New Jersey has received permission from the federal government to extend its new accountability system for intervening in the lowest achieving schools, but there is plenty of work to do.
The 2001 No Child Left Behind act outlined strict requirements for student achievement for all its schools that included showing 100% “proficiency” by this year. John Mooney of NJSpotlight writes that the state instituted new interventions in “priority” schools , those that show the lowest performance levels, and in “focus” schools, that have the widest achievement gaps.
Thirty-four other states asked for waivers, and all but two received them. New Jersey met the criteria in two of three key areas.
“This is good news for New Jersey, and it’s a tribute to exemplary efforts by every educator in the state,” said acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe in a statement. “The U.S. Department of Education’s announcement noted that that New Jersey not only met the goals contained in our waiver, but in some instances we had exceeded them. This will allow us to intensify our efforts to improve education for the children who need it most.”
The one area that New Jersey did not resolve was intervention for Title I schools, which are neither “focus” or “priority” categories. If New Jersey has to apply for another waiver next year, the state will have to show what it has done to deal with schools which have low graduation rates and schools that have not reached student achievement goals.
New Jersey, like the vast majority of other states, are moving away from the constraints of the Bush administration’s NCLB. Professor Patrick McGuinn of Drew University stated that New Jersey is more concerned about academic growth, not minimum proficiency, and will use resources and interventions for the schools which are performing at the lowest levels.
New Jersey wants to go beyond the NCLB Act, which has requirements such as measuring teacher performance student growth objectives in classes that do not take state tests. According to Hannah Adely of The Record/Herald News, NCLB requires that all students be proficient in math and reading, a goal that education experts say is unrealistic and unfair. President Obama announced in September 2011 that waivers would be granted to states that exhibited better plans to measure student achievement, that were fixing struggling schools, and were closing achievement gaps in public schools.
Without the waiver, New Jersey would have faced penalties unless every single student in the state was found to be “proficient”, or better, on statewide standardized tests.
The Associated Press reports that New Jersey has put in place several changes that go beyond the requirements of the law. One example is the model curriculum it developed which is divided into smaller learning units to support the college- and career-readiness standards.
No Child Left Behind was to be reauthorized in 2007, but Congress has not been able to agree on the changes that need to be made. Because of that delay, the DOE has been granting waivers if a state comes up with statewide plans.
And approaches to improving academic outcomes aren’t the only things that are changing. Hespe told a meeting of the state’s school boards that 90% of New Jersey districts are ready to implement the new computer-based tests in 2015. Diane D’Amico, reporting for Press of Atlantic City, writes that Hespe is sure the last 10% will be ready.
The new PARCC tests based on the Common Core State Standards are causing some apprehension for educators, but Hespe says the results of the testing are far-reaching. The data gathered will be a part of improving education for all students now and in the future. In his speech at the annual New Jersey School Boards Conference at the Atlantic City Convention Center, Hespe shared that only about 40%of high school graduates are ready for college-level courses, according to the SAT and and the NAEP. The testing, he added, will supply data that will improve instruction. And, because some parents are considering allowing their children to “opt out” of the test, Hespe said:
“We do have a responsibility to make sure we get enough data to make good decisions,” he said. “I encourage parents to participate and see if the data help them make decisions for their child.”
New Jersey’s students performed about as well as their fellow students did on last year’s statewide math and language arts exams. Third through eighth grade students had 66% of students scoring at the proficient level or better in language arts. Last year, 67% of students met that standard. Naomi Nix, writing for New Jersey Online, reported that the number of this year’s proficient or better math students were a tenth percentage point from last year’s 74.4%.
“Some states have struggled with abrupt changes to new standards, but New Jersey’s approach, by design, has been a thoughtful and deliberative transition over the past four years,” Acting Education Commissioner David C. Hespe said in a statement. “Even with the higher standards being incorporated in New Jersey classrooms, the high levels of student performance have remained steady.”
In high school, overall, 93.3% students were proficient in language arts in 2014 and 93.6% met that goal in 2013. Students considered proficient in math dropped by a percentage point to 84.8%.