NJ Still Lags in Using Data to Guide Teaching, Report Says

Leslie Brody | The Record
12/01/11

New Jersey has made progress but still lags behind 27 states in its use of student data to improve instruction, according to a national research group's report being released Thursday.

The report, prepared by the Data Quality Campaign, comes as the Christie administration is pushing to use more data to drive teaching and help measure teachers' effectiveness.

The group says New Jersey has accomplished only four of 10 actions necessary to use student data well and trigger interventions for children who are falling behind. It noted New Jersey can track K-12 data over time, for example, but does not yet produce reports using that data to guide change. The state also does not have a purposeful research agenda, the report said.

The Data Quality Campaign is an advocacy group funded by philanthropies, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, calling for more data to boost achievement. Some educators argue this approach leads to too much testing and neglects realms of learning that are hard to measure, including social and emotional growth.

A New Jersey Education Department spokesman, Justin Barra, said the state has made "tremendous progress" in developing data to track children's paths toward college and careers. It recently began measuring gains in a new way. Each child is being compared with peers statewide who had similar test scores in the past. Those who outperform their academic peers on the most recent round of tests get a high "student growth percentile." Those who do worse get a low one.

Barra said that by January, school administrators and teachers would have access to the "student growth percentiles" of individual children for reading and math in Grades 4-8, based on spring 2011 tests. This data can be used to catch struggling children and fix weak programs.

Aimee Rogstad Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, said these grades should be available to families, too.

"When you think about the power of this information to provide accountability and context to people to make decisions, especially for parents and students themselves, we're denying some of the most powerful information to people with the greatest stake in it," she said.

Barra said teachers could choose to give parents their child's "student growth percentile." He said that by the fall of 2012, the state will be able to link teachers to students and gauge how much each teacher helped students grow.

That rating would be part of the evaluations now being developed. In New York City, the teachers union sued to block the public release of teachers' rankings, saying that would violate their privacy and that the ratings were wildly inaccurate.

Governor Christie said he has not decided whether New Jersey teacher ratings should be public and would consider views of teachers, administrators and advocacy groups.

"We all want to err on the side of transparency, but we want this to be a productive exercise," he said earlier this month. "We don't want to use this for teachers to be vilified. We want to use it to help teachers improve."

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