TRENTON - The Christie administration's rollback of new standardized tests as a measure for teacher evaluations marks a major concession by the governor, who has been a strong supporter of the new academic standards linked to those exams.
Governor Christie announced the rollback Monday while ordering the creation of a commission to study the effectiveness and impact of all standardized tests given in the state. [Emphasis added by JPB]
The two actions came amid growing criticism of the new academic standards known as Common Core and the tests linked to them. [Emphasis added by JPB] Many parents have contended that too much testing is harmful to students. The teachers union has argued that the new exams have been rushed, that districts aren't ready, and that it's too soon to judge teachers on the results. Political conservatives - a key constituency for potential GOP presidential hopefuls like Christie - believe the standards are a federal intrusion in the classroom, and they have put pressure on governors to roll them back.
"This is an issue that is a national issue," state Education Commissioner David Hespe said in an interview Monday. "We want to understand all the assessments that our children are taking. We want to know: Are they all necessary and can we do it better? I think the answer is yes."
The rollback would minimize the impact of tests on teacher evaluations, making them worth 10 percent in the next school year instead of 30 percent. Their portion of teacher evaluations might increase to as much as 20 percent in the next two school years.
The teacher evaluation changes must be approved by the state Board of Education - an action that Hespe expects will be taken up "as early as next month on an expedited basis."
Teachers had flooded both the board and the state Legislature with calls for a moratorium on the use of new tests for their evaluations, and for a review of their usefulness.
The New Jersey Education Association, which represents teachers, welcomed the compromise with the Christie administration.
"The NJEA believes this agreement is the best possible outcome, and it should lead to common-sense, research-based recommendations from the Study Commission," said Wendell Steinhauer, president of the union.
He pointed to bills in the Senate and the Assembly that would delay the use of tests as teacher performance measures and to create a task force to examine the Common Core standards. Steinhauer said he believes the key reason for Christie's concession was that the measure had wide public support, was overwhelmingly passed in the Assembly, and was poised to pass in the Senate - which could have forced a gubernatorial veto.
Steve Wollmer, communications director for the union, said the governor saw that the implementation would be a "train wreck" and could have led to greater problems.
In the practice rounds of testing this year, districts reported problems with technology. Parents feared that preparation for tests had dominated classroom instruction.
The commission created by Christie's executive order will review the effectiveness of all K-12 tests used to assess student knowledge. The commission will look at volume, frequency and impact of student testing throughout New Jersey school districts.
Christie will appoint all nine commission members, who should have expertise or experience in education policy or administration, according to his order. The commission will issue an initial report with recommendations by Dec. 31, and a final report seven months later.
Hespe said the commission will check on whether tests can be used for multiple purposes and whether any are redundant.
Jean McTavish, a Ridgewood parent who had her children opt out of new standardized tests, said she remains skeptical of real change. She worried the tests led teachers to narrow the curriculum and teach to the test, and that liberal arts education was suffering as a result.
"Ultimately, I don't think this is going to change much, but it's a good thing people are going to learn more," she said. "I anticipate this is going to be a long conversation about how best to educate our children."
The task force will not review the effectiveness of the Common Core State Standards in general, as some critics had wanted. New Jersey adopted the standards in 2010 and was one of 44 states to do so.
The standards, developed with support from governors and business, created a uniform list of what students should learn in English and math by grade level. It was intended to raise standards and better prepare students for college. But controversy and complaints have prompted many states to pass laws in recent months to review or revoke standards.
Political conservatives have been among the harshest critics and have assailed Republicans who support the standards. Christie could face questions about his support for Common Core if he seeks the Republican Party nod for president.
In a press release, Christie touted his commitment to school spending, rigorous education and teacher effectiveness.
"Establishing this commission is just another step in ensuring we're providing the best quality education possible to our students." ------------------------------------ SIDEBAR PHOTO: Governor Christie -- AP FILE PHOTO ------------------------------------ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org **********************************************