Update from the New Jersey State Board of Education September Meeting 

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By Jennie Lamon, Assistant Director of Government Relations

The State Board of Education met on Wednesday, September 8, 2021 in what was the Board’s first meeting of the new school year.  A number of regulations were considered and several voted upon. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the final approval of regulations on standards and assessment which include provisions addressing the new high school graduation assessment, a new 11th grade test in language arts and math to be administered in the spring for incoming juniors. Moving forward, students that do not pass either section will have alternative assessment pathways to demonstrate proficiency and the portfolio process, but they will have to at least sit for the 11th grade assessment first under the approved regulations. 

As you know, this controversial issue has been under discussion for years, and included a court case. In May of this year, the Board approved for publication in the New Jersey Register a second Notice of Proposed Substantial Changes. NJPSA submitted testimony to the Board on these proposed changes, reiterating several implementation recommendations from our Critical Issues Committee. NJPSA’s recommendations included:

  • that the 11th grade assessment be given in the Fall (November) of that year in order to provide as much time as possible for student remediation efforts if needed. 
  • that efforts be undertaken at the state level to strengthen and incorporate the portfolio process within our high school coursework to provide an equitable pathway to graduation while alleviating a separate burden on students who do not pass the 11th grade assessment; and
  • that the NJDOE address the timeliness of data in any new assessment contracts to ensure that teachers and other educators receive assessment data as soon as possible

NJPSA was not alone – more than 2100 individuals submitted comments to the Board.  The board voted unanimously to adopt the Chapter 8 Regulatory package without any further discussion. 

While the restoration of the state’s high school graduation test for the spring may have been the most notable action, it was not the one that drew the most discussion from the Board. The agenda item that caused contention was an emergency adoption of a rule modifying authority for virtual special education services. 

On April 1, 2020, a package of three temporary rule modifications were adopted that permitted special education instruction to be provided to students with disabilities through electronic communications, virtual, or other online platforms (NJAC 6A:14-1.1 (d)5); permitted related services to be provided to students with disabilities through telehealth or other virtual or online platforms (NJAC 6A:14-3.9(a)); and permitted NJDOE-approved clinics/agencies to deliver related services virtually or through online platforms (NJAC 6A:14-5.2 (f)).  

On Wednesday, the State Board voted 7 to 3 to terminate Modified Rule:  6A:14-1.1(d)5, but noted that IEP teams, which include the student’s parents/guardians, retain the flexibility to make individualized determinations to meet the unique needs of the student. The Board further voted that two of the temporary rule modifications, 6A:14-3.9(a) and 6A:14-5.2(f), will remain in effect until January 11, 2022 (at which time they expire under the authority of the Governor’s Executive Order #103). 

NJDOE-approved clinics/agencies may, for now, continue to deliver related services virtually or through online platforms. The Department explained that leaving these two modified rules in effect will give districts flexibility to deliver related services, such as speech-language, and counseling, through telehealth or other virtual or online platforms for the rest of the calendar year. The NJDOE’s presentation can be found here.

From the NJDOE proposal

Although the declared public health emergency has expired, P.L. 2021, c. 103 provides that rule waivers/suspensions/modifications adopted under the authority of EO 103 will expire on January 11, 2022. P.L. 2021, c. 103 also allows agency heads to terminate rule waivers/suspensions/modifications prior to the expiration date. Since all schools will be returning to full-time, in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year, the Department proposes to terminate modified N.J.A.C. 6A:14-1.1(d)5. If certain conditions require a school to be closed for in-school instruction for more than three school days, P.L. 2020, c. 27 will allow special education and related services to be provided through electronic communications, virtual, or other online platforms during the closure. Upon State Board of Education approval, the termination will be effective immediately. 

The Department has determined that modified N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.9(a) and 5.2(f) should not be terminated at this time to continue to allow related services to be provided through telemedicine and telehealth or through electronic communications as appropriate and as required by the student’s IEP to the greatest extent possible. The Department also plans to pursue amendments to N.J.A.C. 6A:14 to make permanent certain provisions allowing related services to be provided through electronic communications or virtual or other remote platforms.

Other action taken by the Board on Wednesday included: 

  • unanimously voting to adopt the organizational structure for the State Department of Education at N.J.A.C. 6A:2-1.1 et seq., pursuant to N.J.S.A. 52:14B-3(1)
  • unanimously adopting proficiency level cut scores for the Dynamic Learning Maps English Language Arts, Mathematics (grades 3-8 and 11), and Science assessments (grades 5, 8, and 11), pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:8-4.
  • unanimously adopting proficiency level cut scores for ACCESS/Alternate ACCESS for ELLs assessments (grades K-12), pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:8-4.

The next meeting of the State Board is October 6th.  

The State Board is currently accepting Public Testimony (Written Testimony Only) on School District Operations