State Board Hears From Anti-Bullying Taskforce, Gets Update on ESSA & Learns About NJDOE Digital Readiness Initiative

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The New Jersey State Board of Education heard from NJPSA Executive Director and Anti-Bullying Taskforce Chair Pat Wright on final recommendations of the Anti-Bullying Taskforce, received an update on potential accountability changes wrought by enactment of the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ or ‘ESSA’ and got an overview of NJDOE’s digital tech initiative.  The Board also heard from Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf.

Anti-Bullying Taskforce

NJPSA Executive Director Pat Wright, as the Chair of the Anti-Bullying Taskforce, provided an overview of the work of the group over the last several years.  Convened in March of 2012, the group has issued several annual reports, culminating in the final report issued earlier this year.  Wright provided the Board with details on how the group had solicited public comment, as well as what major areas the group had focused in analyzing the implementation of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.  She also provided the Board with an overview of recommendations that the body had come up with, including a proposal that would empower the principal within the investigative process.  Wright also focused on the continued need for financial support via the Bullying Prevention Fund as well as a need to refocus / rename the School Safety Teams as the School Safety / Climate Teams with a priority put on ‘developing, fostering and maintaining a positive school climate.”  The presentation was well received by the Board, with Board Member Arcelio Aponte actually asking the Commissioner when to expect regulatory recommendations that spring from the recommendations.

Future Ready Schools

In addition, Assistant Commissioner and Chief Innovation Officer Evo Popoff educated the Board on the New Jersey Department of Education tech readiness initiative.  Launched in 2013, the initiative is a partnership with the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the NJDOE to support schools make the transition to a digital future.  The two phase initiative first focused on digital readiness for learning and assessment, primarily focusing on use of technology in preparing, and ultimately, administering the digitally based PARCC assessment.  Phase two, dubbed ‘Future Ready Schools – New Jersey’ (FRS-NJ) is focused on integrating technology more effectively in the classroom and showcasing best practices.

FRS-NJ’s certification program will recognize districts that make digital learning a regular part of classroom instruction so that students become familiar with using technology. The program will help districts identify gaps in their delivery of digital learning and direct them to resources that can help.  The goal of FRS-NJ is to transform schools so that digital learning tools become commonplace.

FRS-NJ is modeled after the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program, which encourages schools to go green, and is aligned to the national Future Ready Schools program. It will officially launch in October at the New Jersey School Boards Association’s annual conference.

FRS-NJ will use data derived from the Department of Education’s NJTRAx digital learning technology readiness reporting system, and other metrics.

ESSA Unveiled

Deputy Commissioner & Chief Talent and Performance Officer Peter Shulman, with his associate Jill Hulnick, also provided the Board with a first glimpse of changes in accountability and reporting wrought by federal enactment of the new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education, dubbed the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ or ESSA.  That law was adopted back in late 2015 by the Congress after almost of a decade of the delay (ESSA Approved by President Replacing NCLB as ESEA Act – What now?, December 17, 2015).

Shulman and Hulnick outlined the evolution of the federal accountability, beginning with enactment of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act in 1965, continuing with No Child Left Behind in 2002, and culminating in the State waiver process and Race to the Top grant program, that States’ worked with the USDE on from 2009 through 2015.  ESSA also affirmatively prohibited the USDE from requiring states to adopt specific standards, assessments, teacher evaluation methods, or other key policies – leaving significant decision making to the States.

Key provisions grant States flexibility and authority in the following areas:

Academic standards

ESSA requires state standards be aligned with college and career skills but defers to states on how to define such alignment (New Jersey’s academic standards (some currently under review) are in compliance with ESSA)

Assessment systems

ESSA requires states to implement high-quality academic assessments in math, reading or language arts, and science under the same assessment timelines and:

  1. permits states to allow districts to use nationally-recognized high school academic assessments in lieu of state assessment if the assessment is aligned to state standards and other requirements;
  2. limits the amount of time devoted to assessment administration for each grade
  3. permits State’s to develop assessment pilots

Accountability systems, interventions, and student supports

ESSA requires State’s to have a statewide system and annual school report cards that will “meaningfully differentiate” schools using:

  • Academic proficiency on state assessments
  • Graduation rates for high school
  • English Language Proficiency
  • Growth or another statewide academic indicator for K-8 schools
  • At least 1 other state-set indicator of school quality or student success
  • Academic indicators 1-4 must carry “substantial” weight and in the aggregate carry “much greater weight” than #5

However, the 95% assessment participation rate requirement remains in place under ESSA

Educator evaluation and support systems

ESSA requires states use evidence-based interventions but specific improvement models (the turnaround models) are no longer required.  Rather ESSA requires ‘Comprehensive” support and improvement which includes a focus on schools with:

  • The Lowest-performing 5% of Title I schools on state accountability index
  • High schools with <67% graduation rates
  • Schools with underperforming subgroups that do not improve after a state-determined number of years

ESSA also requires “Targeted” support and improvement in schools with consistently underperforming subgroups, but allows the State to define what subgroups it seeks to focus on.

Teacher / Leader quality

ESSA grants more flexibility to states and districts around spending Title II funds.  It also does not  require Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) designation nor specific educator evaluation measures or methods.  However, although the law removes HQT, it still requires teachers to be appropriately certified.  In addition, evaluation remains an allowable expense

The timeline for implementation will take New Jersey out over the next two school years as articulated in following chart:

essa timeline

Most elements will remain the same for districts this school year, including funding formulas/usages, with a few notable exceptions:

  • No Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) or Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAO) required.
  • A freeze on Focus/Priority schools (no exit from status).

Note: USED required decision to freeze or create new lists by March 1, 2016; NJ did not have necessary data for evaluating list status by this time and thus had to freeze. The Department will evaluate status of Focus/Priority schools as data becomes available to ensure appropriate recognition and support during ESSA transition time.

  • No federal Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) requirement; however, NJ is currently determining HQT reporting requirements for Educator Equity plan until new plan(s) are put in place.
  • NCLB monitoring and associated remediation plans will focus on areas that continue under ESSA.
  • ESSA Presentation

Religious Holiday Calendar

In addition, the Board got a first glimpse at the proposed Religious Holiday Calendar for the 2016-2017 school year.  That calendar is expected to be adopted later this year.

Newark Presentation

Further, state appointed Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf outlined progress in Newark as required under his appointment.  Notably he remarked on a few of the critical challenges of his district, imploring the Board to seek redress, in the following areas:

  • Acknowledge True Costs of Special Education (the current funding model does not adequately address true costs);
  • Recognize the Fiscal Impact of Legal, Regulatory, and Contractual Constraints (certain costs are beyond a district’s ability to control or address absent significant change):
  • Simplify the 90% Rule (the current 90% per pupil for charter students fails to recognize the fixed costs that a district continues to experience and must address)

Managing for Equality and Equity in Education

The Board also moved to adopt changes to current regulation, N.J.A.C. 6A:7, Managing for Equality and Equity in Education, which is due to sunset in September.  The code provision governs equality in educational programs to guarantee each student equal access to all educational programs, services and benefits of the school district regardless of his or her race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender, religion, disability or socioeconomic status.   The proposal includes a small number of minor amendments.  In light of the tight timeline, and rather ministerial changes the Board agreed to forestall a Second discussion back and move directly to proposal level at the September meeting.  All of the proposed amendments in the current rulemaking are to correct statutory or Administrative Code citations, to provide clarity, or for stylistic or grammatical improvement.  These include:

  • Amend the purpose to ensure the current version of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) is referenced.
  • Delete common definitions.
  • Amend the definition of “Achievement Gap” to reflect the change in focus to the school level.
  • Delete references to the Quality Assurance Annual Report (QAAR) as this report no longer exists.
  • Remove the September 30, 2003, deadline to complete a comprehensive equity plan as the deadline has passed.

In addition, in light of comment received, the Department agreed to include a definition of ‘gender identify and gender expression’ that is consistent with the definition set forth in the NJ Law Against Discrimination.  The proposal was unanimously approved and will be published in the New Jersey Register to allow for additional comment under the Administrative Procedures Act, and final adoption later this year.

School Ethics Commission

The Board also approved for publication in the New Jersey Register, a recodification of current regulation related to the School Ethics Commission, N.J.A.C.6A:28.  The provision is proposed for readoption without amendment.

Middlesex Ed Services Name Change

Moreover, the Board approved a name change for the Middlesex Regional Educational Services Commission, allowing the Commission to change its name to The Educational Services Commission of New Jersey.

Certification of School Districts Under NJQSAC

Finally, the Board approved two full and five interim reviews under NJQSAC.  Appendix A lists all of the districts and their DPR scores.  Two districts scored 80 percent or above in all five DPR areas and were approved for a period of three years.  Five districts scored below 80% in one or more DPR areas and were required to develop and implement a QSAC improvement plan to address deficient indicators.