TRENTON, NJ -- December 10, 2016
In a stunning blow to the crumbling education "reform" movement, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that abolished the state's system of using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers.
The court ordered the 546 teachers dismissed in June of 2014 to be reinstated with full back pay in addition to compensatory damages. The teachers had been judged to be "ineffective" under the state's system, and had lost tenure rights before they were dismissed.
The unanimous decision states: "Rarely has this court seen a plan - governmental or otherwise - that so completely ignored accepted scientific research. It is astonishing that the Department of Education implemented a program of teacher evaluations based on standardized test scores when all the evidence showed that competent teachers would inevitably be fired under this plan."
"We're obviously pleased, although it's a shame this lawsuit ever had to happen," said Atticus Finch, lawyer for the teachers who were dismissed. "All my clients ever wanted was to teach; all they've ever wanted during this entire episode is to return to the classroom. The children in their schools have missed out on years of good teaching for no good reason."
For the cash-strapped state, the lawsuit not only means millions in liability; potentially, New Jersey could be on the hook for much more. Teachers who were denied merit pay on the basis of the same system have their own lawsuit pending; given today's ruling, the state may face even more costly sanctions.
"It's a disaster," said Governor Barbara Buono. "I tried to stop this in the Legislature when I was a Senator, but now it's too late. We'll be paying for this for years to come."
"If only [former governor] Chris Christie had bothered to give the pilot program for teacher evaluation more time, none of this would have happened. How could we have a real pilot when we didn't even have time to evaluate the results?"
In 2011, when the pilot was launched, only a snarky teacher-blogger had bothered to point out that the pilot was so rushed that NJASK scores and tests wouldn't be available in time for a thorough analysis.
Both lawsuits center around the use of standardized test results as a basis for evaluating teachers. In a series of expert testimonies, researchers documented study after study that showed high rates of error when using tests to judge educators.
Most observers, however, agree that the plaintiffs really made their case when the court allowed testimony from the scorers of the NJASK, the standardized tests used in New Jersey for 3rd through 8th grades.
"It was brutal," said Finch. "The testimony was like it was from Todd Farley's book, Making the Grades: scorers who couldn't speak English, supervisors gaming the system, sloppy rubrics, bad working conditions, changing criteria... a complete mess."
"We probably would have won just on the research alone, which shows 1 out of every 4 teachers will be misidentified using test scores. But when we pulled back the veil on the standardized testing industry, we knew we were going to crush the state's case."
"I don't think the testing companies ever imagined that this lawsuit would allow for a careful evaluation of their practices. Now, they're going to have to justify themselves all over the country. It won't be pretty."
Vice-President Chris Christie was not available for comment. Neither was former Acting Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf, who is currently in London working for Rupert Murdoch's company, Wireless Generation, with his former boss at the New York City schools, Joel Klein...