On Thursday, Sept. 22, the Assembly Education Committee returned from summer recess to consider a variety of bills affecting school districts. On the same day, Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed S-896, which, as initially passed by the Legislature, would have prohibited the state from requiring completion of a performance-based assessment – currently the edTPA – as a requirement for certification. The Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee also met to consider a bill extending the duration of the nonresident military spouse temporary instructional certificate.

edTPA Bill Back in Legislature’s Hands

Murphy conditionally vetoed S-896, which, as initially passed, would have:

  • Prohibited the State Board of Education from requiring completion of a commissioner-approved performance-based assessment, including the edTPA, as a condition of eligibility for certification.
  • Given educator preparation programs the option, at their discretion, to require candidates to complete a performance-based assessment.
  • Prohibited educator preparation programs from considering whether a candidate has completed a commissioner-approved performance-based assessment when determining whether to recommend the candidate to the New Jersey Department of Education for certification.
  • Exempted a person who earned a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing or certificate of eligibility during the 2019-2020 through 2021-2022 school years from the requirement to complete a performance-based assessment for their standard certificate if the person was unable to complete the assessment due to COVID-19 related disruptions.

Rather than sign the bill, the governor returned it to the Legislature with a series of recommended changes. Importantly, the governor’s recommendations would maintain the prohibition against the State Board of Education from requiring completion of a commissioner-approved performance-based assessment, such as the edTPA. However, rather than giving educator preparation programs the option, at their discretion, to require their candidates complete a performance-based assessment, the governor recommends requiring candidates to complete a performance-based assessment, approved by the educator preparation program, as part of the program.

That requirement would first go into effect for candidates completing their educator preparation program in the spring of 2024. Essentially, the governor’s recommendation would transfer the authority to select performance-based assessments from the NJDOE to the educator preparation program themselves, and shift the requirement to complete a performance-based assessment from one enforced by the state for certification, to one enforced by the educator preparation program. The conditional veto also recommends that the performance-based assessment requirement exemption for CE/CEAS holders impacted by COVID-19 disruptions be “verified in a manner determined by the Commissioner of Education.”

The governor’s statement recognizes that the edTPA “has been cited by many stakeholders as being a poor measure of teacher quality and thus needlessly standing in the way of getting more teachers in the classroom,” and applauds the sponsors of the bill “for attempting to address perceived barriers to the teaching profession, particularly as we combat a nationwide teacher shortage.” The governor shares “specific concerns about the edTPA assessment,” acknowledging that a number of states have recently moved away from using it. The governor cautioned, however, that “efforts to facilitate the certification of prospective educators must not come at the expense of teacher quality.” Touting the value of performance-based assessments as “an important indicator of classroom readiness” that ensure that “teacher preparation reaches beyond theory, and through practice, as pre-service teachers are required to demonstrate their pedagogical skills with students in a real classroom setting,” the governor stated that he “cannot support making them an optional component of the teaching certification process.” Shifting the performance-based assessment requirement from the state to educator preparation programs recognizes, according to the governor, that “EPPs have historically required pre-service teachers to meet specific teaching standards through performance-based assessments and evaluations during student teaching … EPPs know their candidates best and are best positioned to select or create the most appropriate performance-based assessment for candidates in their programs.”

The approach recommended by the governor is similar to that taken in New York this past spring, where the State Board of Regents eliminated the edTPA requirement for certification and required that educator preparation programs integrate a performance assessment into their programs.

“The NJSBA appreciates the governor’s thoughtful engagement with stakeholders and recognition that the current edTPA requirement may bar qualified candidates from the teaching profession,” said NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Timothy Purnell. “Shifting away from the state’s reliance on edTPA and empowering educator preparation programs to select and administer performance-based assessment will facilitate deeper, more meaningful engagement with clinical practice for teacher candidates around New Jersey, bolstering the state’s teacher pipeline while maintaining our high-quality educator standards.” He added, “We applaud the governor and the Legislature for their impassioned commitment to addressing critical educator shortages. The matter has never been more urgent.”

In his statement, the governor expressed appreciation for “the many stakeholders in the education field” that have engaged his office on this issue, noting that that collaboration inspires confidence that the conditional veto represents “a reasonable and practical path forward.”

Under this conditional veto, the current requirement for completing the edTPA as a condition of certification would be eliminated as soon as the Legislature concurs with the recommendations and the governor signs the revised bill. As of this writing, the earliest a revised bill could get back to the governor’s desk is Oct. 3, if the Senate concurs with the recommendation at its Sept. 29 voting session and the Assembly concurs with the recommendation at its Oct. 3 session. The Legislature is expected to adopt the governor’s changes.

Assembly Education Committee

The Assembly Education Committee approved the following bills.

Community Schools Pilot Program A-1168 would establish a five-year “Community Schools Pilot Program” in the New Jersey Department of Education to facilitate the establishment of community schools. As defined in the bill, community schools are “partnerships between public schools, nonprofit organizations, and local governments to provide an integrated focus on academics, health, and social services, youth and community development, expanded learning time and opportunities, actively engage families, and foster collaborative practices based on an individual community’s identified need.”

The bill would require NJDOE to issue a request for proposals to identify a qualified New Jersey nonprofit organization to manage the pilot. That organization would develop the application procedure and selection criteria for interested schools. A maximum of one school district, charter school, or renaissance school in each county may be selected for participation. Selection criteria may give higher priority if the school would be the first in its district to participate in the program, and lower priority if the school is currently receiving federal funds to operate a community school.

Selected schools would be assigned a site coordinator (an employee of the nonprofit managing the program) to provide direct support in the establishment and operations of the community school, as well as technical assistance. The nonprofit would also make group training sessions and information about community schools available for all school districts that express interest in developing a community school, regardless of participation in the pilot.

The bill would also require the NJDOE to:

  • Survey school districts, charter schools and renaissance schools to assess the extent to which community schools have been established.
  • Establish an inventory of community schools, to be updated annually.
  • Enter into a contract with an independent entity to evaluate the program; the entity would issue a final report on the implementation of the program.
  • Annually enter into a contract with an independent entity to audit the nonprofit organization’s accounts and financial transactions.

To finance the program, the bill would establish a “Community Schools Pilot Program Fund” consisting of any funds appropriated by the state Legislature for inclusion in the fund, investment earnings of the funds and monies contributed to the fund by private sources.

NJSBA supports the bill and has long held to the belief that there should be collaborative partnerships between home, community, social service agencies and the schools to provide quality educational opportunities for all children. The bill next heads to the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee for further consideration.

School Counselor Requirements A-1516 would establish several requirements related to school counselor certification and employment. The bill defines the role of a school counselor as someone who recognizes and responds to the need for mental health services that promote social and emotional wellness and development for all students and is tasked with designing and delivering a comprehensive program for school counseling that promotes the achievement of students. The bill would require:

  • Each school counselor employed by a district must provide certain school counseling services including, but not limited to, specific services enumerated in the legislation.
  • School counselors to complete professional development in relevant areas, such as the promotion of mental health awareness and trauma-informed counseling.
  • School counseling certification programs at institutions of higher education to incorporate the American School Counselor Association’s national model for comprehensive school counseling programs or state-approved model. The programs would also have to provide training in the delivery of social and emotional learning programming as well as postsecondary and career planning.
  • The commissioner of education to appoint a state school counselor liaison to work with school districts to facilitate best practices and serve as a resource expert for school counselors.

As originally written, this bill would have required school counselors to spend at least 80% of their staff time providing the counseling services enumerated in the bill. When that version of the bill passed the Senate Education Committee in May (S-2323), the NJSBA expressed concern that the bill was overly prescriptive and would inappropriately restrict local flexibility to utilize school counselors according to the unique and evolving needs and circumstances of each individual school district. The NJSBA, alongside other K-12 stakeholders, advocated for removing or amending the 80% provision. In the Assembly Education Committee, the bill was amended to delete the 80% provision and instead more generally require that counselors provide the enumerated services. The NJSBA appreciates bill sponsor Assemblywoman Angela V. McKnight’s working with the education stakeholder community to address these concerns, and her sponsorship of this legislation to elevate the school counselor profession. NJSBA supports the amended version of the bill. It now heads to the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee for further consideration.

Nonpublic STEM Teacher Program Changes S-2563 would modify the application process for the Teach STEM Classes in Nonpublic Schools program initially established by law in 2019. The program provides additional remuneration for public school teachers to teach STEM classes in nonpublic school settings during hours agreed upon by the teacher, their district and the nonpublic school. Under current law, a nonpublic school’s application to participate in the program must include acknowledgment from both the nonpublic school and the school district of the teacher’s schedule for providing STEM instruction at the nonpublic school. The bill would modify that process to allow a nonpublic school to apply to the program unilaterally. Following the nonpublic school’s notification to the school district that a teacher plans to participate in the program, the school district would have 10 business days to submit a “valid objection” as defined in the bill to the commissioner of education. The bill also specifies how a participating teacher’s hourly wage would be determined. The bill was approved by the Senate on June 16, 2022. Its Assembly counterpart, A-3834, was approved by the Assembly Higher Education Committee on June 13, 2022.  Both bills now head to the Assembly floor to await further consideration. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.

Information Literacy Standards S-588/A-4169 would require the State Board of Education to create a new content area in the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for “Information Literacy.” Information Literacy standards would describe knowledge and skills that enable students to locate, evaluate and use information effectively, including digital, media and technological literacy. The standards would address such themes as the difference between facts, point of view and opinions; research methods; and accessing peer-reviewed print and digital library resources. In developing their information literacy standards, the State Board would be required to convene a committee of educators, engage experts and hold public hearings. S-588 passed the Senate June 16, 2022. It now heads to the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee.

State Review of APSSD Audits A-4396 would prohibit the commissioner of education from issuing an adverse finding, adjustment, or penalty on the annual independent certified audit of an APSSD more than seven years following submission of the audit. The bill heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration. NJSBA is monitoring the bill.

Instruction on Recent Historical Events A-4646 would require the State Board of Education to review the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Social Studies to ensure the incorporation of recent historical events, including the events surrounding Sept. 11, 2001, in an appropriate place in the K-12 curriculum. That review would take place at the next scheduled update of the NJSLS-SS and follow the process established by NJDOE regulations and include a public comment opportunity. The bill would ensure that consideration of recent historical events become a standard part of the NJSLS review process moving forward. NJSBA supports the bill. It now heads to the Assembly floor for further consideration.

CTE Scholar Awards A-1791 would require the NJDOE, in consultation with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, to establish a “Career and Technical Education Scholar Awards” program. The program would annually recognize outstanding CTE students, according to an application procedure and criteria set by NJDOE. In addition to demonstrating high levels of achievement in their courses, awardees would have to complete a college-level course or a work-based learning experience and participate in a career and technical education student organization or a community-service project that demonstrates application of career and technical skills. The NJDOE would post the names of recipients of the CTE Scholar Awards on its website, and recognize recipients with a certificate, press announcement, or other recognition. The NJSBA supports the bill, which now heads to the Assembly floor for further consideration.

Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee

Certification for Nonresident Military Spouses A-480 would extend the maximum duration of the temporary instructional certificate for nonresident military spouses, first established in 2013, from 360 days (an initial 180-day period, with the option to extend an additional 180 days) to two years (an initial 365-day period, with an option to extend an additional 365 days). The bill would also require NJDOE to establish procedures to expedite applications for this certificate. The NJSBA supports the bill, which now heads to the Assembly Education Committee for further consideration.

To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, please visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.