New Jersey Students Improving Since Start of Race to the Top Funding

Diane D'Amico | Press of Atlantic City
06/13/14

The achievement of New Jersey students has shown improvement since the state received $38 million in federal Race to the Top funds in 2011, according to a report for the year 2013 released by the U.S. Department of Education on Friday.

But the state also has had significant delays in developing its Instructional Improvement System, or IIS, which will allow educators to better track student performance. Staff shortages also led to delays in implementing a model curriculum for social studies and accommodations for students with disabilities.

Ann Whalon, director of the Implementation and Support Unit for Race to the Top, said most states have had both challenges and successes in meeting their designated goals.

“No state is at 100 percent,” she said in a teleconference.

State Department of Education spokesman Mike Yaple acknowledged the challenges, but said they have been overcome this year.

“For parents, the most important takeaway is probably the acknowledgment that student achievement in New Jersey has been improving and that the achievement gap is narrowing,” he said in an e-mail. “That’s good news.”

There are efforts to slow the reforms. Legislation has been introduced to create a task force to review the Common Core Standards and to delay linking teacher evaluations to results of new state tests, which are scheduled to start in 2015.

The report notes that based on National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, the eighth grade achievement gap between Hispanic and white students dropped almost 10 percentage points between 2011 and 2013. In math the gap narrowed for all subgroups in grades four and eight. The state’s high school graduation rate also increased each year, up four points since 2011 to more than 87 percent in 2013.

Whalon cited New Jersey for its efforts to train more than 20,000 educators on the model curriculum and the transition to the Common Core Standards.

The report covers the period from December 2012 to December 2013. The Instructional Improvement System, which will be called edConnect NJ,cq is being developed in partnership with Pearson Schoolnet. According to the state Department of Education website, it is being tested this spring and will be fully functional by September.

The NJ Educator Resource Exchange, which includes a breakdown of what children should learn in each grade in language arts and math, is already available online.

The report also cited the state’s ongoing effort to increase the number of high-quality charter schools, and its implementation of a new teacher and principal evaluation system, which was started statewide in 2013-14.

So far the state has spent about $15.5 million of its allotment, with about $9 million going directly to participating school districts. The rest went to state costs including personnel, travel, equipment and contracted services. 


RACE TO THE TOP NEW JERSEY

Highlights of the Year 2 report for New Jersey’s Race to the Top plan:

— The achievement gap is shrinking in math in fourth and eighth grade

— The graduation rate has improved each year (to 87.5 percent in 2013).

— The state revised its K-12 model curriculum units and posted them on the new NJ Educator Resource Exchange

— Six new charter schools were granted final charters in July 2013 and opened in September.

— More than 20,000 educators received training on the model curriculum resources.

— The Instructional Improvement System was delayed, but is expected to be operational this summer.

— Staffing shortage led to delays in model curriculum for social studies and accommodations for students with disabilities.

(Source: U.S. Department of Education)

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