Cerf Issues Reprieve from Statewide Teacher Evaluation Systems

November 18, 2011

 New Jersey public schools will not all have to institute a teacher evaluation system in time for the coming school year after all.

Easing the pedal on what has been a contentious topic, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf said this week that while every district will have to test out a system tied closely to student achievement, not every school must do so. Further, the new systems will not enforce strict consequences on teachers.

The announcement is a shift from the Christie administration's initial plan to conduct a pilot this year in nearly a dozen districts and then extend it statewide next year, with possible implications for teachers’ individual job ratings and even tenure.

“Next year, every district will still need to participate,” Cerf said yesterday, “but we have made a call that it will be just for a subset of their schools and not all of them.”

The teacher evaluation system has been among the more controversial of Gov. Chris Christie’s education reforms, especially among critics who contend that it is over-reliant on student test scores.

The 10-district pilot, announced this fall, is just underway, with the training of teachers and administrators still ongoing in many of districts. It hinges on a new data system that makes it possible to track student achievement to individual teachers.

The pilot was expected to inform a statewide system launched next fall, and Cerf said that data system is still on track to be ready for every district by the next school year. But he said he wanted to give districts more time to get used to the different evaluation models, which include extensive classroom observation as well.

“The reason we believe this is the right thing to do is that we will be able to continue to define and establish a culture of collaboration that in the long run will be worth not just leaping into this in one year,” he said.

But Cerf hedged on saying that the new system will hold no consequences for teachers, saying he hopes that even the current evaluations have consequences. “We just want to it to be something that districts can try out in a lower-stakes way,” he said.