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Agenda: NJ State Board of Education

A long time coming, Cerf’s reorganization plans go before the board.

Date: Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Time: 10 a.m.
Place: NJ Department of Education, 1st floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton

What they are doing: Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s reorganization of the Department of Education tops a busy agenda for the state board. Also on tap are an expected final approval of an alternative certification for superintendents, broader discussions on how New Jersey’s teachers are evaluated and certified, and a presentation on one take on the never-ending struggle to raise middle school achievement.

Reorganization: Cerf has been in office since January and is finally laying out his long-discussed remaking of the department. Much of it is not a secret, including new divisions and titles that will represent Cerf’s priorities. Included will be assistant commissioners specifically in charge of school and district accountability, teacher and principal performance evaluation, and academics and testing. "I'm basically throwing out the entire organization and replacing it with four cabinet-level positions,* he said this weekend, without divulging who will fill each role.

"Alternate route" for superintendents: The state board is expected to sign off on a Christie administration proposal to open up school superintendent positions in lower-performing districts to those with non-education backgrounds. The proposal was controversial when first presented, but has largely cleared the state board without much change. Once approved, school boards in select districts -- including some of the largest urban systems -- will be able to hire leaders who do not have specific superintendent certification but still must meet certain management standards, among others. The hires will also need final approval of the commissioner.

Teacher quality: The board will hear several items that address teacher quality, led by a presentation from the National Council on Teacher Quality addressing its recent low grade to New Jersey’s standards. In addition, the state board will sign off on further adjustments to what are one source of that low grade: New Jersey’s notoriously low passing scores for teacher certification -- specifically the cut-off scores on the national PRAXIS test for art and technology teachers. The board will also get a report on the administration’s long-discussed pilot program for changing how teachers are evaluated.

Middle grades: The back and forth on how to raise middle school achievement gets a new twist, with state officials presenting a report to the board on what effect a school's grade configuration has on test performance. Many urban districts in and outside New Jersey have moved to kindergarten-to-8th-grade schools as an alternative to traditional middle schools that serve just the 6th through 8th grades. State officials analyzed the numbers in New Jersey, and in the report to be presented Wednesday, they say that the K-8 configurations by and large didn’t make a big difference in test scores when comparing like students.

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