Montclair Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Gail Clarke asked district teachers “not to worry” about the influx of changes awaiting them next week when they return to their classrooms.
Clarke, along with teams of teachers from core subjects in every grade level, spent the summer working on quarterly assessments which will align the district with the new common core standards mandated by the state.
The work is being done in anticipation of new standardized state testing, which
will begin in the 2014-15 school year.
With new tenure laws and teacher and principal evaluations being mandated for the 2013-14 school year, some teachers and parents have been vocal about the need to move forward with quarterly assessments in what some perceive as a rushed manner.
Montclair Superintendent of Schools Penny MacCormack defended the administration's decision.
“We believe that to be a best practice. We believe that Montclair will actually be a leader in this state representing the ideal that teachers and teachers collaboratively coming together to design curriculum and assessments is what will allow our students to achieve at these higher standards," MacCormack said.
Montclair Education Association President Gayle Shepard told the Board of Education the teacher's union did not disagree with MacCormack's statement.
“It’s just so much new at the same time," Shepard said.
“What makes educators — to quote Gail Clarke’s email ‘anxious and nervous’ — is the concern that we as a district are not ready for the additional changes that will be implemented in addition to what the New Jersey Department of Education mandates.”
Shepard rattled off a list of changes she said include:
- Quarterly Assessments
- Student Growth Objects (SGOs)
- Common Core Curriculum
- Paraprofessional training and their new evaluation
- Skyward training and implementation
- A new middle school schedule
- House structure changes
- Change of principals in three buildings, Northeast, Nishuane and Glenfield
- Inadequate materials and textbooks in some instances
- Teachers implementing programs without adequate training
Clarke tried to ease nerves by assuring teachers they will have assessments for the year completed before the Thanksgiving deadline. She said all Unit 1 assessments have been completed and shared through the teacher portal and many Unit 2 documents are done.
She also said curriculum coaches who worked on the assessments will be available in all schools to provide help and relay feedback to central offices.
Criticism from the public included the impact of teachers not having all the assessments before the start of the school year.
In response, Clarke said most teachers do not plan out as far as the full year since often they need to make adjustments along the way.
“I ask you not to worry about the lack of support and intention,” Clarke said.
District parent Luis Delgado also questioned the wisdom of moving forward with the new assessments.
"The State Department of Education is test crazy and they shouldn't be followed," Delgado said.
Delgado said he fears the changes will bring on teacher anxiety which could be passed down to students.
"I don't dismiss the newness," MacCormack said. "There is a lot of new and nobody is minimizing the concern."