Yellow school buses pull up to the curb at a school building. Kindergarteners, nervous and shy, walk down a freshly-waxed corridor to their classrooms. High school seniors head to class, beginning the last year of their K-12 careers.

These are the scenes of the first day of school.

As students across New Jersey go back to school, the new school year will bring both familiar images and notable changes to schools and districts. Beginning in 2017-2018, New Jersey will see new academic learning standards in classrooms. There will be changes coming in teacher preparation; new regulations covering the education of homeless students; new security requirements for staff training; and more.

School Leader took a look at some of the key new statewide provisions and changes coming to the Garden State’s public schools this year. The following is a summary:

New Learning Standards Take Effect The State Board of Education in May 2016 adopted revised academic standards for the state’s schools, the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, that take effect this fall. The state’s revised grade-by-grade expectations for math and language arts replace the Common Core State Standards, and are slightly revised from Common Core. New Jersey was one of more than 40 states that originally adopted the Common Core, which was developed by the National Governor’s Association.

The state’s standards were reviewed to make sure they were clear and age-appropriate. More than 80 percent of the 1,427 math and language arts standards that made up Common Core will be maintained in the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. About 230 standards will be modified. Some of those changes will result in moving a standard from one grade level to another; others involve minor changes to the wording of a standard to clarify or enhance it.

“New Jersey has had standards-based education for more than 20 years. Part of that concept is that standards undergo review to ensure we are setting goals that meet our students’ need to be college and career ready,” said NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod. “NJSBA was represented on the panel that reviewed the standards, and we are supportive of the results.”

Homeless Student Tuition This spring, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law A-3785/S-2396 (P.L.2017, c.83), which requires the state to pay the educational costs of a student who resides for more than one year in a homeless shelter located outside the student’s district of residence. The purpose of the law is to avoid concentrating the education costs of students who live in homeless shelters, for extended periods, on the districts in which the shelters are located.

A series of administrative law decisions had previously ruled that if a homeless family continues to reside in a particular school district for more than one year, then the family is considered to be domiciled in that district, and the district becomes responsible for the costs of the child’s education. NJSBA supported the new measure, which becomes applicable at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

The state Office of Legislative Services said it did not have data available to calculate how many homeless students would be affected by the law. But data provided by states to the federal government showed in the 2013-2014 school year, there were 1,909 homeless students in New Jersey whose primary nighttime residence was a shelter; approximately 53.2 percent of those children were in elementary school, 22.6 percent in middle school and 24.2 percent in high school. Assuming 5 percent of children would be affected by the law, the new law would require the state to fund the education of 96 children, for an estimated $1.188 million.

New State Teacher Regulations to Strengthen Preparation New state regulations designed to better prepare New Jersey teachers to serve students, beginning with their first day in charge of a classroom, are coming. The first changes begin this fall.

By the time they are fully implemented in 2018-2019, the new requirements call for doubling the period of student teaching for new teachers, from one semester to a full year; and will require novice teachers to pass a commissioner-approved performance assessment. The regulations, which were adopted by the state Department of Education in 2015, will also strengthen alternate route teacher preparation by requiring more pre-service training and clinical experience.

New Jersey districts each year hire approximately 6,500 teachers who are new to the profession. The regulations are designed to provide the strongest possible upfront preparation for them. NJSBA supports the new regulations.

“We have an obligation to our students to ensure the quality of the teachers we place in the classroom,” Feinsod said. “I know that to be true from my own experience as a student teacher, educator and chief school administrator. That requires us to provide the best possible pre-service training for our new teachers, in working with children in the classroom.”

A performance assessment known as the edTPA has been selected. It is completed during the clinical component of teacher preparation – student teaching – and measures a teacher candidate’s ability to plan and deliver a lesson, evaluate student learning, and reflect on his or her practice. As part of the assessment, teacher candidates must submit a portfolio of lessons they planned; video/audio recordings of a classroom lesson; and samples of student work they have graded.

Originated at Stanford University, edTPA was developed, piloted and field-tested with the participation of more than 1,000 educators from 29 states, and more than 430 colleges and universities. The State Board of Education on Aug. 3, 2016 adopted the edTPA with a gradual implementation as follows:

  • 2016-2017 school year – Optional pilot;
  • 2017-2018 school year – All candidates complete the assessment for certification, but do not need to meet a specific cut score;
  • 2018-2019 school year – Preliminary cut score set at one standard error of measurement below the national recommendation; and
  • 2019-2020 school year – Cut score determined by New Jersey standard-setting process.

The proposed changes have been discussed at NJSBA county association meetings. The topic was also the subject of a program on NJSBA’s BlogTalk Radio, “Changes Coming to the Student Teaching Process in New Jersey.” The program is archived on NJSBA’s website, and is available for listening.

Changes in School Security Requirements New Jersey school districts this year will have a new option available in terms of school security enforcement. As of June 1, a new law creates Class Three Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEOs) who are specifically qualified to serve in schools.

Class Three SLEOs are retired New Jersey law enforcement officers who complete the same training course required of school resource officers. The requirement for training was strongly recommended by the NJSBA School Security Task Force, and while Gov. Chris Christie in November 2016 signed the enabling legislation, he conditionally vetoed an earlier version of the law since it did not require the officers to complete school resource officer training.

The new officers will have full police powers and be permitted to carry a firearm, but may only be hired “in a part-time capacity,” and do not receive any pension or health benefits. Class Three SLEOs have the potential to be a safety-enhancing, cost-beneficial resource for school districts. An article in the May/June 2017 edition of School Leader described Class Three SLEOs in more detail. For more information, visit the website.

Security Drills and Architectural Changes On the heels of signing the Class Three SLEO legislation, Gov. Christie also approved two additional measures to improve safety and security in New Jersey’s public schools. Both were recommendations of the New Jersey School Security Task Force, whose membership included NJSBA Immediate Past President Donald Webster, Jr. The first bill, A-3349/S-2428 (P.L.2016, c.80), would implement various task force recommendations related to school security drills. More specifically, the new law, which goes into effect this fall, does the following:

  • Requires that all school district employees be provided with annual training on school safety and security. (Note: Previous law stipulated such training is only required once of certificated teaching staff members.)
  • Requires a law enforcement officer be present for at least one drill each school year so he or she can make recommendations for improvements or changes.
  • Requires annual training to be conducted collaboratively with emergency responders in order to identify weaknesses in school security policies and procedures, while increasing the effectiveness of emergency responders.
  • Provides that an actual fire or school security emergency will be considered a “drill” for the purposes of meeting the requirements of the School Security Drill Law; and
  • Expands the definition of “school security drill” to include practice procedures for responding to bomb threats.

The second measure, A-3348/S-2439 (P.L.2016, c.79), implements one task force recommendation pertaining to architectural design for new school construction, and another one concerning the “hardening” of school perimeters and building entryways. It took effect when signed into law in December 2016. With respect to new school construction, a school district shall include in the architectural design of the facility such features as:

  • Wherever possible, a building site with adequate space to accommodate bus and vehicular traffic separately;
  • Separate vehicular drop-off/pick-up areas;
  • Marked school entrances with a uniform numbering system;
  • Keyless locking mechanisms;
  • Access control systems which allow for remote locking and unlocking;
  • Sufficient space for evacuation in the event of an emergency; and
  • Having areas in the school building intended for public use separated and secure from all other areas.

The law also provides that in both new school construction and existing school buildings, a district shall implement various school security standards. School districts are now required to employ the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles and other security standards. Examples of such standards include, among others, that school security personnel be in uniform; the number of doors for access by school staff be limited; exterior doors remain locked; secure vestibules at the school’s main entrance be created; and surveillance cameras be used as a target-hardening tool.

Change at the Federal Level School districts are also expected to be impacted this fall by changes coming from federal law, via the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA is the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This federal law was passed in December 2015 under the Obama administration to govern the K–12 public education policy. ESSA replaces the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the previous version of ESEA. It gives the states more local control and modifies regulations pertaining to the periodic standardized tests given to students.

What has NJ Proposed to Meet the Requirements? The New Jersey Department of Education has proposed a plan to set high standards for all students; identify gaps by using data; establish new policies and flexible federal funding mechanisms; empower school districts and school communities to identify their specific needs of their students; and help them achieve and excel beyond the high standards. Some policies have already been put in place.

The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) has 120 days from receiving the complete plan to either approve or disapprove it. At School Leader press time, New Jersey anticipated receiving notification from the USDOE prior to September. Once the plan is approved, NJDOE can implement its new school-based accountability system. This will be used to identify schools in need of support, and describe how the support will be provided.

New Jersey’s ESSA proposal places less weight on passing state exams and extra importance on other factors, such as performance of students learning to speak English and academic progress among students who don’t pass standardized tests. ESSA calls for decreasing the importance of standardized test scores in rating schools and giving states more flexibility to decide how to intervene in struggling school districts. Under the new plan, high schools with at least 20 students in the English as a second language program would be graded using the following weights:

  • 40 percent on graduation rate;
  • 30 percent on standardized test proficiency;
  • 20 percent on progress among English Language Learners; and
  • 10 percent on chronic absenteeism (the percentage of students who miss more than 10 percent of the school year).

For elementary and middle schools, academic growth, (a measure of the progress students make from one year to the next), will replace the graduation rate. That means schools would benefit more from a student making good progress than they would suffer from that student not passing standardized tests.

Funds received under ESSA go directly to school districts, not to the NJDOE. This is significant because fiscal rules (including how certain funds may be used) have changed under ESSA. The NJDOE has been working to communicate the ramifications of these changes to districts.