- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 28, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie’s top education official and Democratic lawmakers have expressed agreement on how much the results of new statewide standardized tests will count in teachers’ performance reviews.

But Education Commissioner David Hespe stopped short Tuesday of agreeing to carry the policy currently in place into next year.

Speaking at a Senate budget hearing with Education Committee Chairwoman Teresa Ruiz, Hespe said he agreed teachers should get comfortable with the test before the state raises the stakes.

Afterward, Education Department spokesman David Saenz said nothing was agreed to that would implement the policy. “The commissioner was just having a discussion with Sen. Ruiz on the topic during the budget hearing, and nothing was agreed upon today that would implement the policy,” Saenz said.

Lawmakers had written to Hespe on Monday, seeking to have student performance on Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers count for 10 percent of teachers’ evaluations for another year.

Hespe said teachers and parents should be comfortable with the tests before raising the stakes to the planned 30 percent mark.

“That means being able to - in a lower-stakes environment - review the data, review how we’re going to use the data, and I think that’s again another common-sense approach,” he said.

The lawmakers sought the 10 percent mark to show a “good faith effort to allow schools and teachers to adjust to the new statewide assessment,” Ruiz and Senate President Steve Sweeney wrote.

The tests are aimed at measuring whether students meet nationwide standards. But some parents and teacher groups have called for boycotts, saying the test is confusing, takes up too much teaching time and costs too much for schools to buy enough computers to administer it.

Hespe appeared before the committee to detail Christie’s $13.7 billion proposal for the state’s Education Department. He said 38 percent of the Republican governor’s proposed $33.8 billion budget goes to education, up from 33 percent when Christie first took office in 2010.

Ruiz, though, pointed out the governor has kept school funding flat.

“We know that a flat funding means - really - a negative to districts when there are rising costs,” she said.

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