Only About Half of N.J.'s Public Schools Meet Goals

More are Falling Short than Under the Federal 'No Child Left Behind' Standards that were Replaced

Geoff Mulvihill |

JACKSON, N.J. - About half the public schools in New Jersey did not meet the state's new goals for student performance on standardized tests and will have to come up with improvement plans, state education officials said at a Wednesday meeting of school district administrators.

The number of schools falling short is higher than it was under the federal No Child Left Behind standards that the new goals replaced, but the consequences are far gentler.

Bari Erlichson, chief performance officer for the state Education Department, told a meeting of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators that the performance results would be available soon to each school. She said complete reports would be sent next month.

The shift is happening in New Jersey and other states as the Obama administration backs off the 2001 federal law that required all students to pass the standardized tests by the 2013-14 school year.

New Jersey and nine other states were given permission this year to abandon those requirements and put in place their own measures. New Jersey's plan focuses on improving the state's lowest-performing schools while giving more autonomy to the rest. But the state still has annual goals for each of its nearly 2,500 public schools.

The state now wants every school district to cut the percentage of students failing standardized tests in half by 2017. Each school has annual goals to increase passage rates for each test to reach the larger target. But schools where at least 90 percent of students pass will not be docked for not having their scores rise.

In the past, schools that made insufficient progress had to follow a mandated set of steps, beginning with sending letters to parents. The schools that missed targets year after year faced mandatory restructuring. Now, the improvement plans are up to the local boards of education.

Education Commissioner Chris Cerf told the school administrators not to expect more help from the state in paying for the latest changes. He said that federal, state, and local governments already had put $25 billion a year into New Jersey's public schools, and that schools would have to reorganize their priorities and consider consolidation or at least sharing services.

"If we keep spending our resources in exactly the same ways we've always been spending them, we're not going to have enough to do the things that matter most," he said. "This is going to require a creative redeployment of resources to meet your priorities." 

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