be issued by Christie this week, is likely to make teacher unions and legislators happy but ignores the demands of less powerful parent groups.

(NOTE: Christie, it turns out, would not agree to the two-year delay for any use of student results. He agreed to a two-year delay in full implementation of the 30 percent weight given to test results. I apologize for the error).

Barring a change of heart by the teacher unions or key legislators, the compromise is likely to be put into effect in the fall.    It would do nothing to prevent the tests themselves or their use for measuring student achievement.         

“The tests are coming and they’re coming this year,” said one source close to the Statehouse negotiations. “They’re not going away and they won’t be studied forever.’’

                An assembly bill with much stricter limits on the testing program sailed through the Assembly by a bipartisan, veto-proof, 72-4 margin with two abstentions.  It was expected to be put up for a Senate vote the following week but the rare demonstration of actual legislative initiative and courage was, as expected,  pulled by state Senate President and  Christie-bro Sen. Steve Sweeney (D-Burlington).

                Sweeney and others then went into negotiations to find a compromise  and possibly avoid a veto override vote during which most Republican legislators would miraculously have a change of heart about the need for the legislation and rally around their political godfather.

                Sweeney’s intervention—first signaled by the cold feet of state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chair of the Senate Education Committee who would not press for a vote on the Assembly bill—gives the Senate president and likely gubernatorial candidate an opportunity to kiss and make up with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and other school unions. The Senate President, who often is billed as a “labor leader,” has consistently betrayed public employees as favors to Christie and Christie’s virtual South Jersey co-governor, George Norcross, the Democratic political boss of South Jersey.

Without Sweeney, Christie would never have achieved the cuts in public employee pensions and benefits that Christie has used to portray himself as a national leader—and presidential candidate–who can work with Democrats. It would only confuse his presidential campaign for the Governor to have to explain how he uses Sweeney to achieve what he and Norcross want.

Without legislative intervention, the so-called PARCC tests, based on national—but called “state” for political reasons– Common Core curricular standards will be introduced in the coming school year. They also could have been used to measure teacher and school effectiveness.

The legislation, sponsored chiefly by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), would have imposed a moratorium on teacher, student, and school accountability uses of the testing program, although not the tests themselves,  while a study commission—with representatives from a variety of groups and many politicians—decided what to do with New Jersey’s testing program.

NJEA officials already have both publicly and privately signaled their willingness to kill the legislation in favor of allowing Christie to do the deal without resort to legislation.  “We could go either way,” said one NJEA official.

What no one is discussing, however, is how this “compromise” represents yet another stab in the back of those who hoped the Legislature might side with parents opposed to the whole concept of high-stakes testing. Consistently, Sweeney and Ruiz and Christie have made their own deals on important pieces of educational legislation.

The trio has, for example, buried long and persistent demands  by state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) to investigate the failures of the state-operated school administration in Newark, headed  by Christie agent Cami Anderson. They also have buried charter reform legislation, particularly because Norcross is using charter expansion to build his own gentrified and privately-operated charter school district in Camden—even naming some of the schools for his own family. Legislation designed to prevent the kind of school closings that have sent Newark into turmoil have been stripped of most provisions even before it was sent to Christie.

The NJEA and other groups might hail the testing compromise as a victory but, in the end, it’s likely only to bury public schools deeper under the weight of politics and privatization.

11 comments

  1. Jersey Jazzman

    It is an indication of how arbitrary the process of tying test scores to teacher evaluations is when the governor — on the basis of absolutely nothing — can change the weight of test scores in those evaluations merely by executive order.

    The truth is that the entire system is flawed. As I testified at the NJBOE last week, you can’t combine SGPs (the way the state converts test scores into teacher evaluation metrics) with observation scores without violating basic laws of mathematics and measurement — laws that, ironically, students must demonstrate an understanding of according to the Common Core standards.

    Delaying the high-stakes decisions attached to these tests delays the day of reckoning when AchieveNJ will be challenged in court. At that time, the entire system will be shown to be fraudulent and will have to be scrapped.

    But by then, Chris Christie will be long gone.

    Bob Braun: Yup. All right, JJ.

  2. Jacman

    Parents, with NEA and AFT backing should mount a massive opt out movement. The tests benefit no one except the testing corporations.

  3. veronica naegele

    I believe that student test scores should be used to evaluate teachers when crime statistics should be you used to evaluate police forces. Think about it police officers would not receive pay raises just by working in high crime areas …doesn’t make sense? Well its the same for teachers!

    • Joe

      I agree Veronica and I would add that it would be like setting up charter police forces because of the supposedly failing district police stations. Yeah, let’s see how that works, set up two parallel and competing police systems. Great if you want chaos and insanity.

  4. Lisa Rodgers

    Doesn’t NJEA see what Christie is doing! IF this negotiation goes through and NJEA bends, Christie wins because will be in an uproar that NJEA made sure they were covered but not parents. LET IT GO TO A VOTE!!! NJEA Please do not sell us parents out!

  5. Rick

    I will drive the Refuse option and the data mining of our children for parents to put a huge dent in their plans. Parents must stick together and fight for our kids future

  6. Howard Howson

    This makes it evident that the Governor is playing politics with public education. Here is an attempt to temper teacher anger at the way they have been treated by this guy as he sets himself up to run for president. Well I say no. I challenge all teachers to change the public dialogue/debate by educating their friends, family & acquaintances on what is going on in education & the greater ploy to break unions in this country & privatize public education for profit. The NJEA seems to be losing its footing because it has not sought to use its membership to shape the public debate by speaking our side of the story. The governor has the media at his disposal to paint teachers as lazy, greedy, over compensated public servants while he directs public funds to his pious donors.

  7. Becca Field

    To continue with your metaphor – it is much harder to end up under the bus if we do not lie down in the middle of the road. If we want to protect our children — and I protected mine by refusing to have them take the tests this year — through legislation, it cannot be halfway. Taking the tests, the mid year assessments, the beginning of the year assessments, prepping in between and narrowing the curriculum as the districts spend hundreds of thousands investing in the tests – these are the protections they need. And so if we want to really protect them we must realize that The PARCC tests are intrinsically linked to the Common Core State Standards. We will not win any meaningful protection for our kids by fighting half the battle or supporting legislation that takes 2 years to evaluate the damage being done to our kids – we know that already and we need to fight to stop it now.

  8. Heather

    I think that a test based on improvement from each individual student would be helpful to evaluate students.
    The fact remains the teachers have to have some accountability and so do students. Since teachers requirements and styles vary so greatly testing can be helpful to determine individual knowledge and improvement. The problem really is not the test but rather parents reaction to their kids test scores, schools uses of those test scores which are often used for placement and the medias attitude torwards schools results.
    One reason parrc is being delayed is that schools need multiple computers and students need to have some practice test taking with a drop and drag system parrc has.

  9. jdlenox

    I am disgusted with this. My group Concerned Citizens of SNJ have been patient and respectful of both the Assembly and Senate legislators since March, 2013, when we began our crusade. Parents must unite for the sakes of their children. The first bill originally introduced on September 12, 2013 laid out the terms that we agreed upon. Nine months later the baby was thrown out with the bath water! Email me janilen@1791.com for the ugly truth.

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