Teachers going into their fourth year without a contract may soon find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place as new state regulations go into effect for the 2014-2015 school year. The regulations would require new testing that would partially evaluate teacher performance and will require a massive upgrade in technology in all Bayonne public schools.
In a presentation before the March 14 meeting, the Bayonne School Board learned that it will soon have to foot the bill for at least 2,400 new computers or their equivalent as well as technology to provide nearly every class room with wifi internet access in order to meet the requirements of new, even more vigorous state testing upon which school funding, some teacher evaluation and other decisions will be made.
“The days of scratch paper, bubble answer sheets and the number two pencils are over,” said Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan, referring to materials used in previous testing procedures.
While some Board of Education members have expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the new testing procedures, especially in regards to evaluating teachers and principals, the state under Gov. Christopher Christie, and State Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf are requiring all public schools to adopt the new procedures.
“This isn’t going away,” McGeehan said. “And so we’re going to have to prepare for it.”
“This isn’t going away and so we’re going to have to prepare for it.” – Dr. Patricia McGeehan
Claiming cuts to state aid have made it impossible for the district to meet some of the components of a past contract in particular to the salary guide that postpones salary advances until later in a teacher’s career, negotiators for the school board have offered a contract that would give no raise to anyone in the first year of the proposed contract, zero increase for some teachers in the second year, and would add two steps to the guide delaying even longer the more sizeable increases teachers would get later.
While Board President Will Lawson said thrifty moves over the last several years may make it possible for the school district to upgrade the computer system to meet the proposed new testing that would start in 2015 from the third grade up, he said the additional expense makes it even more difficult to meet teacher demands.
Alan D’Angelo, union representative for the teachers, has proposed the district increase the budget this year to settled the contract – which would mean an increase to taxpayers.
The Board of Education passed at $128 million budget earlier this month that imposes a 2 percent increase from last year.
D’Angelo said the district could make up the increases to teachers if it used money from breakage – which is funds the district has left from retiring teachers at the highest salary level.
But Business Administrator Leo Smith said the district has seen an increase in more than 600 students over the last five years which required hiring double the number of teachers that retired.
“We had 50 teachers retire,” Smith said in a later interview, “but we had to hire 100 to handle the increase in student population.”
The additional students also cost the district an average of $12,000 a year, Smith said, which means the district saw an increase in cost of $7.1 million during a period in which state aid was drastically cut.
The new testing
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a non-profit organization that has been formed to develop the next generation of assessments for students, and more than 23 states have signed on with it to development and implement a common set of K-12 grade assessments for English & Arts Literacy and Mathematics which will be aligned with the Common Core State Standards. The group was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The new tests will replace the current assessment program and will be conducted twice a year, in March and May, and will require all students to take the test via the internet. For third graders, the nine part test will take place over an eight hour spread, as opposed to the current test that takes five hours in four days.
Tests in other grades will take just shy of ten hours, which each part lasting slightly less than an hour.
PARCC will require all testing to be done district wide during a 20 day period, which will require a massive upgrade in technology district wide, not just to provide internet devices for the test, but to allow students to get comfortable with the devices through frequent use so that they will do well when they are confronted with the technology during the testing period.
Melisa McEntee, assistant technology director for the school district, estimated that at minimum the district would need to purchase 2,400 devices (i.e. computers, I Pads or their like) and a classroom wide wifi internet connection in order to meet the testing requirements.
This will mean replacing existing equipment throughout the district, none of which will be able to handle the advanced requirements the testing will demand. While the district did consider of using computer labs at the schools, the volume of testing would not allow the district to get the testing done within the required time period, and would also result in tying up the labs so that regular school work in them could not be conducted while testing took place.
McGeehan said everything will be done on the computer, and the district needs to prepare students to handle the new technology well before students have to take the test. So the schools have already started teaching younger grades key board skills.
“We’re not even waiting until September,” she said.
McGeehan said the state commissioner of education told superintendents that they should budget this upgrade for technology because it is that important. Teacher and principal evaluations and other details will depend on the results of these tests under a new mandate from the state, and so the district has to be prepared.
Lawson said funding for the new technology will have to be found though savings in other areas done over the years. He said the school district is not unprepared. The big question is whether or not if the district can use any federal money for this.
He said everything is different from the past, and everything is being started at once at a young age without a lot of time to prepare.
Many of the younger students may not have experience with use of computer, and must be prepared before third grade, which means that the district will need even more than the minimum number McEntee said would be needed for the test.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.