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Washington Twp. Schools Head: Christie Plan Sounds Good

Superintendent sees value in state's proposed educational assessment changes.

The head of Washington Township's K-8 school district says he's on board with Gov. Chris Christie's plan to overhaul the systems used to rate New Jersey Schools.

Christie's reform agenda is part of the state's application for a waiver to provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind act, which normally requires all students to achieve proficiency in math and reading by 2014. As the deadline has gotten closer, an increasing number of schools have been labeled "failing" for falling short on standardized tests in among their overall populations, or in subgroups—such as a group of all children from a certain race, or a group of all children with disabilities. Failing schools can face a variety of penalties.

Christie's office said his new plan would move away from a one-size-fits all approach to school accountability. And Washington Township Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey S. Mohre said the township’s philosophy is very much aligned with that idea.

“The plan has many interesting components and, hopefully, will provide effective solutions for our state's lowest performing schools,” he said.

President Barack Obama announced earlier this year that states could apply for waivers to NCLB provisions if they would replace its requirements with new own approaches to evaluating schools and teachers. Christie has said his plan closely depends on four bills, not yet passed by the state legislature, that he said are "aggressive in meeting this challenge, bipartisan and in-line with the Obama Administration’s national agenda to raise standards, strengthen accountability systems, support effective teachers and focus more resources to the classroom.”

The newly announced approach moves away from the language of "failing" schools and instead would put New Jersey schools into three categories, based on a variety of rubricks. The 5 percent with the lowest test scores would be "priority" schools. Schools with wide achivement gaps would be "focus" schools. The state's top schools would be "reward" schools. Even the top schools would be expected to show continued improvement year to year.

“The facet of the plan which hints strongly of moving away from a one-size-fits -all approach to state assessment is seemingly aligned with Washington Township Schools’ belief that formative measurement of individual student growth is much better suited to New Jersey's students,” Mohre said.

According to an announcement by Christie's office, under his plan, the state Department of Education would create customized interventions for priority and focus schools, based on their specific needs. It would produce new performance reports for every school in New Jersey, replacing the existing system of state school report cards. These new reports would note progress toward closing achivement gaps, comparisons to peer schools with similar demographics, performance on state tests measured over time, and indicators of college and career readiness.

Christie's office said that plan is the result of several meetings with parents, educators and professional associations to solicit input on the NCLB waiver application, as well as collection of online comments.

The bills Christie ias asking the legislature to pass are:

School Children First Act (S-2881/A-4168): This bill would create a statewide educator evaluation system that aims to tie tenure to effectiveness, ends forced placements and last-in-first-out personnel policies by using both seniority and educator effectiveness in staffing decisions, and changes compensation systems. Christie's proposals on teacher tenure have proven to be among the most controversial aspects of his education reform plan.

Charter Reform Bill (A-4167): This bill would  increase the number of charter school authorizers, permits public schools to be converted to charter schools by local boards of education as well as the Department of Education Commissioner. Christie has said it would increase charter autonomy while making charter schools more accountable.

Opportunity Scholarship Act (S-1872/A-2810): This bill would provide tax credits to entities contributing to scholarships for low-income students.

Urban Hope Act (S-3002/A-4264; Senator Norcross/Assemblyman Fuentes): This bill provides for the creation of as many as 10 “transformation school projects” in five of the state’s worst-performing districts.

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