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4-13-12 Education Issues in the News - Charter School decision supports local district issue, testing, school accountability
NJ Spotlight - Love ‘em and Sometimes Fight ‘em: NJ’s Charter School Dilemma…In highly watched case, Cerf sides with school districts battling boutique charter

Star Ledger - Educators search for best ways to prepare N.J. kids for state tests… Marlboro teachers are asked to design classroom tests in formats similar to NJ ASK so kids can become familiar with it, Superintendent David Abbott said."That way they can concentrate on the knowledge rather than the format," he said. "These are very high stakes tests. You need to really be performing."

Press of Atlantic City - Vocational high schools in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties among state's best; others named the worst

NJ Spotlight - Love ‘em and Sometimes Fight ‘em: NJ’s Charter School Dilemma…In highly watched case, Cerf sides with school districts battling boutique charter

Star Ledger - Educators search for best ways to prepare N.J. kids for state tests Marlboro teachers are asked to design classroom tests in formats similar to NJ ASK so kids can become familiar with it, Superintendent David Abbott said."That way they can concentrate on the knowledge rather than the format," he said. "These are very high stakes tests. You need to really be performing."

Press of Atlantic City - Vocational high schools in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties among state's best; others named the worstschool bus icon

 

 

 

 

NJ Spotlight - Love ‘em and Sometimes Fight ‘em: NJ’s Charter School Dilemma…In highly watched case, Cerf sides with school districts battling boutique charter

By John Mooney, April 13, 2012 in Education

While promoting charter schools in public, the Christie administration has found itself at odds with them on the legal front, as it rebuffed one school’s legal challenge this week and started preparing for another.

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Acting education commissioner Chris Cerf this week released his opinion against a challenge from a Mandarin-language school that had sued three local districts for their ongoing efforts against the school opening.

The Princeton International Academy Charter School (PIACS), approved by the state two years ago, maintained that the districts -- Princeton Regional, South Brunswick, and West Windsor-Plainsboro -- had unlawfully used taxpayer funds to contest the school before zoning boards, as well as in lobbying and other efforts.

PIACS quest to open has been a central drama in the high-profile dispute across the state about these specialty charter schools. PIACS has yet to win the zoning approval, once again rebuffed before a South Brunswick board last month.

An administrative law judge first heard the school’s challenge against the three districts and dismissed it in a summary ruling, saying the districts were within their rights.

The ruling was appealed to Cerf and in a four-page opinion this week he affirmed the ALJ opinion.

“There is no legal authority which precludes respondents from engaging in the contested actions set forth above,” he wrote.

Cerf did issue a veiled warning that the districts’ use of taxpayer funds was not limitless. The districts have been “zealous and relentless in challenging the existence of PIACS,” he wrote, and said their authority to challenge the school is “not unfettered.”

“Such behavior is inconsistent with the professional duty of educators whose primary concern must continually be the students of the community as a whole,” Cerf wrote.

“However, districts are not prohibited from challenging implementation issues, as was the case here,” he said.

The districts welcomed the decision. Judy Wilson, superintendent of Princeton Regional Schools, said she hoped this was the end of the case and the last straw for PIACS as well, given it does not have a location for the fall.

“We thought it was a clear case all along, and happy it was confirmed,” Wilson said. “That should be the end of it.”

Efforts to reach the school’s leaders were unsuccessful yesterday. PIACS' lawyer, William Harla, said that the ruling was still being discussed and a decision on the next step had yet to be made. "Clearly it's a disappointment, and we're reviewing it," Harla said last night.

This is one of a half-dozen legal challenges in the state involving charter schools. Some are districts challenging the state’s approval of a new charter, including one in Cherry Hill, while others are charters that have yet to win approval. The Quest Academy Charter School in Montclair, turned down by the state five times, has filed an appeal while attempting a sixth time in the latest round of applications.

The newest case is that of Emily Fisher Charter School in Trenton, a 10-year-old school that the state has sought to close. Cerf last month announced he would not renew the school’s charter to reopen next fall, citing a range of problems from its low test scores to operational problems.

The school has maintained that Cerf was wrong in its interpretation of test scores, and in some cases had the wrong data to start with, and the school has shown notable improvements. It has filed a stay against the order, officials said, the first step toward a formal appeal.

Cerf in a letter back to the school last week said he had reviewed the data provided and was unpersuaded.

"The decision to close a school is one of the hardest decisions that we have to make, and is not one that we take lightly," Cerf wrote. "We understand and appreciate the work that you and your colleagues have put into this school over the past 14 years. However, after a thorough and rigorous review of the data and the school's operations, I am left with the conclusion that Emily Fisher Charter School has not met the standards for renewal."

 

Star Ledger - Educators search for best ways to prepare N.J. kids for state tests Marlboro teachers are asked to design classroom tests in formats similar to NJ ASK so kids can become familiar with it, Superintendent David Abbott said."That way they can concentrate on the knowledge rather than the format," he said. "These are very high stakes tests. You need to really be performing."

Published: Friday, April 13, 2012, 8:00 AM  By Jeanette Rundquist/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

UNION TOWNSHIP — At the Battle Hill School in Union Township, fourth-graders practiced for the upcoming NJ ASK tests in a "science bee," lining up at a microphone in the school’s auditorium one recent morning to field questions on topics such as the solar system, energy and matter.

The event elicited tears from a few students who were unable to come up with correct responses — and excited smiles and happy fist-pumps from those who got the answers right.

The North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School district created a new website devoted to the High School Proficiency Assessment, or HSPA, giving students and parents practice math problems and directions on how to "brainstorm" for an essay question.

In Red Bank, the district spent about $7,000 to buy test-prep workbooks for each child so they could practice for standardized tests at home.

As New Jersey’s public schools put students through the annual spring round of standardized tests, a growing number of districts are devoting time to helping kids prepare.

Standardized tests — the NJ Assessment of Skills and Knowledge, or NJ ASK, for grades 3-8, and the HSPA, for high schoolers — have long been serious business for schools. But with New Jersey moving toward using student test scores in teacher evaluations, experts say the stakes are rising.

Some worry that time spent taking the tests — and preparing for them — will increase at the expense of other learning.

"It depends on where you are. When the bar is raised because not a lot of kids are meeting proficiency, an awful lot of time is spent on preparing kids for the test itself," said Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.

Most educators say they do exactly as the state Department of Education suggests and prepare students for the tests by teaching what they need to know throughout the year.

"The best way to prepare students for the NJ ASK is to be teaching to the New Jersey state standards, in rich and engaging ways, with students throughout the year," said Penny MacCormack, chief academic officer at the Department of Education.

But many feel there’s nothing wrong with going beyond typical classroom instruction to give kids an edge when they sit down with their No. 2 pencils to take a test.

Marlboro teachers are asked to design classroom tests in formats similar to NJ ASK so kids can become familiar with it, Superintendent David Abbott said.

"That way they can concentrate on the knowledge rather than the format," he said. "These are very high stakes tests. You need to really be performing."

In some districts, teachers have been asked to "stop teaching more — go back, review and get kids ready" for the test, said Rosemary Knab, associate director of research for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

This isn’t just happening in New Jersey, said Drew Gitomer, a professor at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education and an expert on standardized tests. Reports from other states have "suggested a very substantial amount of school time is spent preparing for tests in ways that are hard to justify educationally," he said.

If test scores are linked to teacher evaluations, that practice will only increase.

"If they think the way to improve test scores is to practice a lot on the test, I think they will do that," Gitomer said. "Some test preparation, in its place, is okay. It’s when it becomes the dominant form of the curriculum, that it has pernicious effects on education."

New Jersey began using standardized tests in the 1970s to determine if students needed remedial education, said Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association. High school graduation tests began in the early 1980s and more tests have been added over time.

Some oppose putting heavy emphasis on standardized tests: One national education organization, FairTest, warns of "the dangerous consequences of high-stakes standardized testing."

But the federal No Child Left Behind act, enacted in the early 2000s, required expansion of testing and placed sanctions on schools that did not meet test score benchmarks.

Locally, many school districts use scores to help guide placement of children in course levels. For teachers, a pilot program is under way in 10 New Jersey districts that would use "student growth percentiles," based on NJ ASK scores, as part of teacher evaluations. Plans are to expand the pilot next year, and bring it to all teachers in 2013-14.

In Union Township, along with holding science, math and language arts "bees," school officials and a parent advisory group held meetings last month to prepare families for the NJ ASK. About 1,500 parents and children attended, so many that officials had to open more schools for the crowds.

"I don’t think it’s a bad thing, if you know your students are going to take a high-stakes test, to make sure to bone up on the fundamentals," Superintendent Patrick Martin said. "Those numbers are important and we’re doing our children a disservice if we don’t acknowledge that."

The Battle Hill science bee pitted about 70 fourth-graders against a series of NJ ASK-type questions. Kids in sneakers and jeans, some wearing Justin Bieber T-shirts or sweatshirts, took the microphone one by one, faces scrunched in concentration.

Those who answered correctly bounded happily to the end of the line to face another round. Those who did not, sat down.

"It feels good!" said Kenan Green, 9, who punched at the air in excitement after acing a question.

Jessica Momanyi, 10, became visibly upset when she drew a difficult question and couldn’t answer correctly. But she was all smiles later — and won a prize — when she gave a correct answer about the human circulatory system.

"I want every subject to be my best subject, so I can do well in high school and college," she said.

Some parents say they don’t believe too much attention is paid to getting ready for the tests.

Jacquelyn Darby, a Union mom, said her basement is set up like a classroom and her fifth-grade son, and twin eighth-grade daughters, do practice test problems there. Doing well in school is not optional, she said.

"It’s a requirement and, even when you go to college, it’s all about your language arts and math skills. It’s gotta be their meat and potatoes," Darby said. "It’s one of those things we have to do. And if we have to do it, I’m for anything to help my child excel."

 

Press of Atlantic City - Vocational high schools in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties among state's best; others named the worstschool bus icon

Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2012 6:42 pm | Updated: 12:41 am, Fri Apr 13, 2012.  By DIANE D’AMICO Education WriterpressofAtlanticCity.com0 comments

The vocational high schools in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties are among 112 highest-performing schools in the state according to a Department of Education list released Wednesday.

But 26 struggling schools in 11 area school districts will get more state intervention to help them improve as part of the state’s new school accountability system.

Statewide, 75 schools were identified as the lowest-performing, defined as having a passing rate on state tests of 31.6 percent or lower over three years. Those so-called “priority schools” will get the most state attention from staff in seven new Regional Achievement Centers planned around the state.

R.D. Wood School in Millville is a priority school. Most are in Camden, Newark, Trenton and Paterson.

An additional 183 schools have been identified as having a specific area of weakness, such as a low graduation rate, large achievement gaps among different groups of students, or a very low performance rate by one or more subgroups of students. Those “focus schools” will get state assistance to target their specific issues.

One or more schools in Atlantic City, Pleasantville, Egg Harbor Township, Galloway Township, Vineland, Millville, Bridgeton, Wildwood, Deerfield Township, Fairfield Township and Upper Deerfield Township met the criteria for the so-called “focus” schools. PleasanTech Charter School in Pleasantville is also on the “focus school” list, but the state has already notified the school its charter would not be renewed and it will have to close in June.

Finally 112 schools were named “reward schools” either because they are among the highest performing in the state based on state test scores and graduation rates, or they have shown the highest levels of improvement.

The Atlantic County Institute of Technology, Cape May County Technical High School and Ocean County Vocational Technical School’s Performing Arts Academy and Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, or M.A.T.E.S., Academy are among the highest-performing schools.

All of the lowest-performing “priority” schools are in the state’s most disadvantaged districts. More than half of the reward schools are in the state’s wealthiest districts.

Philip Guenther, superintendent of the Atlantic County Institute of Technology and president of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, said the ranking is a testament to the efforts made by staff at the school to prepare students to succeed.

Eleven of the state’s 21 county vocational school districts had reward schools, which Guenther said recognizes the benefit of hands-on, career-focused education. He said students do make a deliberate choice to attend a vocational school and he believes that also contributes to their performance.

“The come in motivated to succeed and that does make a difference,” he said.

Millville school Superintendent David Gentile said he welcomes the state teams, but hopes they will work with the district rather than just mandate specific changes.

“I am optimistic that the state (RAC) centers will first take time to learn what efforts are currently under way as part of our strategic plan and find ways to support those tactics that we can show are making a positive difference,” he said in an email. “My only concern is that they will come in and force ‘silver bullet turnaround methods’ that would set us back.”

State officials said the locations of the regional centers have not been determined. Their primary focus areas will be school climate and culture, school leadership, curriculum, instruction, use of time, use of data, staffing practices, and family and community engagement.

“We are entering a new age of school accountability,” acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said in a statement accompanying the list of schools. He said the system frees high-performing schools from state interference and makes a stronger investment in turning around “pockets of persistent academic failure.”

Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association said the association supports the state’s efforts to get the federal waiver from some of the most unpopular No Child Left Behind requirements so that the state could focus its efforts on the most struggling schools. But, he said, it also hopes the state will work with local school boards and administrators and not just impose a plan.

“The local boards and the state should be partners in the effort,” he said. “We do still have questions about how this will play out.”

Contact Diane D’Amico

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828



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