|QSAC Joint Committee Hearing--Boswell Testimony 12-4-18|
TESTIMONY OF WINNIE BOSWELL
JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2018
Thank you, Senator Rice, Assemblywoman Jasey and members of the Joint Committee for the opportunity to testify on QSAC today. My name is Winnie Boswell, and I have served as Director of Curriculum and Technology for the Glen Ridge Public School District, a K-12 district in Essex County, for 24 of years. I have been through QSAC twice. Now, my district is preparing to go through QSAC once again.
The goal of any monitoring system is to ensure that all students have access to high quality public education. QSAC aims at that goal, but might come closer to achieving it if the process were both more productive and less onerous for school districts.
In my view, the following key areas are in need of improvement:
Time to Prepare
The new, 133-page QSAC manual was released in late August 2018. Key school district personnel have also taken the four-hour QSAC training offered by the Department of Education. QSAC requires voluminous amounts of documentation. The presentation Power Points from the county were in excess of 40 slides. Districts like mine that will be going through QSAC in the current cycle simply do not have sufficient time to gather all of that documentation.
In addition the Curriculum portion of QSAC now has a specific template just released in August 2018. Once again districts preparing for QSAC now have too little time to prepare. Since most districts employ a comprehensive five-year curriculum cycle, having this template discourages educational creativity.
If nothing else, the DOE should consider not requiring districts to produce documentation that has already been uploaded to the Department’s website, DOE Homeroom applications and/or NJ Smart.
An “All or Nothing” Approach
QSAC scoring uses an “all or nothing” approach that takes away all the points for a specific section when a district lacks some of the requirements for that section. An example of this is scoring for the arts portion of the “Curriculum and Instruction” section.
To fulfill the QSAC arts requirement, all high schools must make all four arts disciplines—music, dance, theater and visual arts--available to students so that they can “communicate at a basic level in the arts and demonstrate proficiency in at least one arts discipline.” To accomplish this goal, all districts must employ certified theater and dance teachers. While the majority of districts have certified music and visual arts teachers, many cannot afford certified personnel in the other two areas. Under the current QSAC rules, those districts lose all points for the arts portion of the “Curriculum and Instruction” section of QSAC.
Many districts, including mine, do not have certified dance and theater teachers, but offer dance as part of PE. That that does not count for QSAC, because the certified PE teacher is not also certified in dance.
As mentioned above, districts operate on a five-year curriculum cycle. The Department released the NJ Standards less than five y ears ago. We have been told that any mention the old standards name—“Common Core”—will result in a loss of points for an entire section. This penalty has nothing to do with clarity—the numbering systems of Common Core and the newly-named NJSLS are identical.
This “all or nothing” approach encourages large penalties for small errors. Practices like those described above for arts instruction unfairly penalize small districts and poor districts, setting them up for failure in the monitoring process.
Special Education Requirements: Bureaucratic not Constructive
In previous QSAC iterations, descriptions of curriculum accommodations and modifications were listed according to individual students’ Individual Education Programs (IEP). To satisfy QSAC requirements, districts would present lesson plans that showed those specific accommodations. The accommodation/modification process is a dynamic one for each student with an IEP, so this approach makes educational sense.
Now, lesson plans are not used for that purpose. Instead, all the various accommodations and modifications for each curriculum unit must be inserted into the descriptions of those units. This means that District personnel now have the added burden of rewriting existing curriculum solely for QSAC. This is a poor use of time that might otherwise be spent meeting students’ needs.
Overall, the current iteration of QSAC, which was meant to be more streamlined, is more burdensome and bureaucratic. Certain aspects reflect a “gotcha” approach that transforms partial successes into total failures. This is not in the best interests of educators or students.