OCEAN CITY - The city's teachers will be among the first in the state to try out a new teacher evaluation system. But it's the students who took the first test in the process.
All students in grades one through eight started the school year by taking the Measures of Academic Progress test, or MAP, which will provide the baseline data to evaluate the teachers on how much students learn this year.
School Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said that within the next couple of weeks each student also will receive a Personalized Learning Plan.
"Those plans will be sent home to parents to give them an understanding of the progress their children are making," Taylor said.
Teachers received an overview of the new evaluation system Friday at the high school. State Department of Education representatives and Taylor explained the Excellent Educators for New Jersey plan, or EE4NJ, which is being piloted in 11 districts this year, including Ocean City.
"I understand people are very nervous," Jessani Gordon, state EE4NJ project director, told teachers. "I hope that will not be the case shortly."
She said the evaluation system is designed not to penalize teachers but to give them feedback, work on weaknesses, and share strengths.
"We will be learning from you," she said.
The EE4NJ plan calls for 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation to be based on student achievement and 50 percent on teacher practice. The student portion focuses on how much a student progresses each year, not just on their state test score. But the system is much more complex, both for students and teachers, and there is concern that a one-year pilot program is not long enough. School administrators and staff involved in the evaluation process are still undergoing training, and evaluations will not begin until at least December.
Ocean City had already begun revising its own teacher evaluations using the state-endorsed Danielson Framework, which is a main reason the district applied to be part of the pilot program, Taylor said.
"There has been a lot of frustration that when we compared test scores year to year we were comparing two different groups of students," said Joanne Walls, district project director and Primary School principal. "This will compare the progress of the same student. But now there must also be a way to measure progress in subjects not tested by the state."
Curt Nath, a Spanish teacher at the high school and president of the local teachers union, said teachers have been concerned that all of the attention has been paid to the state-tested subjects, specifically math and language arts. He said the new teacher evaluation system will likely mean that students will also be tested more frequently to gauge their progress.
"It's going to be more of a daily process than a big exam at the end of the year," he said.
Both Nath and Taylor said there are still a lot of questions, such as how to gauge student progress for physical education, music, and art teachers. Nath wonders how, in a district with high student mobility, a teacher could be held responsible for the progress of a child who moved three times and has only been in the school for a few months.
"A lot of this hasn't sunk in yet with the teachers," he said. He said the state should give the pilot districts a year to train and practice, then have another full-implementation pilot year before trying to go statewide.
Taylor said other issues include how to evaluate a teacher who is out sick for part of the year or how to factor the lack of progress of a child who is absent a lot.
"This brings a lot of peripheral issues to the forefront," Taylor said.
Gordon said the state is not committed to rolling out the evaluation system statewide next year but is bound by federal regulations to move the process along.
"We understand this is not black and white," Gordon said. "There has been no final decision to roll this out next year."
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