NJEA President Barbara Keshishian has issued a formal explanation of her reasons for advising all local union presidents to refuse to sign N.J.’s application for Race To The Top. In a press release published last night she says that the federal program is “both economically and educationally unsound” because we would “need to significantly increase the number of students tested annually and the number of tests administered to each student.” The tests will be too expensive, and we should invest our money in expanding preschools, which are “the primary reason that New Jersey leads the nation in closing the achievement gaps between white and minority students.” In addition, RTTT proposals are “not supported by research.”

According to Keshishian, RTTT, both at a federal and state level, is all about the testing, and we’ve “already learned from ‘No Child Left Behind’ that a singular focus on standardized tests requires teachers and students to spend far too much time on test preparation.”

It’s a smart strategy to focus on standardized testing, a clever spin calculated to appeal to NJEA members, and to parents and children who loathe the state assessments given every March with results not available till late summer. But here’s where Keshishian’s rhetoric recedes from reality: N.J.’s RTTT proposal does not propose more standardized testing, but a shift to formative assessments or growth models that follow a particular student over time. About half of our districts already use such platforms – NWEA is a popular one – that are adaptive, integrated into the curriculum, short and friendly, and produce results within a day or two. N.J.’s proposal clearly allows LEA’s to use their own internal assessments, although it appears that the state will also offer its own version.

Here’s the real reason for Keshishian’s disdain for our application’s formative assessments (which are well-supported by research, by the way): the growth models will allow student performance to be indelibly linked to teacher competence, which is anathema to NJEA’s leadership.

It’s that same old conundrum. Is teaching an enigmatic, magical art? Or is it a profession subject to evaluation and measurement? NJEA votes for the former. RTTT in particular, and education reform in general, votes for the latter.

In the end, Keshishian’s contempt towards testing isn’t about economics or education; it’s about maintaining the moat between teacher performance and compensation. One could argue that it’s also about disdain for her members. We’re willing to bet that the vast majority of teachers would welcome a chance to be recognized monetarily and professionally for their competence and success in the classroom. But NJEA executives wants to treat them like widgets. That’s insulting to teachers, bad for kids, and obstructive to N.J.’s shot at $200-$400 million in cash for schools.

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