LIVINGSTON, NJ — New Jersey released a new database on the results of its 2013-14 teacher evaluations, but withheld the scores of hundreds of educators — including many with the lowest ratings. Of the 417 total teachers in the Livingston Pubic Schools System, 274 were rated Highly Effective, 143 were considered Effective and none were ranked Partially Effective or Ineffective.
According to the Department of Education, the state withheld numbers when there were fewer than 10 teachers in a particular category in an effort to keep those teachers anonymous. The information was organized in a manner that anonymously indicates how many teachers in each school and district received each of the four possible scores: Ineffective, Partially Effective, Effective and Highly Effective. Since 97 percent of teachers overall rated in the two higher categories, Highly Effective and Effective, more of those scores appear in the database.
“If 100 percent of teachers in one school all score in the same performance categories, the data was also suppressed,” the Department of Education explained. “If you look up your school and the results are blank, it means that the data was either suppressed or equals zero—the DOE did not distinguish between the two in this data release.”
Some small schools, like Althea Gibson Academy in East Orange and South End Elementary in Cedar Grove, do not have any results listed because each has less than 20 teachers. More than 100 of Jersey City’s 2043 teachers were also unaccounted for in the database. This did not mean that these teachers rated beneath the system’s high marks, but that the new teacher evaluation system isn't designed to produce a "consumer guide" of ratings, according to the State Department of Education.
"It was never intended to be a public consumption of identifying where each teacher stands," said spokesman David Saenz.
The 2013-14 teacher evaluations were conducted because NJ Advance Media and other media outlets asked for the information in open-record requests, however Saenz said the TEACHNJ ACT required the state to protect the confidentiality of teacher ratings.
Drew Gitomer, an expert in teacher-assessment research at Rutgers University, said that the standard that should be used when creating the database is whether a reasonable person in the school community could identify the teacher. Steve Baker, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Education Association, said the state shouldn’t have released the data at all. According to Baker, the fact that some evaluations are based on state tests the state deemed unsatisfactory combined with the suppression of certain data makes the information meaningless.
"You should take away very little from it because it's scant data based on flawed input, and I think the conclusion you should draw is that the state doesn't have useful, meaningful data to release," said Baker.
According to the state, complete district-level data was available for Newark Public Schools, the state's largest district. About 85 percent of teachers received Effective or Highly Effective ratings, the two categories considered acceptable by the state. However, Newark had 314 teachers rated Partially Effective and 94 as Ineffective. Those teachers were required to improve with the addition of extra support during the 2014-15 school year or face possible loss of tenure.
Prior to the 2013-14 school year, ratings were not required to consider student performance data in New Jersey. Schools simply had to report whether a teacher was deemed satisfactory or unsatisfactory based on observation by an administrator and any other factors a school considered.
Mandated by state legislation, the new evaluation system requires more observation and uses student performance data to grade teachers. According to the state, most teachers' evaluations for this school year were based 85 percent on observations by administrators and 15 percent on student growth on local tests, quizzes or other projects. About 15 percent of teachers had their scores based 55 percent on observation, 15 percent on student progress on local tests and 30 percent on students' annual improvement on state standardized tests.