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The State Board of Education proposed a change in elementary science assessments, and heard updates on a variety of issues, including juvenile justice and education, at its January board meeting.

Resolution in Honor of New Jersey School Board Recognition Month—The State Board passed a resolution in honor of School Board Recognition Month. NJSBA President Dan Sinclair and Executive Director Dr. Larry Feinsod accepted the resolution on behalf of New Jersey’s school board members. The State Board noted that New Jersey’s 5,000 non-partisan local board of education members and charter school trustees are public servants who dedicate their time, without pay or benefit, to the oversight of school district operations, sound financial practices, comprehensive policies, curriculum, staffing, and the well-being and academic achievement of all students in their districts.

Standards and Assessment – The State Board formally proposed moving the fourth-grade science assessment to grade five. The NJDOE recommended that an end-of-grade-five science assessment would be a more appropriate tool to help educators, parents, and policymakers promote educational excellence while limiting testing time. With the diversity of school district structures, it is important to provide receiving schools with clear, valid, and reliable information about student preparedness for the next level of education. Ninth-grade science teachers use the end-of-grade-eight science assessment as one measure of student preparation. The end of-grade-five science assessment will provide the same information to sixth-grade teachers. Developing valid and reliable science assessments is difficult and expensive. An end-of-grade-five science assessment will provide valid and reliable student data and will remove the burden from each school district.

The State Board approved placing the proposal in the N.J. Register, which allows for public comment. Local districts may comment on the proposal online.

JJC-MOU Presentation—The State Board heard a presentation from the Juvenile Justice Commission and the New Jersey Council on Juvenile Justice System Improvement, and its education subcommittee, on the effect that involvement with the juvenile justice system can have on student outcomes. The goal of the education subcommittee is to strengthen the partnership between the education and juvenile justice systems, raise awareness of issues relating to the intersection between the education and juvenile justice systems, and develop and promote best practice models for cross-system collaboration.

Staff from the NJDOE also reviewed the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between law enforcement and the schools with the board. The MOA is a signed agreement between law enforcement and education officials; its purpose is to establish effective cooperation between education and law enforcement officials to ensure a safe educational environment. Annual adoption and implementation is required by all school districts and charter schools. The MOA is currently being revised to be more user-friendly, ensure consistent language/terminology for school-based offenses, and to provide more specific information on mandatory versus non-mandatory referrals to law enforcement. The revisions clarify when educators must notify law enforcement, clarify how law enforcement should respond and promote meaningful dialogue and ongoing two-way collaboration between schools and law enforcement to best support students. To learn more about the MOA, visit this website.

English Language Learners—The State Board also heard an update on English Language Learners (ELL). An ELL is a student with a native language other than English; a student who is in the process of learning English; or a student who is at varying degrees of English language proficiency as measured by an English language proficiency test. The State Board learned that the top 10 languages spoken in New Jersey, other than English are, in order: Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Gujarati, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Urdu, Korean, Bengali, Vietnamese. New Jersey has the fourth-highest number of immigrant students in the United States. The ELL population in NJ has increased by approximately 17,000 students since 2010. There were 72,081 ELL students in NJ during the 2016-17 school year.

Certification of School Districts—NJDOE staff reviewed with the board the results of district QSAC evaluations. Staff recommended that the Paterson school district be certified as high-performing. This certification will mean that Paterson, a state-operated district, is eligible to return to full local control. The commissioner also stated that Newark’s transition plan was approved by the NJDOE, permitting the Newark district to continue the process to full local control.