Buono bill for teacher evaluations disregards standardized tests

TRENTON – State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-18), of Metuchen, has entered the teacher evaluation reform discussion with the introduction of S3129, a state-blueprinted, locally-adjusted system modeled on the Cincinnati Public Schools’ evaluation policy.

Buono’s bill provides a third option in evaluation reform; Gov. Chris Christie’s initiatives are embodied in state Sen. Joe Kyrillo’s (R-13), of Middletown, “School Children First” bill and the N.J. Education Association has their own model that has yet to be submitted as legislation.

With Christie focused on increasing the importance of standardized tests, Buono provided a research study from Harvard, Stanford, and Brown universities (Journal of Human Resources, Summer 2011) that found that an evaluation process based on “well-executed classroom observations, when performed by trained professionals, using an extensive set of standards, can identify practices that will raise student achievement.” The study is critical of the pressure to “teach to the test” for standardized exams.

Buono’s bill is based upon a long-running Teacher Evaluation System (TES) used in the Cincinnati Public Schools that uses multiple classroom observations and a review of work products, but not student test scores. The senator said in a press release today that she hopes to advance her legislation in the lame duck session.

NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said the union has been in conversations with Buono about her bill. They weren’t active in the drafting of it, but offered suggestions should the measure be revised as it moves through Trenton.

“We’re pushing the evaluation proposal that we put out,” Baker said, which increases the frequency and intensity of teacher evaluations, but, like Buono’s bill, also downplays the importance of standardized tests.

“Teacher quality is the greatest in-school determinant of student academic achievement,” said Buono. “There is a solid base of research which tells us if we want to improve student learning, then we need to look at teacher practices within the classroom. And we simply cannot do this by relying on standardized test scores that don’t identify effective classroom practices which can be targeted with professional development and peer feedback.”

Another report in March 2011 for the National Bureau of Economic Research pinpoints the Cincinnati TES classroom evaluation cycle as a more effective method in the long-term. “If our focus is on measuring and improving teacher effectiveness then relying on test scores that can fluctuate wildly over time for reasons beyond a teacher’s control, should give us pause,” said Buono.  “Tests are just not the most reliable way to measure and improve teacher effectiveness.”

Buono bill for teacher evaluations disregards standardized tests