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4-17-15 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - Technology Earns High Marks In Opening Round Of Online Testing…While PARCC itself remains controversial, state officials report new computer platforms had high rate of success

 

JOHN MOONEY | APRIL 17, 2015

 

As controversial as the new PARCC tests continue to be, the technology behind the state’s new online exams passed its own test this spring.

A total of 98 percent of the students who took the tests – more than 800,000 in all – successfully completed the first round of tests using new computer platforms that essentially had never before been used for that purpose, state officials reported this week.

RELATED LINKS

State Department of Education Memo on PARCC Feedback

Student Survey (Language Arts)

It was the highest success rate, in terms of using computer platforms, among the dozen states administering the PARCC exams, they said.

“It distinguishes New Jersey among a host of states (taking the PARCC), and brings us into a next generation of assessment,” state Education Commissioner David Hespe said in an interview Wednesday. “We want to congratulate districts on that accomplishment.”

That’s not to say there were no glitches or breakdowns.

Eight to 10 districts saw significant enough problems to require on-site state assistance, officials said, although problems in most cases resolved within the day. Several of the cases were widely reported, including instances in which computer viruses and malware that all but shut down the testing.

And 2 percent of the test-takers – or roughly 20,000 children – were still taking the tests with paper and pencil because the technology or computer programs used by their schools still need to be updated, officials said.

15 PERCENT OF 11TH-GRADERS REFUSED TO TAKE FIRST ROUND OF PARCC TESTS IN MARCH

But Hespe and his staff this week applauded the state’s overall technology readiness. The commissioner said earlier concerns about whether computers -- and students themselves, dealing with new technology -- would freeze up did not materialize.

“There was a great deal of concern about third graders in particular participating and their ability to type (their answers) and to interact with the devices,” said assistant commissioner Bari Erlichson, who is leading the testing effort.

“It was a concern that we carried with us in analyzing the field test and structuring the time allowed for students,” she said. “And I will say, we’re at a great place now in seeing that our schools did support our kids very well and supported our families in the transition.”

Computer technology readiness, and test administration procedures in general, remain a point of concern as the state will start a second round of the PARCC testing later this month.

State officials this week released a list of adjustments -- small and large – being made to address issues that arose in the first round of testing.

Erlichson said, for instance, that the state would provide some flexibility on the timing of the tests to better fit individual school schedules. And to minimize the time required of schools, some schools also did larger group assessments that the state is encouraging for the second round, if applicable.

State officials also said that students themselves will be surveyed at the end of the second round of PARCC exams, with that feedback taken into consideration as the state plans future rounds of testing.

 

Star Ledger - Minding Our Business program helps Trenton middle schoolers turn business ideas into profits

By Cristina Rojas | Times of Trenton 
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on April 17, 2015 at 7:57 AM

TRENTON - More than 100 Trenton middle schoolers will vie for the attention of fellow students, parents and visitors Saturday as they try to turn their business ideas into dollar signs.

The annual Market Fair, held at Joyce Kilmer Middle School from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., will showcase a dozen ideas that students have been working on for the past few months as part ofMinding Our Business' after-school service learning program.

The program began in 1997 as a community outreach effort of Rider University's College of Business Administration, but has since grown into a nonprofit organization that has mentored more than 3,000 students.

The 12-week program pairs sixth through eighth graders with Rider student mentors to help them develop the skills needed to run a business - from team-building to putting together a business plan and getting financing.

Teams of students brainstormed ideas and pitched them to a panel of judges, who awarded them loans of up to $200.

With names like Duct and Dye and Fry-Day, their ideas include duct-tape wallets and tie-dye t-shirts to food stands with fried Oreos and ice cream.

On Saturday, they'll work the crowds to earn enough money to pay back their loans and still turn a profit.

Co-founders Sigfredo Hernandez and Kevin Wortham said the program gives the Trenton students a chance to level the playing field and equips them with skills that go well beyond the classroom.

"Our low-income students don't have the same opportunities for growth and development that more affluent students have," said Hernandez, an associate professor of marketing. "We thought entrepreneurship would be a good hook for the students to actually advance their development."

Their budding relationships with the Rider students expose them to options they might not have otherwise considered, Wortham said.

"When you talk about urban students, the notion of going to college is farfetched, but now they can have a friendship with a college student," he said. "It begins to open up a can-do spirit."

Rider is less than 10 minutes from Trenton, but only a handful of kids have heard of it, he said.

"All we can hope to do is make impactful inroads in having students understand that there's options out there," he said.

A recent alumni survey showed that the program has had positive, long-term impacts. A large number of participants said they became more interested in attending college and were more hopeful of their futures. One-third of the group went on to start businesses and nearly one-half said they planned to start one.

The Rider students, in turn, get to learn from the kids.

"It's a very gratifying experience for me as an educator because you don't get to see all the growth and development taking place when you're teaching a traditional course," Hernandez said.

The program almost didn't happen this year after Trenton's cash-strapped school district was only able to provide a fraction of the money Minding Our Business needed. They were saved through last-minute donations from State Farm and Sam's Club.

"Had the program not had so many successful years and credibility, I don't think they would have been so willing to help without hesitation," Wortham said.

The program has expanded to Perth Amboy and Asbury Park, and Wortham said he hopes that it will continue to grow.

"My expectation is truly to have a national footprint for entrepreneurship," he said. "That's what we're slowly but surely moving toward."

Cristina Rojas may be reached at crojas@njtimes.com. Follow her on Twitter@CristinaRojasTT. Find The Times of Trenton on Facebook.

 

Star Ledger - Christie calls for 'national conversation' to combat rising tuition at colleges

By Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
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on April 16, 2015 at 8:09 PM, updated April 17, 2015 at 7:47 AM

HASBROUCK HEIGHTS — Gov. Chris Christie said he received letter a few weeks ago that shocked him. It was from Notre Dame University, the school his oldest daughter attends.

"The first paragraph is: 'We want to thank you again. You have blessed us with the presence of your child here on our campus to become a member of the Notre Dame family,'" Christie recalled during a town hall forum in Hasbrouck Heights on Thurday. "You can hear the music from 'Rudy' playing in the background.

"Paragraph two, however, said: 'We are proud to announce that next year tuition will only go up 3.9 percent, which is the lowest increase in Notre Dame tuition in 40 years.' Now think about that. Inflation is at, like 1, 1 1/2 percent. At Notre Dame, they're bragging that it's only going up 3.9."

The Republican governor and potential presidential candidate recounted the tale after a woman in the crowd asked him what can be done about rising tuition costs at colleges and universities.

"It's a problem I can relate to not only as governor, but I can relate to as a parent," said Christie, who has two children in college.

The governor said schools across the country should have to control tuition prices if they want to participate in federal grant and loan programs.

"Because there is seemingly no end to the increases," he said. "We need to really start clamping down on colleges and universities."

"Education is still the key to upward mobility in our society for everybody," Christie added. "There has to be a bigger, broader national conversation, because it's happening everywhere."

Christie noted that the letter from Notre Dame mentioned that the total cost for a student at Notre Dame next year is more than $61,000.

The crowd at the Hasbrouck Heights VFW hall gasped.

"I felt exactly the same way," Christie sai

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Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.


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