At its monthly meeting on Jan. 6, in addition to commemorating New Jersey School Board Recognition Month, the State Board heard updates and took action on the following items:
Start Strong Assessment The State Board heard an update on the NJDOE’s tool to measure the delay of students’ learning progression as a result of the pandemic. The optional standards-based test is meant to provide a snapshot of the amount of support students were likely to need in the fall of 2020. The assessments were not meant to replace any preferred assessment strategies being used locally, but could be used to supplement existing efforts to gather standards-based data at the beginning of the school year. Participation was optional in order to avoid compelling schools to replace effective established local assessment strategies, and with the understanding that results are not diagnostic, nor intended to be used in isolation. The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) recognized the significant challenges districts were facing in reopening schools and did not want to place any additional burdens compelling participation. Between Oct. 2 and Dec. 14, 2020, about 88,000 students participated statewide. NJDOE reported that, of about 800 districts, charter schools and special-education schools statewide, 81 participated. The NJDOE will provide an update on the results of the assessment at a future State Board meeting.
State Operation of the Paterson Public Schools The State Board of Education unanimously returned Paterson back to full local control after thirty years of state control. For the last two years, the district and the NJDOE executed a transition plan to prepare the district for full local control. Additionally, the district was certified as high-performing by the Acting Commissioner of Education. This certification came about following a qualitative report by the district’s highly skilled professionals that the district had met the standards for a full-return of local control. The Comprehensive Accountability Office issued its quantitative report in October 2020 which found that Paterson had achieved “fully implemented” and “substantially implemented” status on the required metrics.
Transportation Regulations The State Board adopted updated student transportation regulations. The regulations set standards for training and hiring of drivers following changes in law. The laws include the institution of three-point seatbelts in school buses (P.L. 2018, c. 118); additional licensing requirements for school bus drivers (P.L. 2018, c. 151); a required notification that a bus driver with a revoked or suspended license is no longer operating a school bus (P.L. 2018, c. 152); the requirement that school bus operations in New Jersey comply with federal regulations (P.L. 2018, c. 159); training requirements for school bus drivers and aides (P.L. 2018, c. 160); a mandatory list of students on school buses for school-sponsored activities (P.L. 2019, c. 57); and a transportation safety study (P.L. 2019, c. 24). Further amendments enhance the ability of school districts to ensure the safe transportation of students and to clarify existing rules for the benefit of students, school districts, and school bus contractors.
Adult Education The State Board adopted regulations updating the requirements for adults obtaining a high school diploma. The regulations describe how a high school diploma can be earned for persons age 16 years or older. For example, a person 16 or older who is no longer enrolled in high school, can earn a state-issued high school diploma by attending an adult education program that receives Title II funding under the Federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and passing a New Jersey High School Equivalency Assessment (NJHSEA). The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) monitors adult education programs that receive Title II funding under the WIOA, but the Department of Education provides the state-issued high school diploma.
Programs to Support Student Development The NJDOE proposes to readopt the regulations with minimal amendments to ensure the existing rules do not expire and to avoid additional stress on schools and school districts during the 2020-2021 school year. The proposed amendments will align the chapter to N.J.S.A. 18A:37-2a, which was enacted in 2016 to prohibit the suspension of students in kindergarten to second grade, unless required by the “Zero Tolerance for Guns Act,” P.L. 1995, c. 127, N.J.S.A. 18A:37-7 et seq., or for conduct of a violent or sexual nature that endangers other students or adults. The proposed amendments will also clarify reporting requirements for the Student Safety Data System (formerly called the Electronic Violence and Vandalism Reporting System) to align the rules with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA).