Data Impasse

John Mooney at NJ Spotlight raises an important point in his piece on the ability of NJ’s statewide student data base – NJ SMART – to perform a basic task that informs our new Race To The Top application: tie teacher evaluations to student longitudinal data. Writes Mooney,
In the last year, however, the system by all accounts has made important strides, with 10 years of test scores loaded and ready to gauge student and school-wide performance. But when it comes to some of the teacher evaluations that are now the focus of Christie’s agenda, the system is still not there. It could be years away from delivering the level of sophistication the plans require.
In fact, our RTTT report card from Democrats for Education Reform makes much the same point, as did the reviewers of our first application. Under the grading system used by the Feds, an individual state’s data system can reap up to 47 points. NJ got only 27.2. For comparison’s sake, the two winners, Delaware and Tennessee, got 47 points and 43.6 points respectively. From DFER:
A low score on Data Systems also hurt the state’s chances. Its score of 27.2 out of 47 possible points (58%) was one of the lowest of any of the 41 states entering the first round, only eight states scored lower. The core problem is that the state has fully implemented only three of the 12 data elements required under the America COMPETES Act. Arguable the most important component — a unique teacher identifier, necessary for teacher evaluations based on student growth — has only been partially implemented. The state currently does not link K–12 student data with data related to college-readiness or higher education outcomes. An accelerated schedule for fully implementing all 12 elements could significantly improve the state’s chances for a Round 2 win.
Now, Comm. Schundler has assured stakeholders that our RTTT proposal includes the promise that our data system will be brought into the “21st century, creating efficiencies and providing powerful tools and resources.” This will be done through “hosting a web or ‘cloud’ based system to support school operations, instructional planning, and public access to our school data, “ he says, and there does seem to be general consensus that a more robust data system is essential, at least among superintendents, school boards, and education scholars. One of the reviewers of our last RTTT application commented, “The State’s data system currently lacks capacity to measure and report ‘adjusted cohort graduation rates.’ The State, therefore, relies on estimating high school graduation rates, which, although high, have not changed over the years. As the State improves its data system, it is possible — if not probable — its graduation rates will decrease.”

And that was before our new Alternative High School Assessment debuted, but who’s counting?

One set of stakeholders soundly rejects the relevance of improved data systems, if not the implementation. The Star-Ledger reports that NJEA President Barbara Keshishian, in the audience at Schundler’s presentation of NJ’s RTTT application yesterday, said “she could not envision endorsing the state’s application if student test scores made up half of a teacher’s evaluation. She also challenged the commissioner in front of the crowd, saying Governor Christie’s repeated attacks on the union sabotaged the chances for teamwork.”

Now, Pres. Keshishian may be right about that: odds for camaraderie among the DOE, local unions, and school boards on RTTT seems dubious at best. So where does this trajectory take us? NJEA's leaders will continue to reject teacher accountability, embodied in NJ's ability (or lack thereof) to tie student growth to teacher evaluations. Comm. Schundler will go ahead with our RTTT application sans NJEA support (or even school district support, judging by the lukewarm response to the proposal at yesterday's meeting). We'll win RTTT or we won't, but we'll still need the data and our teachers' spokespeople will deny it. Maybe we should try mediation.