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10-14-14 Recent Education Issues in the News

Burlington County Times - Delanco warns parents whose kids refuse to take NJ tests

Delanco warns parents whose kids refuse to take NJ tests By Alexis Sachdev Staff writer Burlington County Times

DELANCO — A band of parents, whose children are in the Delanco Township Public School District, are pushing back against the state-mandated standardized PARCC tests, arguing the tests don’t benefit their kids. But the Board of Education remains steadfast.

On Wednesday, the Board approved an official statement outlining its districtwide procedure if students or parents opt out or refuse the test, which is administered twice a year for third- through 11th-graders 

NJ Spotlight - NJ Tries to Address Questions, Diploma....Minimum score on SAT, appeals process to demonstrate proficiency will be among possible paths to graduation

John Mooney | October 14, 2014lo


For all the debate over the New Jersey’s planned use of new state tests for high school graduation, questions have also arisen over how other proposed paths to earning a diploma -- including a minimum SAT score and an already existing but little-used appeals process – will actually work.

The Christie administration this month informed public school districts that as the state starts up its new PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career), students for the next three years will have options for meeting graduation requirements.

Related Links

Transitioning to PARCC FAQ (Updated)

Graduation Requirements, Classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018

NJ SAT Report (2013)

Passing at least one of the three high school PARCC tests, in language arts or math, will likely be the main gateway, but the administration is acknowledging that thousands of students each year will probably need the chance to qualify in other ways.

Chief among them will be minimum scores on a variety of college entrance tests that are already being taken by four out of five graduates. On the two most prominent tests, the state will set a benchmark of 400 out of a maximum of 800 on the SAT or a 16 out of 36 on the ACT.

College placement tests such as the Accuplacer will also qualify, and last week, the state Department of Education further expanded the list and said students could even qualify with a minimum score on the PSAT, a test given as preparation for the SAT. That minimum score has not yet been established, officials said.

“We’re working to expand the number of substitute assessments to help manage the process so as to be as successful as possible,” said Bari Erlichson, the assistant state commissioner overseeing the process.

The state has been issuing a stream of information to districts to address questions and criticisms of the new process, including from those who accuse the state of reneging on its earlier pledge to not require the PARCC tests for graduation in its initial years.

State officials continue to contend that passing PARCC is not being required, given the other options, and they last week issued a third memo to districts to further clarify the process and try to assuage any fears.

“The idea in this transition is not to disadvantage children who are in the middle of high school and may not have been used to the rigor of the Common Core,” Erlichson said in an interview. “We are hoping to hold harmless these students during a period of change.”

For those who fall short of the minimum SAT or ACT scores or don’t take those tests at all, the department will expand its current Portfolio Appeals process, which was already available as a last resort for students who failed one or both sections of the previous High School Proficiency Assessment.

In individualized reviews that go school by school, student by student, the process allows districts to show that their students met the graduation standards through their coursework or other non-assessment means.

The current appeals process has been in place since the state changed its alternative testing for the HSPA in 2010, and last year, it saw 1,566 applications, more than 1,000 of them for math alone.

Erlichson estimated there could be five to 10 times that number of appeals in the first years of PARCC – or up to one out of 10 prospective graduates.

She said none of this vetting will begin until next fall, after the scores come back from the first round of the PARCC tests administered in the spring to the current ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders.

By that time, many students will have also taken the SATs or other college tests.

As for how difficult is to score 400 out of a perfect 800 on language arts and math sections of the SATs -- the state’s mean score last year was 499 in language arts and 522 in math. Almost 15,000 students scored below 400 in language arts, and 11,000 scored below 400 in math.

For next year’s seniors who are still not qualifying, the appeals process will start soon after that, Erlichson said.

When asked whether the state education department has enough staff to handle a possible surge in appeals, Erlichson said staff already handled a similar number in 2010 in the first year of the process -- and that was over a three-week span.

“Now, we’ll have over seven months,” she said.

Erlichson downplayed any concerns about the cost of taking the SATs or other college tests, saying that 22 percent of New Jersey students who take the test qualify for income-based waivers from the College Board.

She said the state will not provide additional funding, but noted that a few districts -- including the state-operated Newark schools -- already pay for their students to take the college exams.


Sayreville High School Case Spotlights NJ's Landmark Anti-Bullying Law

John Mooney | October 10, 2014

Alarms sounded after revelation of allegations that young football players were abused by older teammates


The specific word “hazing” is not in the state’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights -- one of the toughest such laws in the country -- but in light of the Sayreville High School football scandal, the landmark law is getting some attention for helping to bring the issue to the fore.

And perhaps, advocates say, it will be incorporated into steps aimed at prevent future incidents of hazing, bullying or harassment.

“Hazing is bullying, and definitely rises to that level,” said state Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (D-Bergen), one of the prime sponsors of the 2011 law that requires schools to investigate and act on incidents of harassment and intimidation.

Huttle yesterday said the Sayreville case may rise to the level of criminality, after the school district cancelled the varsity football season in light of chilling allegations that senior players physically abused freshmen players in the locker room.

Regardless, she said athletic teams were very much part of the mix when the law was written and, indeed, the district’s superintendent cited the law as a contributing factor in his ultimate decision to cancel the season.

“There is no doubt, sports teams are accountable to the law,” Huttle said.

Yet, she added that such incidents also speak to the fact that more needs to be done.

“After three years (of the law) and all the discussion that has risen out of it, you’d think kids at that age would get it,” she said.

The role of schools and educators is sure to be at the center of the discussion as further details surface in the scandal that has rocked not just the Middlesex County community but high school sports throughout the state.

'Extraordinarily disturbing'

Gov. Chris Christie called the alleged incidents “extraordinarily disturbing” and said he had spoken with acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe, as well as acting Attorney General John Hoffman, about what steps the state could take next.

“They’re working well together to deal with this issue both from an educational perspective and a law-enforcement perspective,” he said yesterday at a Trenton press conference.

“Both of those things need to be addressed, not only specifically in Sayreville, but more broadly across the entire state to ensure that no other young male or female athletes are exposed to that type of treatment.”

He specifically called for “dealing with this on a more holistic way from the educational perspective in our high schools.”

Afterward, Hespe said the next steps would be through a number of groups already set up to address where improvements can be made in current law and policy, including the state’s anti-bullying task force, which was created in 2013 to monitor the implementation of the law.

He also cited a statewide working group of educators and law-enforcement officials – formed in the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings more than a decade ago. The group has developed a model “memorandum of agreement” for local districts and police departments spelling out each other’s roles in addressing violent or criminal behavior related to schools.

“Recognizing the toll this takes on athletes, families and the entire community,” Hespe said, “we want to make sure educators and law enforcement have the most updated information and guidance, and be able to take proactive steps to help prevent this from happening in the future.”

When asked whether there would be more specific guidelines for sports teams, he said those committees would hopefully look at the larger issue of hazing incidents and how they arise, not just in Sayreville but in the context of other incidents in the state.

And Hespe did not rule out asking hard questions about the roles of coaches and other adults in contributing to the climate that fosters hazing and bullying -- or at least looking the other way.

“There are a lot more questions than there are answers at this point,” he said. “All we know is something went very, very wrong (at Sayreville’s high school).”

Still, Hespe credited Sayreville Superintendent Richard Labbe for his decision to cancel the season, even in the face of strong protests.

“He had to make a very difficult decision, and he did,” Hespe said.

Labbe said, in reaching his decision, that his own son had been bullied in school.

Stuart Green, a longtime advocate and leader in bullying prevention in New Jersey, said the alleged Sayreville incident is a classic case of how culture and climate contribute to bullying, and the need to address those underlying factors.

“These things don’t arise out of the blue, and rarely is it a case of a single incident or a single kid,” Green said yesterday.

Green, the founder and director of the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention, said current law does address issues of school climate that can propagate bullying, including a requirement that every school have a “safety team” that develops anti-bullying training and programs for students and staff.

Ironically, under the law, the first week of October is a required “Week of Respect” for schools to focus on these programs.

Green’s one complaint is the safety teams are only required to meet twice a year, but he said it has nevertheless elevated the discussion and awareness about these underlying issues in schools.

“All of this is good, but it’s a long-haul struggle,” he said.

“The whole field is tragedy driven,” Green said. “We only pay attention when bad things happen. We really need to act before these tragedies.”

Star Ledger - Sayreville students react to hazing controversy following player arrest


Sayreville high school students return to school after learning football program cancelled

By Vernal Coleman | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on October 13, 2014 at 3:34 PM, updated October 14, 2014 at 8:21 AM

SAYREVILLE – Today was like any other school day, except for the elephant in the room, said students at Sayreville War Memorial High School.

Despite a turbulent weekend that included the charging of seven football players, and a candlelight vigil held in support of the victims of the alleged incidents that led to the cancellation of the team's remaining season, students exiting the school Monday afternoon said that students and administrators were both mostly mum on the controversy.

"Everyone is trying not to talk about it — teachers, students, everybody," said a senior who asked not to be named. "Nobody wants to bring it up because we still don't absolutely know what happened." School administrators made no announcement relating to the controversy during the school day, she added.

What they are sure of, however, is that many in the student body have become weary of the attention.

Still others said they were frustrated that the life of the school has been disrupted. "This is our senior year" said one student. "We've lost homecoming. We've lost pep rallies. This whole school revolves around football, and we lost that and nobody has determined whether the players actually did something."

Hours before the last bell, reports surfaced that star running back Myles Hartsfield had lost an offered scholarship to Penn State University.

By the end of the school day, most students spoken to by NJ Advance Media were aware of the development, but declined to comment.

Sonia Khan, a senior tennis player, could not say whether hazing rituals are widespread within the high school's athletic programs. "In our sport, we try to welcome the freshman," she said. "Because they're going to be seniors one day. I can look at an underclassman and know they're going to be me one day."

As for the football program itself, Khan said students are "still supportive of the kids that didn't do anything," she said. "As for the ones that have been accused, nobody is really talking about them.

"We're trying to hold off judgement."




NJ Spotlight - Fine Print: Bill Would Study Possible NJ Spotlight - Benefits of Later Start Times for Schools

John Mooney | October 9, 2014

Sen. Richard Codey to ask for study of school schedules and impact of sleep deprivation on learning


What it is: State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) plans to file a bill this week that would demand that the state Department of Education study the impact of school start times in middle schools and high school.

What it means: The bill comes in the wake of an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report that cited sleep deprivation among adolescents -- in part driven by early start times for schools -- as having an negative impact on health and learning.

Related Links

Codey Bill

American Academy of Pediatrics Report

Codey quote: “Studies are showing that our current school start time system is flipped the wrong way. Middle and high school start times are too early and elementary and pre-K classes are too late.”

“Research from the medical and educational community is showing it is bad for learning and can have negative consequences for the health of adolescents when school start times for teens are before 8:30 a.m., even though many of them are starting at 7:30,” he said.

The findings: According to the AAP report issued in August, a review of more than 18,000 public schools across the country found the average starting time before 8 a.m. It doesn’t lay all the blame on schools, but said such early starts contribute to sleep deprivation that, in turn, is harmful to students and deleterious to learning and achievement. The report recommends start times after 8:30 a.m.

AAP quote: “A substantial body of research has now demonstrated that delaying school start times is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss and has a wide range of potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement.”

Optimal sleep: The report said that children in middle and high schools should be getting 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep each night.

Not a new topic: School schedules have long been a point of debate, with a number of studies citing the negative impact of early start times on students who are prone to stay up late. But it has proven a challenging remedy, too, with class schedules tightly timed and afternoons already taken up by sports and other extracurricular activities.

Some movement: More than 1,000 schools nationally have moved back their schedules, Codey said.

Pilot program: The bill would also create a pilot program monitored by the state for selected schools to test out later start times.