Governor Christie said this week that NJ should “promote innovative and effective teaching by valuing student achievement over seniority” and “demand accountability and results for New Jersey’s children with data-supported (teacher) evaluations.”

The problem is that we don’t have this data! It’s the same data we couldn’t produce for the Race to the Top application, except… we would need even more detail!   NJ couldn’t come up with the data then, and nothing has changed to make the data suddenly available now.  There is no way to fairly implement any achievement and data supported evaluations without accurate information on every child.  

NJ has known about our chronic lack of good data for a long time.  Back in 2002, I served on the Governor’s Taskforce for Measuring Student Achievement.  The Taskforce worked with the Department of Education to research best practices and develop recommendations for a student level database for New Jersey.  The concept is to assign a unique identifying number to every student in NJ.  Through this unique identifier, all information we need about each child (needs, achievement, demographic, ethnicity etc.) would be kept in one electronic data warehouse, and accessed as needed for policy making, analysis, district evaluation, grant writing and…teacher evaluation. The recommendations stalled in bureaucracy and then a scaled back version was piloted in a limited number of school districts. 

Eight years later, data is still reported in aggregate, averages and totals and is scattered among several division and departments, placing excess demands on district and department personnel who need to use the data. 

If accurate data is not available in a timely manner, all the restructuring in the world won’t help us address the issues, because we can’t accurately define the issues.  A system that uses poor, incomplete, inadequate data for evaluation is not acceptable.  Let’s acknowledge that we have a problem and fix it once and for all.  NJ needs to implement a full scale student level database that accurately tracks each child’s progress from kindergarten through college.   Will the database be in Governor Christie’s budget for next year? Until it is, the rest is  just talk.

Rosie Grant, PEF Program Director