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5-19-14 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - PARCC PILOT RAMPS UP FOR ROUND TWO, AMID EDUCATOR ANXIETIES...Worries about technology continue to head the list, although DOE says there are simple fixes for many

The Record - New Bergen County school district program offers life skills for special needs students


JOHN MOONEY | MAY 19, 2014

Worries about technology continue to head the list, although DOE says there are simple fixes for many

As the next round of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) field testing gets under way, lessons continue to emerge as to how ready New Jersey is to go statewide with the online exams.

new survey from the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association of more than 220 principals and supervisors who participated in the first round of field tests this winter found them, at best, anxious about seeing the tests taken statewide, many citing technological and logistical problems.


NJPSA Survey

Assembly Bill 3081

NJDOE “Lessons Learned” Memo

And the state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, put out its own less-scientific findings from a poll of its members, which included many of the same concerns.

“I can’t imagine the scheduling it will take for me with a building of 900 students and many special-ed students,” said one Monmouth County principal.

Administrators and teachers attested to tests freezing onscreen, answers disappearing, and laptop batteries dying. Several said the length of the testing, especially for young students, was scary.

“In my mind, 70 minutes was way too long for nine- and 10-year olds to sit and work on a task,” one Essex County teacher said.

The state’s readiness for PARCC has been a flashpoint of debate, with pressure mounting from the Legislature to put off using results from the tests in evaluating both schools and teachers.

An Assembly education committee hearing on a bill to delay the use of the results for up to two years drew nearly 100 people last week. The legislation was passed unanimously –- supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.

The bill could be posted for full Assembly vote as early as Thursday, and appears to have at least some support in the Senate, although its passage there is far less certain.

Either way, questions as to whether the state’s public schools will have the technology in place and educators trained in time are not going away.

The state Department of Education has put a rosier picture on the field testing so far, saying in April after the first round that feedback that PARCC was “an overall positive experience.” But officials acknowledged some issues to resolve, many of them concerning technology.

On Friday, a spokesman for the department said the problems were hardly insurmountable. He said one solution was as simple as downloading -- or caching -- the full test to the school computers rather than relying on remote servers, which could be bandwidth-constrained and thus slow down the process.

“There are countless dedicated educators, technology specialists, and principals who’ve been working hard to make this a success,” said Michael Yaple, the department’s communications director. “They’ve been sharing information -- among each other, with state officials -- and we’ve been sharing our insights, as well.”

Yaple said that 1,340 schools in 485 districts are participating in the second round-- 70 schools and 40 districts more than took part in the first round.

The survey, conducted by the NJPSA, found the technological challenges were widespread, with more than 80 percent of administrators saying they had issues with computers and bandwidth.

A majority said they were relatively minor and could be easily fixed, but a majority also said they expected them to continue.

Still, in an interesting finding for those who have feared the tests will be too difficult an adjustment, several administrators said the tests were not as difficult as they thought they would be, and 90 percent said that students had enough time to complete the tests.

That didn’t necessarily lessen their apprehensions, however, with close to 90 percent of administrators at least “somewhat anxious” about the tests going statewide and 20 percent “extremely anxious.”

“We had four kids out of 20 on average with tech issues,” said a principal. “That becomes gigantic when we test 5,000 students.”


The Record - New Bergen County school district program offers life skills for special needs students

MAY 13, 2014, 6:50 PM    LAST UPDATED: MONDAY, MAY 19, 2014, 7:15 AM



PARAMUS — A new career skills program for students with developmental disabilities offers real-life skills and industry certifications to help them land a job or to succeed in college. For students like Marcelo Valdivia, it also offers hope.

“The culinary program is one of the top priorities I wanted to do. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps,” said Marcelo Valdivia, 18, of Bogota, explaining that his father is a manger of food services at a local hospital.

Valdivia, who is learning knife and measuring skills, said he likes cooking breakfast foods like French toast and eggs.

The Bergen County Special Services School District launched the Career Crossroads program in September with specialties in sales and customer service and in hospitality and food services. The café opened at the Paramus campus on Ridgewood Avenue in April with a new kitchen, tables and computers, and the official opening was celebrated Tuesday.

The students in the program, who come from across Bergen and Hudson counties, learn marketing, budgeting, retail and food preparation skills. They also intern at businesses in the area and cater district events, including the opening, which featured platters of vegetables, fruit and cheese, along with spinach and cheese Stromboli.

Other students focus in retail, including Gemma-Maria Limongi, who is an intern at REI — a sports and recreation store — where she organizes displays and accessorizes mannequins. She beams when talking about the job.

“I make sure colors pop, whether it’s blue or green,” said Limongi, 18, of Saddle Brook. “I’m into fashion and helping customers be happy.”

Students in the Career Crossroads program also work for a dry cleaning service: taking orders, keeping records, and doing publicity, such as sending email blasts to clients. Six students are enrolled in the career program, and the district expects to enroll a dozen total next year. The students spend half their school day in career training, and the other half in academics.

Students build self esteem, and many of the skills like public speaking and customer service are helpful in other field, said Patti Wojtowicz, the teacher in charge of Career Crossroads.

“Our projects are all real and all connected to what you would encounter in the workplace,” Wojtowicz said.

The district has about 1,000 students ages 3 to 21 enrolled in its programs and also operates a program for 180 adults, said district Superintendent Howard Lerner.

“We’re always striving for independence for our students and that’s what programs like this achieve,” Lerner said.

Email: adely@northjersey.com

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