State Board Gets Update On Assessment As Board Votes to Return Newark To Local Control

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While the biggest news from September’s New Jersey State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting may be the Board’s vote to return the Newark School District to local control, the meeting also included an update from Assistant Commissioner on assessment, approval of several changes to the Department’s organizational structure, and movement forward on several code proposals affecting students and schools.

Newark Return to Local Control

In possibly the biggest news of the day, the State Board of Education meeting began with approval of the process to begin return of local control to the State’s largest school district – Newark Public Schools – after 22 years of state control.  While hailed as a “historic” and celebratory moment, elected and school officials in attendance acknowledged much work lies ahead for the district, which serves approximately 36,000 students.

The state Department of Education will now work with local district officials to develop a transition plan, which is expected to take a few months to draft. The state will also continue to monitor the district during the transition.  Once full local control is restored, the Newark school board will be able to truly self govern, including choosing its own superintendent.

What precipitated the approval of the process was successful attainment of the final area under state control under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) within the area of Instruction and Programming.  According to the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), Newark students have made significant gains in PARCC test scores, and exceeded the state average growth rate in both English and math.  However, the overall percentage of students testing at or above grade level was still only 28.4 percent in English and 19.8 percent in math.    For a district under state control, it must score high enough (above 80 percent) in all five areas in which it is evaluated: instruction and program, fiscal management, governance, operations and personnel. The state last year agreed to apply an “equivalency” to Newark, allowing the district to show sustained growth in student achievement, rather than requiring them to meet specific proficiency levels.  That led to yesterday’s action.

Assessment Update

Beyond the Newark action, the Board also received an update from Assistant Commissioner Peter Shulman on assessment within New Jersey schools generally.  The takeaway from the presentation, which also included personnel from the Beverly School District on actions they have taken to improve student achievement – New Jersey students have made learning gains over the last three years.

Specifically, student achievement and improvement is evident from 2015 to 2017.  In English Language Arts Grades 3-10:

  • Students performing at or above grade level expectations (PARCC levels 4 & 5) grew by 7.3 percentage points (representing over 88,000 more students)
  • Students not yet or only partially meeting grade level expectations (PARCC levels 1 & 2) decreased by 4.4 percentage points (with 20,000 more students approaching grade level expectations)

In math Grades 3-8 and Algebra I:

  • Students performing at or above grade level expectations grew by 4.9 percentage points (representing over 53,000 more students)
  • Students not yet or only partially meeting grade level expectations decreased by 2.8 percentage points (with over 2,100 more students approaching grade level expectations)

The actual numbers of students taking the assessment have increased with over 250,000 elementary students taking the PARCC assessment in each of the three years it was administered (2015, 2016 and 2017).  And, students who had shown need for improvement have rapidly progressed, sometimes moving 2 levels in under three years.


In addition, the Board made some modest changes to the current organization chart at the Department.  Specifically, the Controversies & Disputes section was split in half, with tenure arbitration matters being segmented into a new division known as the Office of TEACHNJ Arbitration.  Ms. Samantha Skabla will take on the new Directorship of the Office of Controversies and Disputes, Ms. Kathleen Duncan will spearhead the new Office of TEACHNJ Arbitration.  Both women will report to the Deputy Chief Legal Affairs Officer.

State Board of Examiners

Further, the Board approved several reappointments to the current State Board of Examiners.   Current statute, N.J.S.A. 18A:6-38, provides the State Board of Examiners with authority for issuing, revoking and suspending educational certificates under rules prescribed by the State Board of Education. N.J.S.A. 18A:6-34 dictates the  membership of the Board which must include: an assistant commissioner, a county superintendent, two presidents of State colleges, two district superintendents, a high school principal, an elementary school principal, a school business administrator, a librarian, and four teaching staff members other than a superintendent, principal, school business administrator or librarian.

Persons reappointed yesterday include:

  • Derek Jess, School Business Administrator, Perth Amboy School District
  • Naomi Johnson-Lafleur, Teacher, Trenton School District
  • Mary Jane McNally, Library Media Specialist, Bernards Township School District
  • Dayna Desiderio Orlak, Teacher, Waldwick School District
  • Richard Stepura, Executive County Superintendent, Atlantic and Cape May Counties


Student Transportation

Further, the Board approved changes at adoption level to a student transportation regulatory proposal released late last year that seeks to amend N.J.A.C 6A:27 in light of the enactment of Abigail’s Law.

That law required school buses manufactured on or after July 17, 2016, to be equipped with a sensor system to detect the presence of a person(s) or object(s) in the front and rear of the bus.   The sensor system is to include an audible and visual alert signal placed in the driver’s compartment to alert the driver when a person(s) or object(s) is detected within the sensor’s  designated range.

Standards and Assessment

Finally, the Board reviewed at proposal level, changes to current regulation, N.J.A.C. 6A: 8, related to Standards & Assessments that will allow the incorporation of the State Seal of Biliteracy into current student graduation options.  The seal is a designation from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) identifying graduating high school students who are able to demonstrate proficiency in English in addition to one or more languages. Participation is voluntary on the part of a school district.

The program has been operational for over a year with 85 districts participating which granted 2,013 Seals to students across 20 languages.  This code provision merely codifies the strictures of the existing program