The full General Assembly convened on Thursday, Sept. 29, and approved a handful of bills impacting New Jersey public schools. One measure would significantly alter the impact of student performance on standardized assessments on a teacher’s evaluation.

A-4122 would eliminate the use of standardized assessments as a measure of student growth or progress in evaluations of teachers, principals, assistant principals, and vice-principals. Under New Jersey’s 2012 landmark tenure reform law, known as TEACHNJ, student progress on standardized assessments is used as a factor in such evaluations, although it may not be the predominant factor. In late August, the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) announced changes to the evaluation weights for the 2016-2017 school year. More specifically, the NJDOE increased the weight of the median Student Growth Percentile (mSGP) from 10 percent to 30 percent for teachers and principals.

During committee deliberations on A-4122, the NJSBA expressed concerns with the legislation in its current form. The NJSBA has long supported the use of student achievement data and evidence of student progress in the evaluation of teachers. The NJSBA was also a strong supporter of the TEACHNJ Act. Therefore, the Association urged the Legislature to exercise caution and restraint before scaling back one of the most significant components of the 2012 tenure reform effort – using student achievement to assess the effectiveness of those who are in charge of preparing our students for college and careers. The NJSBA did not specifically comment on whether the 30 percent weight for an mSGP is too high or too low. Rather, Association staff has expressed concerns that the bill would eliminate entirely and permanently the ability to use performance and improvement on student assessments as one of multiple objective measures of student learning that would be considered in the educator evaluation process. Until all stakeholders have a firm grasp as to whether the current system is working as intended, all options regarding how we evaluate educators should remain on the table.

The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 54-11 with eight abstentions. The measure now heads to the Senate, where no companion bill has been introduced to date.

The Assembly unanimously approved the following bills, each of which is supported by the NJSBA.

A-597 establishes crimes of operating a school bus with suspended or revoked driving privileges and being involved in an accident causing bodily injury. The bill permanently prohibits passenger and school bus CDL endorsements for persons convicted of those crimes.

A-2481 requires public school students with concussions to be evaluated by licensed health care professionals before they may return to school. In the event that the health care professional provides notice that the student requires restrictions or limitations, the school district 504 team must immediately implement the restrictions or limitations and notify all teachers and staff who have contact with the student of such restrictions or limitations. The bill also provides that a student who sustains a concussion is prohibited from engaging in any physical activity at school such as recess or physical education, until a health care professional provides written clearance for the student to resume such participation.

A-3058 would establish the Farm-to-School Coordinating Council in the state Department of Agriculture. The council would consist of five members: The secretary of agriculture (or a designee), the commissioner of education (or a designee); and three public members who have experience working with the New Jersey Farm-to-School Program.

The council would examine all areas of the New Jersey Farm-to-School Program and identify any outstanding issues or problems that need to be resolved and areas in need of improvement. It would focus on the procurement process relating to the purchase of agricultural products by schools from New Jersey farmers, and recommend ways to increase the participation of both farmers and schools in the program and would also make recommendations on ways to promote and increase the use of fresh farm foods at schools throughout the state. Within one year after its first meeting, the council would prepare and submit a written report to the governor and to the Legislature with its findings, conclusions, and recommendations.

A-3060 allows a qualified school to be called “New Jersey Farm Fresh School.” This bill authorizes the secretary of agriculture to allow a school to use the words “New Jersey Farm Fresh School” in any promotional materials or description of the school upon receiving proof that at least 20 percent of the food served by the school consists of farm products grown and produced in New Jersey.

A-3061 permits a school participating in the New Jersey “Farm-to-School” program to submit a recipe for posting on the department of agriculture website. This bill directs the agriculture department to accept and post on its website recipes submitted to the department by any public or nonpublic school that participates in the Farm-to-School Program. The bill requires that all recipes submitted to and accepted by the department must include a food item made from a farm-to-school product. Recipes that are approved by the department must be included in an electronic Farm-to-School Cookbook made available on the department’s website.