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2-2-15 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight -The Results Are In: State Releases 2013-2014 School Performance Reports

John Mooney | February 2, 2015

Student growth percentiles make it possible to see how kids are doing compared with peers across the state


With the state’s release of School Performance Reports for every school in New Jersey in 2013-2014, the first look may be at overall scores for each school, but there are other ratings that should be examined as well.

Among the Christie administration’s newest gauges is the so-called student growth percentile (SGP), which examines how children in each school progressed on state tests compared to their peers across the state.

The aim is admirable: an emphasis on student growth, no matter where students started each year.

Check out how your school measured up.

Review your complete School Performance Reports. Schools that show a median SGP at the 50th percentile or better are considered successful. Those below the 40th percentile are at the other end of the scale. The range is from the high 70s for those showing the most progress to the mid-30s for the least.

The approach has its limits, but the basic idea is to compare the students in each school against students who started the year at the same academic level and see how they gained or not on the state tests in language arts and math.

A note of caution: The measurement only works for the state’s elementary and middle schools, since those are the only years at the moment that have two consecutive years of testing.

And the science of the SGP model is hardly embraced universally, with some questioning whether it accounts enough for socio-economic differences.

Nevertheless, list of the top schools for a combined SGP is as follows:

  • Luther Lee Elementary School (Demarest): 76th percentile in language arts, 81st percentile in math
  • Lillian Drive School (Hazlet): 79th percentile in language arts, 78th percentile in math
  • West Belmar Elementary School (Wall): 74th percentile in language arts, 82nd percentile in math
  • J. Spencer Smith School (Tenafly): 72nd percentile in language arts, 82nd percentile in math
  • Essex Fells Elementary School (Essex Fells): 73rd percentile in language arts, 80th percentile in math


Star Ledger – Newark parents, students test drive PARCC exam

NEWARK — Inside a computer lab at Science Park High School on Saturday, Lynair King, 8, was an energetic ball of nerves.

The third-grader announced to any adult in the room who would listen that he would fail the practice Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam he was about to take.

King was one of about two dozen Newark kids, parents and community members who took a practice version of the PARCC exam at Science Park High School during an event organized by the school's PTSA and the Secondary Parent Council.

Public outrage over Newark's school district's controversial reorganization continues to bubble, but Newark activists, students and schools have begun to turn their attention toward PARCC, a computerized exam replacing NJASK and HSPA exams this year.

While some Newark parents worried about the rigor and technology, others simply wanted to know more about the new test. Meanwhile, the school system says it's hopeful about what the test will accomplish and is preparing teachers and families for the new format.

"We believe in raising the bar and leveling the playing field for our students," Caleb Perkins, who leads the district's curriculum efforts, said in a statement.

"Meeting new standards will take time but we believe that the PARCC assessment will help measure our progress."

Organizers of Saturday's event said they just wanted students and parents to be familiar with the new exam.

"I'm not here to say the test is bad and shouldn't be taken," Newark activist Mary Bennet told the students before they took the test. "That's not your fight."

King took the test alongside his grandmother, Wilhelmina Holder, one of the activists who organized the event. At times, Holder had to help him scroll and read through passages on the left hand side of the screen and find answers on the right hand.

For another question, they worked through using the mouse to drag language structures — such as the word stanza or rhythm — to match the appropriate text.

"Some of the vocabulary appeared to be a bit advanced," Holder said during an interview afterwards.

Mirca Guaman, 8, who speaks Spanish at home and English at school, was tasked with the selecting the three correct answers from the following mathematical expressions:

7+7 = 0
3 X 4 = 12
10/5 = 5
16/2 =8
0 x 6 =0

"Is that right?" asked Lauren Wells, Newark's chief education officer, as Guaman's mouse hovered over 10/5 = 5 option. Guaman would say during an interview afterwards that the test was difficult.

"I just didn't know how to do the test," she said. "I didn't know how to read it."

Wells said during a public discussion afterwards that she worried that students had been adequately exposed to the concepts on the PARCC exam; additionally she wondered whether students who had individual education plans or were English language learners or would be adequately accommodated for.

"Most of the problems we took were word problems," she said.

The district says it has preparing for PARCC exam since the 2012-2013 school year. At first, the district implemented changes to the curriculum to tailor it to Common Core standards on which the PARCC is based, such as adding more non-fiction and sophisticated language.

Last year Perkins said the district gave "PARCC-like" assessments based on the Common Core materials the district had adopted. During the last year and half the school system dolled out laptops and installed wireless internet in all of the schools.

The school system has made practice versions of the PARCC assessment available to teachers and plans to hold community forums with parents to explain the test, according to Perkins.

"We're committed to supporting students and families through this transition," Perkins said.

Andanya Durham, 8, said she had already taken a version of the PARCC test earlier this month at George Washington Carver Elementary School, where she is in the third grade. But she said taking the language arts version on Saturday, will help her prepare for the actual exam.

But Durham's grandfather, Willie Rowe, said while Durham didn't seem to have a problem taking the PARCC Saturday he didn't know how well she performed.

"She said it was easy," he said. "I got to see the result."

After the test was over King was less nervous. The Benjamin Franklin Elementary School student said even though the test may be "torture" he has to take it.

"It was okay," King, 8, said. "Challenging definitely."

Naomi Nix may be reached at nnix@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsnix87. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

Star Ledger - N.J. releases school report cards: See how your district performed

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
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on January 30, 2015 at 6:07 PM, updated January 31, 2015 at 1:31 AM

TRENTON -- New Jersey today released its latest School Performance Reports, this year detailing the number of students enrolled in career and technical programs--a growing area of public education.

The school report cards, compiled by the state Department of Education, offer district-by-district snapshots in three areas: academic achievement based on previously released test scores; college and career readiness; and student growth, which uses test data to measure how students progress through elementary and high school.

State officials say the information, which provide data on how each school performs in relation to state averages and to their "peer schools," is intended to help educators track student success.

"In the big picture, New Jersey's public school system ranks among the best in the country," said Mike Yaple, a spokesperson for the department of education. "Still, parents want to know how their child's school is performing, and they want to know areas where their local schools are strong and areas that might need attention. That's why the Department issues this report each year: It's a good springboard for



RELATED: Preliminary test score data released in November

The 2013-14 reports profile of each of New Jersey's nearly 2,500 public schools. This year, the report for the first time include the percentage of students in high schools participating in so-called career and technical education programs (CTE), a growing niche producing some of the state's highest performing students. The percentages are not factored into the schools scores, but are listed alongside other school data, such as the percentage of students in visual or performing arts courses.

The inclusion of CTE participation rates is a "wonderful and very important" step for the reports, said Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. Career and technical programs include courses not only at traditional vocational schools, but in elite technology and magnet schools aimed at preparing top college-bound students planning for careers in bio-technology, medicine, engineering and math.

But there are also traditional vocational programs the report cards track, putting students on career paths in areas like culinary arts, construction, hospitality, tourism and trade work.

While the state's annual reports are supposed to examine the career college and career readiness of a school's students, most of the data, like SAT scores and performance on advanced placement tests, focuses primarily on college, Savage said.

"It really is the first indicator of career readiness that's included in these reports," Savage said. "If the availability of a career and technical education is an important factor to a parent, they can certainly look at this and say, 'Gee, community X seems to have a lot of their students pursuing career and technical education, " Savage said.

The inclusion of the CTE data, which was required under a new state law, revealed that more than 78,000, or 19 percent, of New Jersey students are participating in those programs.

Participation is counted if a student completes at least one course in a three-course, state approved program aligned to specific academic and technical standards.

Of the 909 state approved programs, 482 were at county vocational schools, once thought of as place for only auto shop and cosmetology, but now offering cutting edge courses that attract some of the state's top students. Most of the other 427 programs were part of the curriculum at traditional high schools.

Schools like Monmouth County's Biotechnology High School, recognized as one of America's best, require students to test into them and offer courses like BioMedical Engineering and Environmental Biotechnology. Others offer programs in robotics and advanced manufacturing, Savage said.

An NJ Advance Media analysis of the state's data on career and technical participation found that the top 11 scoring schools on the SAT were vocational schools. Vocational schools also had especially low percentages of dropouts, according to the analysis

“Career and technical education programs have really changed with the economy and the workplace, so they all incorporate higher levels of academics than they ever did," Savage said.

Enrollment at county vocational schools was 32,500 in 2013-14, about a 30 percent increase from 15 years ago, Savage said. The numbers are rising even as Morris County Vocational School District turns away hundreds of students every year, Superintendent Scott Moffitt said.

"We are turning away a lot of qualified, capable students for no other reason that we just don't have the space," Moffitt said.

Some of those students find a place among the state-approved career and technical programs at their hometown high schools.

Districts like Elizabeth and Newark offer a wide array of career and technical programs, which fall into 16 different career clusters, such as business management and administration or hospitality and tourism


Newark Public Schools has seen the most growth in its engineering and health sciences program, the district said. Students can earn a technical certification alongside their high school diplomas, giving them a leg up in the job market and on college applications.

"CTE represents an opportunity to make a real impact on Newark's workforce and economy by linking the local business community to schools and creating a pipeline of emerging workers with relevant skills," the district said in a statement.

Suburban schools had the lowest percentages of students in career and technical programs.

One school official, however, cautioned against making any comparisons of schools based on CTE data.

"We are pleased to have the data provided by the state to help us identify areas we may need to improve," said James O'Neill, interim superintendent of Livingston Public Schools. "However, since our students overwhelmingly wind up in a high performing cohort at the end of their public school education we are confident that what we are doing on the road to high school is appropriate and successful."

Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClark. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


The Record - N.J. limits its school choice program

February 1, 2015, 10:45 PM    Last updated: Sunday, February 1, 2015, 10:46 PM


Staff Writer |

The Record


In an effort to cut down on rising costs, the state is capping a program that allows students to attend schools outside their own district at no extra cost, limiting some Bergen and Passaic schools to just a handful of open spots for the coming school year.

“It’s fiscally unsustainable,” state Education Commissioner David Hespe said in an interview. “The program has increased fivefold. The cost has increased fivefold.”

The education commissioner is also considering preventing additional students from high-performing schools, which would include many in Bergen County, from participating. The program was meant to give students access to better schools, but many of the students who took advantage already had good schools in their hometown, Hespe said.

State officials say they need to stop the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program’s growth because it has ballooned to about 5,000 students at a cost of $50 million a year. But supporters of the program say the decision to cap it seems to contradict the Christie administration’s stated policy of creating more taxpayer-financed options for students who don’t want to attend struggling local schools.

In his State of the State speech on Jan. 13, Governor Christie signaled that he still supported school choice. “Let’s give families an alternative to chronically failing neighborhood schools,” Christie said. “Let’s keep driving for better outcomes. Let’s give parents and students more choice.”

Education Department spokes­man Michael Yaple defended the Christie administration’s support of the program, noting its robust growth since the governor signed it into law. The reason it is being limited now is that the department can’t expand it beyond what the state Legislature has budgeted, he said.

New Jersey pays participating school districts an average of $10,500 for each student they enroll, while the student’s home district pays transportation costs up to 20 miles. The home district does not receive the state aid it would have for the student.

Students apply for a limited number of seats at schools that are part of the program, and a lottery is held if the number of interested students exceeds the available slots. In five years, the program has gone from 1,000 students in 15 districts to about 5,000 in 136 districts.

The biggest numbers were from Winslow Township, which lost 469 students, Jersey City with 128, Trenton with 120 and Dover with 111.

Bergenfield got about $250,000 this year for its participation, Superintendent Michael Kuchar said. The district joined the programs to raise money as it faced budget constraints because of the 2 percent cap on tax increases, he said.

But the district, with 17 students from elementary to high school in the program, won’t be able to offer any new seats in the coming school year because of the freeze. Districts can seek waivers for siblings, though.

Stefany Koslow of Fort Lee said she feels lucky that her 15-year-old son, Gabriel Goldstein-Koslow, was able to attend Bergenfield High School through the choice program. The school has a forward-thinking, top-notch program in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, known as STEM, and a great music program, she said. Gabriel was able to take Advanced Placement physics in his freshman year and work on a yearlong science project.

“For my kid it was a wonderful opportunity to satisfy intellectual curiosity and creativity,” she said.

While many suburban districts — including Ridgefield, Palisades Park, Paramus, Hawthorne and Wayne — send fewer than 20 students and often just one or two to choice schools outside the district, some urban districts, like Paterson, send more than 100.

Isaiah Nieves, 16, a Paterson resident who chose to go to Manchester Regional High School in Haledon, said he picked the school for its academic rigor, after-school activities and resources for gifted students.

“If they’re not going to give more funding to districts that need it, like Paterson, why would we cut off this program that is benefiting so many people?” he said.

Manchester Regional, which mostly takes students from Paterson, sees the program as a great success, Principal Richard Ney said. Forty percent of the students from outside the district made the honor roll in the first marking period this school year, Ney said.

“We are accomplishing the goals that the program set out to do — to increase diversity and to provide more options for students of other districts,” he said.

Manchester has used the extra state money, including $1.3 million received this year, to upgrade lockers and improve the heating system, Ney said.

Valarie Smith, co-director of the New Jersey Interdistrict Public School Choice Association, an advocacy group, said the program was very popular in low-income, urban areas, like Camden, where students are on wait lists to get out. She said some Atlantic City parents were making commutes of 30 miles one way to take their children to school in Hammonton.

In Winslow, a New Jersey township near Philadelphia where 469 students left, Board of Education President Cheryl Pitts said many of the parents withdrew students because they weren’t happy with the scores students were getting on state tests.

“They felt perhaps that Winslow’s curriculum and teaching was just not at the level that they thought it should be,” Pitts said. “They began to pull them out as I think any caring parent would do if that was their perception.”

Email: adely@northjersey.com

NJ Spotlight - State Poised to Toughen Teacher-License Standards, Bolster Support System

John Mooney | February 2, 2015

Proposed code changes would increase time spent as student teachers, toughen ‘alternate route’ standards

A new teacher-licensing code will be proposed this week by the Christie administration, with officials saying it will strengthen and bring more accountability to the way New Jersey prepares teachers for the classroom.

Details will come in the formal proposal to be presented to the State Board of Education on Wednesday, but it is already known that the new code would lengthen the time prospective teachers would have to spend as student teachers and toughen some of the requirements for “alternate route” teachers.

Related Links

NJEA and Other Education Groups Push Own Proposals for Teacher Improvements

Assembly Efforts to Focus on Teacher Preparation, Mentoring and Support

The administration’s proposal follows the expiration of the previous (and voluminous) regulations at the end of last year, and comes at a time when the issues of teacher preparation and support have been getting renewed attention in the state and nationwide.

The state’s teachers unions, along with other education groups, have recently pressed for revamping the law and regulations to bolster training and support for teachers, as well for creation of a new tier of so-called “teacher leaders.”

Various legislative proposals have started to chip away at the plan as well, but several lawmakers say they are looking to the administration to take the lead in its regulations and code.

The administration’s proposed new code stops short of embracing every piece of the proposals by the unions and education groups -- and makes no mention of funding.

But it does takes into account some aspects of those proposals, particularly in emphasizing a “continuum of professional learning,” said Peter Shulman, the state assistant education commissioner overseeing teacher quality.

“It’s from the candidate level in the preparation program, to the experience as student teacher, to then that of novice teacher and mentor,” Shulman said on Friday. “None of them is in isolation from another.”

Some steps addressing teacher preparation have already been taken. The state board last year approved raising the college grade-point-average required of new teachers to be 3.0, up from the previous 2.75. The state also approved an entrance exam that requires new teachers to demonstrate their abilities through a performance test.

The new code would put a focus on teacher-induction programs, whether in college and universities or through alternative programs, including New Jersey’s pioneering “alternate route” process that essentially trains new teachers on the job.

Shulman said one concrete change would lengthen the amount of time a candidate must be a student teacher. The requirement now is for one semester. “We know that clinical experience is a difference maker, and 12 weeks is just not enough,” he said.

The “alternate route” process – which was started in New Jersey in the 1980s and has accounted for as many as one-third of new teachers in some years – is also targeted for changes, Shulman said, with higher standards that will more closely align it with the traditional route requirements, Shulman said.

The assistant commissioner said the “alternate route” program has proven to be uneven and inconsistent, with little tracking of how those teachers perform.

“We were pioneers with this, but somehow we lost our way,” Shulman said.

Undergirding the proposals, he said, is a better tracking of how well all the programs – university-based and otherwise -- are preparing teachers, with more extensive data-keeping on the effectiveness of teachers once they are on the job.

This has been a controversial notion with colleges, but Shulman stressed that the administration does not plan rankings of programs. Instead, he said, plans are to use data to look at “strengths and weaknesses,” as well as needs within the state, whether they pertain to be certain subject areas or different types of teacher candidates.

“This gives us an inventory of data to what is really happening,” he said. “This will allow us to make a lot more informed decisions.”