Friday, September 9, 2016

Testimony Before the NJDOE on ESSA
Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. Executive Director BATs

NJ asked that states be allowed to set forth the conditions that assessment participation rates factor into the state accountability reporting system. If such is allowed in the future, I recommend that NJ include this factor as a lower part of the overall percentage for a few reasons
  • The validity of PARCC has yet to be proven
  • PARCC testing is still meeting with resistance from parents. Schools should not be penalized for having parents that exercise their right to refuse.
  • Several studies have been released that question the validity in the process and the scoring of standardized tests in general as a measurement of student learning
  • The administration of the PARCC test in NJ is still problematic with technology issues
  • We need to develop and expand upon the understanding that their are more important factors to examine when determining the success of a school. With one in three children in our state living in poverty, a shift in the purpose of our educational systems must occur.

Consequences for schools with lower participation rates should be kept at a minimum. It is backwards to punish a school for having a community that is highly involved in education and exercised their rights.

Flexibility is possible under ESSA for LEA’s to choose nationally recognized statewide assessments as criteria for high school graduation. I urge NJ to follow the spirit of the law and allow such a provision for our local districts. Decisions about education should be a collaboration of all stakeholders, especially community members and parents. To take away this decision would be to impede upon democratic rights.

NJ needs to use this opportunity to decouple teacher evaluations from test scores. This practice unfairly punishes specific teachers around the state. It is proving to be a hinderance in the recruitment of future teachers, especially in areas of high-needs students.

The time frame for labeling a school as underperforming needs to be adjusted.  There are many factors that can cause a school to receive an underperforming rating
But it can also take only one factor to cause this, especially when there are issues surrounding a school superintendent, as has occurred more frequently in this state.  

The spectrum of special education and the needs of those students vary immensely.  Yet we only have two levels of testing available, with the alternate assessment only allowed for severely cognitively impaired. Assessment that is more in line with learning levels, with some allowance for attainable growth, needs to be developed.

ESSA allows for additional measurement indicators to be incorporated into the accountability system. NJ should use this opportunity to include other areas that have previously been ignored.
  • Indicators of student social/emotional health
  • Ease of access for students to remediation/assistance/modifications to assist with learning
  • Community and parent engagement
  • Postsecondary completion - provision of transition support and services
  • Incorporation of alternative disciplinary methods - schools currently work to get their suspension rates low, but teachers are not provided with the training or means to assist with reaching these goals.
  • Public preschool offerings, funded as a part of the state budget, not a third party bond.
  • Access to effective teachers in that we recognize that this often means teachers that are culturally similar to the student population. We need programs for more teachers of color, Hispanic, and Asian American teachers.

ESSA now permits states to include assessments that measure student academic growth and assessments to be partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks. Since we know that this provides a more comprehensive understanding of a student’s progress in learning, we should be looking to incorporate this into our assessment systems as a norm, not just as an alternative. New Jersey has a progressive education system and this would be a part of the next step to develop it further.

High Schools that house less that 100 at risk students are allowed to be exempt from providing necessary interventions to these students. These students are no less as important as any other student. Interventions should be mandatory and financial support should be provided to these districts for specific assistance.

English Language Learner programming should be extended. Two years is not a long enough time for a person to acquire mastery of a language. Studies show that upwards of 6 years is necessary. Students should also be assessed in their native language so that a better understanding of their true learning levels can be ascertained. It is hard to classify an English Language Learner because most people assume it is only a language barrier.

Standards have been re-written to change them so they are no longer Common Core standards. But the reality is that very few of the recommended changes were made. An expert panel of teachers with a childhood development specialist need to be formed to thoroughly examine these standards.

Professional development - at least one session of district teachers sharing best practices within their district should be required in each school year. Too much money is being spent on consultants in this state.  We need strategies that help the specific individuals that we face on a daily basis.

The DOE needs to examine the number of class size waivers that are allowed. We know the number one factor that has the potential to be the most effective in the classroom is the class size.

More funding needs to be made available for the after school, 21st century grant program. This also finds a lot of summer programs. ASCD just posted today about how effective summer programs can be.

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