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Thursday, November 3, 2011

The New Jersey State Department of Education is Reaching Out to You

Trenton, NJ - The Department of Education today released a draft outline
of its waiver application to the US Department of Education for relief
from certain provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The Department
is soliciting comment from educators and the general public on the
outline through its website through Wednesday, November 9. This
comprehensive waiver would allow the Department to develop a new
accountability system to replace the provisions of NCLB, centered on
providing support and intervention to the State's lowest-performing
schools and those with the largest in-school gaps between subgroups of

As part of the waiver application, the Department of Education will
present a plan to act on four principles, as required in the US
Department's application. Those principles include 1) College and career
ready expectations for all students; 2) State-developed differentiated
recognition, accountability, and support; 3) Supporting effective
instruction and leadership; and 4) Reducing regulatory and data
collection burden on districts.

"NCLB remains an important piece of legislation because it put a renewed
focus on student achievement and accountability in K-12 education and
highlighted the needs of typically underperforming student populations.
However, the law suffers from some significant flaws, including its
failure to give credit for progress and its one-size-fits-all approach
to labeling schools as failing," said Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf.
"Through our waiver application, we are developing a new accountability
system that allows for differentiated supports and interventions of the
schools with the most pervasive and persistent achievement problems.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to school improvement which is
why we must focus our resources and most significant interventions on
those schools with long standing history of low performance."

Under NCLB, a school is listed as "failing" if it does not make
Adequately Yearly Progress (AYP) for two years in a row. To make AYP a
school must meet state benchmarks in language arts and math for the
total population and all subgroups. Missing the benchmark for any
subgroup in any grade span causes a school to fail to make AYP. This
year, 1,231 schools, or 55.5% of schools did not make AYP for one or
more years. That number is an increase over the previous year, where
1,136 schools, or 51% of schools, did not make AYP. This jump is, in
part, a result of an increase in the percentage of students that must be
proficient in the 2010-11 school year, with a requirement under the law
for 100% of students to be proficient by 2014.

Those schools failing to make AYP for two years in a row are identified
under NCLB as a School in Need of Improvement (SINI). Title I SINI
schools are subject to a tiered set of sanctions, including setting
aside 20% of their Title I funds for Supplemental Educational Services
(SES). For the 2010-11 school year, the number of schools designated as
SINI increased to 862, or 38.8% of schools. This number is an increase
over the previous year, where 656 schools, or 29.4% of schools, were
designated as SINI.

In developing a new accountability system, the Department will create
three tiers of schools, which will be identified using both growth and
absolute proficiency:

*Priority Schools: The Department will identify the lowest-performing
five percent of Title I schools across the state using proficiency,
growth, and graduation rates. Any non-Title I school that would
otherwise meet the same criteria will also be designated as a Priority

*Focus Schools: The Department will identify at least 10 percent of
Title I schools as Focus Schools. These schools will be selected from
Title I schools that are not categorized as Priority Schools and will be
identified based upon achievement gaps between subgroups and low
performance or graduation rates among particular subgroups. Any
non-Title I school that would otherwise meet the same criteria will also
be designated as a Focus School.

*Reward Schools: The Department will identify Reward Schools based on
high proficiency levels or high levels of growth, including progress
toward closing achievement gaps. This will allow for a range of schools
from across the state to attain Reward status, regardless of their
absolute starting point.
The Department will create customized interventions to turnaround
Priority and Focus Schools, based on their individual needs. Among
others, these interventions include a focus on improving instruction,
using data to drive decision making, and expanding learning time. The
Department will also develop financial bonuses for Reward Schools as
well as opportunities to share best practices across the state.

In addition, the application also includes support for several pending
bills centered on Governor Christie's previously announced reforms that,
if passed, would expand the reach and efficacy of the Department's
proposed interventions.

*Two pending proposals would modify the State's tenure law, allow for
differentiated pay, prohibit the practice of firing the newest - and
often best - teachers first during a layoff, and require that a teacher
could not be placed in a school without his consent and that of the
principal. These reforms are not only consistent with the federal
turnaround principles endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education in
the ESEA waiver application, but also necessary to strengthen the
Department's proposed interventions.
*Proposed legislation around the current charter school law, Urban Hope
Act, and Opportunity Scholarship Act will increase the number of
high-quality options for students in Priority and Focus Schools.
For schools that do not fall into one of these three categories, the
Department will create performance targets and publicly release new and
detailed performance reports, but will provide districts flexibility on
the supports and interventions to improve student performance.

"Accountability systems do not exist for their own sake, but as part of
an overall strategy to advance student learning and ensure that children
graduate from high school ready for college and career," said Acting
Commissioner Cerf. "The plan we are developing in our waiver
application will not only increase accountability for school
performance, but also serve as a mechanism to improve student
performance. It will do that by more accurately measuring school
performance by including growth in addition to absolute performance, and
by providing flexibility from overly bureaucratic regulations on how to
support school improvement."

To develop this outline, the Department solicited feedback on its
website from educators and community members for two weeks in October.
The Department also held a series of meetings with educators and the
leadership of teachers unions and associations and will hold additional
meetings in the coming week to finalize its application.

A copy of the NCLB waiver outline can be found at the link below, along
with a form to submit public comment. Comments will be accepted through
that website through Wednesday, November 9. The first opportunity to
submit an application to the US Department of Education is November 14.

A list of schools that did not make AYP can be found below.

An overview of the required interventions for SINI schools can be found
at the link below.

To see release on Web site: