(This is a guest post by Peter Shulman who was, until very recently, Deputy Commissioner of the Education for New Jersey. He helped drive policy to improve the academic achievement and life outcomes of approximately 1.4 million students. He directly supervised the Divisions of Talent, Performance, Information Technology and led education priorities including the development of a new comprehensive school accountability system under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.)
Over the past 7 years, New Jersey has radically enhanced its K-12 education policy landscape and is on the right path as affirmed by significant improvement in student outcomes and independent national recognition.
Key Policy Wins
- New Academic Standards
o Raised expectations for students by (a) adopting the Common Core Math and English Language Arts (ELA) Standards (2010) and subsequently enhancing the standards (2016) without lowering expectations and; (b) adopting Next Generation Science Standards (2014) which combine scientific principles with real-world context
- Better Assessments
o Switched to the PARCC assessment (2015) which is considered best-in-class by USED and numerous independent studies. Eliminated HSPA & NJASK which were not aligned to college readiness and gave students a false sense of preparation for life beyond HS
- Clearer Accountability and Alignment
o Implemented a new educator evaluation system (2012-2014), inclusive of student outcomes, to better differentiate individual feedback and performance, as well as streamline arbitration decisions: http://www.state.nj.us/education/AchieveNJ/resources/201516EducatorEvaluationImplementationReport.pdf
o Enacted a student graduation requirement on PARCC more commensurate with college readiness (2016)
o Adopted new federal (ESSA 2017) and state accountability systems (QSAC 2017) that stress student outcomes, focus on both proficiency and growth, and give equal weighting to all-school and subgroup performance: http://www.state.nj.us/education/ESSA/plan/Overview.pdf
- Reforming Educator Preparation
o Adopted policies (2013-2015) to (a) raise the bar for incoming teaching candidates; (b) increase clinical experience to include a full-year of student teaching and; (c) require a performance assessment for initial certification.
o Collected teacher preparation program data to understand and assess performance of candidates and individual institutions.
Results and Recognition
o Statewide student improvement was clearly evident from 2015 to 2017:
- English Language Arts (ELA) Grades 3-10:
ü Students performing at/above grade level expectations (PARCC levels 4 & 5) grew by 7.3% (representing 88,000+ more students)
ü Students not yet or only partially meeting grade level expectations (PARCC levels 1 & 2) decreased by 4.4% (with 20,000+ more students approaching grade level expectations)
- Math Grades 3-8 and Algebra I:
ü Students performing at/above grade level expectations grew by 4.9% (representing 53,000+ more students)
ü Students not yet or only partially meeting grade level expectations decreased by 2.8% (with 2,100+ more students approaching grade level expectations)
o A cohort of 250,000+ of the same NJ elementary students who took PARCC in 2015, 2016 and 2017 displayed some of the greatest gains, including an 10% point increase in ELA proficiency over that 3-yr span
- National Policy Recognition
o Recognized as having a top 10 ESSA Plan in the country (2017).
o Recognized as having the 3rd (tied) best teacher policy landscape in the country and most improved from 2011 to 2017.