|4-4-12 Education Issues in the News: Charter Schools next round; Testing; State Board meeting|
Star Ledger - N.J. education department to consider 32 charter school applications
NJ Spotlight - When NJ Kids Take Out No. 2 Pencils, They’ll be Testing the Test…In Model Curriculum 1.0, educators will assess the new standards
NJ Spotlight - Agenda: State Board of Education…Teacher test changes highlight otherwise routine agenda
Star Ledger - N.J. education department to consider 32 charter school applications
Published: Wednesday, April 04, 2012, 9:20 AM Updated: Wednesday, April 04, 2012, 9:22 AM By Jessica Calefati/The Star-Ledger
Expanding access to charter schools is one of Gov. Chris Christie’s education reform priorities, but this application cycle drew 10 fewer applicants than the last round in October. School leaders will learn by September if their plans have been approved.
Most of the applicants propose opening schools in Newark, Paterson or Jersey City, where students enrolled in traditional public schools post low test scores on state exams.
Three applicants are seeking approval to teach students from suburban Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties. Battles against two controversial applicants hoping to open language immersion schools in Highland Park and Maplewood, however, are over.
The founders of Tikun Olam, a proposed Hebrew-language high school, and the founders of Hua Mei, a Mandarin Chinese language high school, both bowed out of this application cycle after multiple attempts to earn state approval.
"We are happy," said Highland Park Superintendent Fran Wood, who has been a staunch opponent of charter school growth in the small town. "We feel there is not a need for the charter in this or surrounding communities."
Wood and a group of vigilant parents and teachers from the affected communities argued charter schools would steer money away from the high quality public schools already in operation.
Six miles from Highland Park, another applicant has proposed opening a science and technology themed charter school in North Brunswick. District Superintendent Bryan Zychowski said approving the school would be "duplicating effort."
"The whole purpose of charters is to fulfill an un-met need," Zychowski said. "We have a robotics program in our middle school and a strong science and technology commitment in our high school. We don’t need a charter school in North Brunswick."
Many of the applicants seeking approval now have applied at least once before. Tracey Williams is making a record sixth attempt to secure state approval to open a charter high school in Montclair.
Applicant Belinda McGuire retired from her tenured position at Newark’s West Side High School to focus exclusively on her application to open the New Jersey Institute of Fashion Charter High School in the city. She has applied twice before and been rejected.
A former fashion design instructor, McGuire said there is a un-met need in Newark for a school like the one she hopes to open — one which would teach about the fashion industry and offer courses on clothing construction, merchandising, entrepreneurship and more.
"This is my passion and students ask me often ‘When will the school be approved? When will this come through?" McGuire said. "God gives everyone a certain mission and this is my mission — to make sure this program is available to kids."
Staff writer Jeannette Rundquist contributed to this report.
When elementary and middle school students sit down next month for the annual state testing, they will get their first taste of new national academic standards coming to New Jersey –- even if they may not know it.
The Christie administration will begin to “field test” questions derived from the new Common Core State Standards into the next NJASK tests, given to every student Grades 3-8.
The practice questions are common in any state testing, unbeknownst to students and not counting toward their scores. But state officials said these will be the first in the state’s transition to a whole new battery of testing that will come with the Common Core, starting in earnest in 2015.
New Jersey is one of 45 states moving toward the Common Core standards, along with new testing that is being developed through a national consortium. The standards are advertised as providing more depth and rigor to existing state standards that vary across the country.
Participating states are being required to start the transition to the Common Core in both their curriculum development and testing, beginning this year.
“This will definitely be a transition,” Penny MacCormack, the state’s assistant commissioner, said of the curriculum and testing changes she is overseeing. “The new standards are definitely different.”
The state’s work being shared with districts has been in the elementary and middle schools. Administration officials have been mostly silent about their high school plans, tossing out a few hints about replacing the existing High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) but only saying a full announcement will come this month. The last HSPA was administered in March.
Of the younger students taking NJASK in May, MacCormack said in an interview yesterday that the intention of the field testing is to see how the students fare and what needs to be addressed, including in the testing itself.
“That’s why you field test,” she said. “Some questions may not be ready for prime time.”
At the same time, MacCormack’s office is starting to roll out a model curriculum it is developing to assist districts in aligning their own teaching. While voluntary for most districts, the model curriculum may be ordered for the lowest-performing schools and districts under the administration’s new accountability system.
The first of the math curricula will be posted by the state department for educators to review by the end of this month, MacCormack said. The math as well as language arts curriculum will be separated into five six-week teaching units for every grade, all of which will be available by this summer, she said.
Each unit will also come with student assessments that teachers can use, those starting to be rolled out in the summer in time for the next school year.
MacCormack said the model curriculum development has involved scores of teachers and supervisors, with the assistant commissioner herself serving as the final editor. She said the feedback coming next would be invaluable in developing it further.
“This is the first round: Model Curriculum 1.0,” MacCormack said of the first units. “Folks in the field are eager to now have this kind of give-and-take exchange.”
State officials have been less forthcoming about what will happen in the high schools and the state’s existing exams, currently required for graduation.
The Common Core standards include high school grades as well, but state officials have not said how -- or if -- the state’s current High School Proficiency Assessment will transition in the next two years. It tests 11th and 12th graders in math and language arts.
Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf has said he wants to move to specific subject exams, and Gov. Chris Christie’s budget includes $1.7 million for next year to start the change to five end-of-course exams.
But they have provided no further details, and it has been a long-running source of tension with some critics, including the Education Law Center, the advocacy group that has led the Abbott v. Burke litigation.
Stan Karp, an ELC program director, said the state’s silence has left countless students and their schools in limbo on a test that students will need to graduate. That is especially problematic in urban districts where the numbers of those at risk are considerably higher. There is an alternative test for those who now fail the HSPA, but its fate is also uncertain.
Yesterday, Karp released an undated draft report from the department’s assessment director, Jeffrey Hauger, indicating this is the last year of the HSPA.
“The only certainty is that after 2012, we will not have a high school assessment,” Hauger said in the report, which the ELC received through a public records request.
Karp also released a letter he sent to Cerf yesterday with a list of questions regarding the fate of the exams, including whether there would be field tests to help prepare students before the exams are required.
Justin Barra, the department’s communications director, yesterday said they were “legitimate and valid questions, and we will address them in short order.”
Still, that hasn’t much squelched the criticism. Eric Milou, a Rowan University math professor who leads a coalition of math and science educators, said the state is asking for trouble.
“Quite frankly it is ridiculous that the state has not informed districts about their high school assessment plans for 2012-13 and beyond,” said Milou, director of the New Jersey Math & Science Coalition.
“Current 9th and 10th grade students and teachers throughout the state have no idea how to prepare their students for their graduation assessment,” he said. “Lawsuits from students are all but certain due to the lack of information from DOE.”
Date: Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Time: 10 a.m.
Place: NJ Department of Education, 1st floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton.
What they are doing: While school reform and funding issues roil New Jersey’s political scene, the state Board of Education’s agenda is a relatively light one today. One policy area up for vote is a change in the competency testing required for incoming elementary school teachers.
Teacher testing: The board will take up final adoption of a resolution to adjust what incoming elementary teachers need to know to pass the national Praxis exam. The exam is already required for new teachers, testing them on their knowledge and skills. But New Jersey will be participating in a new version that sets more rigorous requirements for passing all four different subject area tests: language arts, math, science and social studies. The board will set the state’s required passing scores on the exam.
School monitoring: A month after the board adopted changes to streamline the state’s monitoring system for schools, it must certify the last remaining districts going through the old rating system. Every month, the certification is a routine vote, rarely much discussed at all. But it’s an interesting list this month, with Atlantic City and Bound Brook deemed “high-performing” and Buena Regional, Ventnor and Clark falling below the required levels to different degrees.
Student report: The 13-member board has a non-voting member who may get less attention but who is at every meeting speaking from an important perspective, that of an actual New Jersey student. For this school year, the board’s student representative has been Samantha Puja of Bayonne High School. Today, Puja will give her own report and introduce the board to its representative for the 2012-13 school year.
Misc.: The board has a short list of other procedural votes on the agenda, and few surprises expected in the commissioner and board reports as well. Ilan Plawker, the board’s vice president, said he’ll have a short report in his role as a director in the National Association of State Boards of Education. He was among a group of about 50 association leaders to recently travel to Washington, D.C. to discuss state issues with federal lawmakers. Congress, he said, showed no signs that it will agree to big education legislation anytime soon, including the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). “They are so deadlocked that they’d be surprised if there was any action before the election,” he said.
Garden State Coalition of Schools