Independent Ratings of NJ School System

I.  EDITORIAL PROJECTS IN EDUCATION RESEARCH CENTER (EPE), “Quality Counts 2015,” January 2015.   EPE is the research arm of the publisher of “Education Week,” a highly respected education weekly. This 19th annual edition of this report tracks key education indicators and grades states on their policy efforts and outcomes (website here).  

GRADED CATEGORIES:

1.  Overall Grade:  Definition: Average of the scores from the three graded categories below.  

  • New Jersey: B
  • Rank among states: 2nd 
  • Average state score: C

2.  Chance for Success (2015).  Definition:  How well a state’s education system supports a citizen’s prospects for life success, measuring an individual’s early foundations, school years and adult outcome.

  • New Jersey: B+ (unchanged from 2014)
  • Rank among states: 3rd (down from 2nd)
  • Average state score: C+

3.  K-12 achievement (2014).  Definition:  Examines student performance both in absolute terms and in change over time, as well as achievement gaps and progress in closing them.  NJ scored very well on absolute achievement levels, and while there has been real progress in closing achievement gaps, significant disparities remain.

  • New Jersey: B- (unchanged from 2014)
  • Rank among states: 3rd  (unchanged from 2014)
  • Average state score: C-

4.  School finance analysis (2015).  Definition:  Measures state and local spending on public education both in absolute terms and by the variation between districts.  NJ received an A in spending but a B- in terms of equity.

  • New Jersey: B+ (up from B- in 2014)
  • Rank among states: 5th (up from 9th in 2014)
  • Average state score: C

II.  NATIONAL COUNCIL ON TEACHER QUALITY2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook. NCTQ publishes an in-depth, biennial review that grades each state in great detail on the quality of its teacher policies.  NCTQ is a non-partisan research and policy group dedicated to ensuring that every child has an effective teacher.  (website here).  

OVERALL GRADE AND PROGRESS:

  • New Jersey Overall Grade: B- (up from D+ in 2011)
  • New Jersey Overall Progress: increased on 8 goals; unchanged on 23 goals; decreased on zero goals.  

Comment:  Out of 31 goals designed to measure the impact of state policy on the five areas listed below, NJ was considered "Best Practice" on 3, fully met 4, nearly met 8, partially met 6, only met a small part of 1, and did not meet 9.

AREA GRADES:

1.  Delivering Well-Prepared Teachers: B-  (D+ in 2011)

  • Strength: Teacher candidates must have a 3.0 GPA.
  • Strength: Elelmentary school teachers must pass content test of core content areas.  Middle school teachers must pass single-subject content test.
  • Weakness: Elementary school teachers not required to pass science of reading test.  
  • Weakness: No requirements for student teachers to be placed with effective mentor teachers.
  • Weakness: A pedagogy test is not required for a teaching license.
  • Weakness: NJ does not hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the teachers they produce.

2.  Expanding the Pool of Teachers: B- (C in 2011)

  • Strengths: Alternate route process is strong: certification is selective and not limited in number; preparation is relevant and supportive of new teachers.
  • Weakness: NJ does not offer a license with minimal requirements that would allow content experts to teach part time.
  • Weakness: Out-of-State teachers not required to meet state testing requirements, and there are obstacles that do not support licensure reciprocity.

3.  Identifying Effective Teachers: B- (D+ in 2011)

  • Strength: Objective evidence of student learning is a significant component of teacher evaluations along with other articulated components and all teachers must be evaluated annually.  
  • Strength: Tenure decisions are based on evidenced of teacher effectiveness and probationary period allows sufficient time for the state to collect teacher performance data.
  • Weakness: Licensure advancement and renewal are not based on evidence of teacher effectiveness.
  • Weakness: NJ needs more school-level data to support equitable distribution of teacher talent. 

4.   Retaining Effective Teachers: C (C- in 2011)

  • Strength: all new teachers receive mentoring.
  • Strength: Teachers receive feedback from evaluations and professional development is aligned. Teachers with unsatisfactory ratings are given improvement plans. 
  • Weakness: NJ does not support retention bonuses, performance pay, or incentives to teach in high-needs schools and subject areas.

5.   Exiting Ineffective Teachers: C (D in 2011)

  • Strength: All teachers must pass subject-matter tests for licensure.
  • Weakness: Reductions in force are determined by seniority rather than teacher performance.


III. CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS, “Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card of Educational Innovation,” November 2009.  Report by Center for American Progress (a leading “progressive,” or liberal, think-tank), the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Enterprise Institute (a leading “free-market,“ or conservative, think-tank) that grades the states on school performance.  The report draws heavily on research by EPE, NCTQ and the Fordham Institute.  (website here)

1.  School Management.  Definition: includes six indicators: strength of state standards (using Fordham Institute data); sanctions on low-performing schools; rewards for high-performing schools; strength of charter school law; percentage of teachers who say paperwork interferes with teaching and who say a school is well run.

  • New Jersey grade: C
  • Rank among states: 23rd

Comment: Mediocre state standards; no sanctions for low-performing schools; 86% of teachers say paperwork interferes with teaching.  Overall: average.

2.  Finance. Definition: includes five indicators: local authority over teacher pay; existence of performance-pay program; online accessibility of state finance data; simplicity of state funding mechanism; and influence of principals on how school budgets are spent.

  • New Jersey grade: D
  • Rank among states:  47th

Comment: Low mark on simplicity of funding mechanism; average score for online accessibility; and NJ has no performance-pay program whatever.  Overall: below-average.

3.  Staffing: Hiring & Evaluation. Definition: includes eight indicators: basic skills and subject knowledge teacher tests; strength of teacher evaluations; strength of alternative certification; percentage of alternatively qualified teachers and programs to recruit non-traditional teachers; principal authority over teacher hiring; and interstate portability of teachers.

  • New Jersey grade: B
  • Rank among states: 16th

Comment: High number of alternative teachers; no basic skills test for teachers but there are subject knowledge tests.  Overall: good.

4.  Staffing: Removing Ineffective Teachers. Definition: data taken from National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) survey of principals asking about procedural/administrative/organizational barriers to removing ineffective teachers. 

  • New Jersey grade: A
  • Rank among states: 9th

Comment: Only 38% of principals say personnel policies are a barrier, 10% less than the national average.  Only 2% say parents are a barrier.  However 70% say teachers unions are a barrier.  Overall: excellent.

5.  Data.  Definition: includes six indicators: students’ test records and teacher-identifier systems; access to interactive school-level databases; state longitudinal data system; and college remediation rates.

  • New Jersey grade: D
  • Rank among states: 46th

Comment: State does not report college remediation data nor factors these data into its accountability system; nor does state have teacher-identifier system to match teachers to students.  Overall: below-average.

6.  Pipeline to Postsecondary.  Definition: includes six indicators: states align course requirements with college and workplace expectations; high school exams gauge college and career readiness; students passing an Advanced Placement test; states have dual-enrollment and work-based internships; and standard diploma with a career specialization.

  • New Jersey grade: D
  • Rank among states: 39th

Comment:  Below national average on dual-enrollment (where students can earn college credits) and work-based internships.  Overall: below-average.

7.  Technology. Definition:  includes four indicators: students per high-speed internet-connected computer; whether state has established a virtual school; whether state offered computer-based assessment to all students in the grade and subject in which the test is offered; and whether state requires teachers to demonstrate technology competence on a formal assessment.

  • New Jersey grade: D
  • Rank among states: 47th

Comment:  State has not established a virtual school and does not offer a computer-based assessment.  Must improve how state evaluates return on investments in technology.  Overall: “disappointing,” below-average.

IV.  THOMAS B. FORDHAM INSTITUTE, The State of Standards – and the Common Core – in 2010, July, 2010.  Study comparing current state education standards against the Common Core education standards.   The Fordham Institute engages in research, analysis and commentary to advance education excellence (website here).  

1.  English Language Arts Standards

  • New Jersey overall grade: C
  • Common Core grade: B+

For the “Clarity and Specificity” of standards, New Jersey received 2 out of 3 possible points, falling short on the “scope and sequence of the material.”

For the “Content and Rigor” of the standards, NJ received 4 out of 7 possible points.  Standards for early reading, vocabulary, literary and informational texts, and speaking and listening are all good.  Areas of weakness include: comprehension skills and response to text, writing, grammar, and inquiry and research.

Overall, NJ got 6 out of 10 points, or a “mediocre” rating for its standards, with the Common Core Standards “superior” to NJ’s.

2. Mathematics Standards

  • New Jersey overall grade: C
  • Common Core grade: A-

For “Clarity and Specificity,” NJ received 1 out of 3 points, with the general presentation of standards “very poor and extremely difficult to follow” and “offer limited guidance to users.”

For “Content and Rigor,” NJ received 4 out of 7, with high marks for prioritization of important standards, early development of arithmetic and standards on measurement.  Weaknesses include: whole-number arithmetic, decimals and fractions, with technology “undermining” mastery, and some missing content at the high school level.

Overall, NJ got 6 out of 10, again “mediocre,” for its math standards, with the Common Core Standards “significantly superior” to NJ’s.

3. Science Standards (State of State Science Standards, January, 2012)

  • New Jersey overall grade: D

For “Clarity and Specificity,” NJ received 1 out of 3 points.  While the standards are "clearly organized and presented," the expectations are "often empty and jargon-filled."  In addition, standards are frequently repeated from grade to grade, offering no clear progression.  

For “Content and Rigor,” NJ received 2 out of 7.  On the plus side, standards are straightforward and complete at the lower grades, and physical and earth/space science standards have some bright spots, mostly at lower grade levels.  Weaknesses include: poor supplemental materials; scant grade-appropriate content at the high school level; scientific inquiry and methadology standards that are "virtually useless;" content and skills that fail to progress from grade to grade; and no standards for high school physics or chemistry.  

Overall, NJ got 3 out of 10, a "woeful" performance.  The report sums up NJ's science standards as, "in a word, vapid."