New Jersey has won approval from the Obama administration to extend its new accountability system for intervening in the lowest-achieving schools.
While the approval was never much in doubt, state officials still have some work to do if they plan to seek another one-year federal waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the 2001 law that includes strict student-achievement requirements for all schools, including that they show 100 percent proficiency by this year.
New Jersey had instead instituted a new system of interventions in so-called “priority” schools that show the lowest achievement levels overall and in “focus” schools with the widest achievement gaps.
The state was one of 34 states seeking such extensions of their federal waivers. All but two of the waiver requests were approved.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it had granted the extension, saying New Jersey had met the criteria in two of three key areas.
“This is good news for New Jersey, and it’s a tribute to exemplary efforts by every educator in the state,” said acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe in a statement.
“The U.S. Department of Education’s announcement noted that that New Jersey not only met the goals contained in our waiver, but in some instances we had exceeded them. This will allow us to intensify our efforts to improve education for the children who need it most.”
It was not a blanket approval. The letter gave special credit to the state for its development of a model curriculum for low-performing schools, and praised its development of “student growth objectives” for teachers serving students in non-tested grades and subjects.
But the one area that the department said still needs to be resolved is how the state intervenes in so-called Title I schools that did not fall into either the “focus” or “priority” categories.
Title I schools are defined as those with high concentrations of low-income students, Such schools receive federal Title I funding.
The approval letter said that if New Jersey applies for an extension next year, it will have to show how it had moved to deal with schools that had not met student achievement or graduation rate targets.
New Jersey is among a vast majority of states that continue to move away from the strictures of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act.
“New Jersey’s waiver application followed the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Education and the precedent of other states in revamping their accountability system,” said Patrick McGuinn, an associate professor at Drew University and an expert on federal education policy.
“The state will now stop using NCLB's system that had labeled large numbers of schools across the state as ‘in need of improvement’ and will focus instead on academic growth instead of minimum proficiency and target resources and interventions on the worst performing schools,” McGuinn added.