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Op-Ed: As Educators, We Must Measure What We Truly Value

Our current system is designed on the premise that there is a single success path and any deviation is either ignored, or worse, punished

Lisa Wolff
Lisa Wolff

With the change in State administration we have a tremendous opportunity to move our educational policies away from well-intentioned but inappropriate practices that punish those that don’t fit a single mold, to inclusive practices designed to help more children succeed.

We need to take this opportunity to ensure that New Jersey policy, priorities, and measurement better align with our intended values.

My school district believes that we have achieved our purpose if students are equipped for success for the increasingly connected and complex world beyond our doors.

When delivering commencement speeches in both 2015 and 2016, the statement that easily drew the most applause from our greater community occurred when I acknowledged the graduates that chose the trades and the military.

The best path for a given individual may or may not include college.

Yet the New Jersey School Performance Report considers the percentage of students going to college as the only metric to measure post-high school graduation success.

We should measure what we value, and under current performance measurements noncollege-bound alternatives do not count.

Students enlisting into the military to serve their country should count.

Students completing a trade apprenticeship do not accumulate college debt and often obtain well-paid jobs that cannot be outsourced — they should count.

Our current system is designed on the premise that there is a single success path and any deviation is either ignored, or worse, punished.

The NJ high school exit exam, named the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, only focuses on “college” (and it is debatable whether it does that well.) There is no attention paid to “career,” or social-emotional “readiness.”

Fortunately, the New Jersey School Boards Association has formed a task force to research opportunities for noncollege-bound students. Their goal is to determine “what schools should do to increase educational opportunities for these students.” While certainly a laudable step in the right direction, a goal determining what the New Jersey Department of Education should do to help, or at least not hinder, schools in that mission is necessary to achieve any level of success.

More so than other policy decisions, education requires sensitivity and sometimes finesse. Children are not widgets. All solutions cannot rigidly fit in one box and some require flexibility and understanding.

Under current measures, students that take longer than exactly four years to graduate high school also do not count.

In our district we hold a special ceremony and I learn often-extraordinary stories of those students that needed extra time to attain their high school diploma. The board president and administrators attend and we all take great pride in recognizing the successful journey of kids that needed extra effort and support but still made it through.

Finally, the vast majority of our students do indeed follow a traditional path, graduate in exactly four years, and proceed onto an impressive list of colleges. Yet we worry and strive to ensure that the number that matriculate actually graduate.

There is no one-size-fits all solution. Districts should not be penalized for helping secure the best fit for their students’ future.

Let’s move away from negative, punishing policies and on to positive, inclusive policies that work to make every school and student count.

Lisa Wolff is the president of the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education and president of the Mercer County School Boards Association. The opinions expressed are her own. This article is not written on behalf of either the HVRSD-BOE or the MCSBA.

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