First Look at New School Standards Without Battles of Years Gone By

Commissioner Repollet and staff preview slightly revised requirements for six subject areas for state Board of Education
Credit: NJTV News
State Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet

In a process that started in earnest in 1996 at the height of the standards and testing movement, the state every few years reviews and revises the requirements for what every New Jersey student should know and be able to do.

While the standards from cycle to cycle haven’t changed all that much, they do remain closely examined benchmarks that assist districts to set curriculums and purchase textbooks and other instructional materials.

What’s more, when it comes to language arts and math (and science, to a lesser degree), the standards help set the goals for statewide testing — often creating a stir. See the tumult over the Common Core standards a few years back.

Those disturbances aren’t always the case. The standards-review process is starting up again, with state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet and his staff yesterday presenting to the state Board of Education the first revised standards in six areas up for revision in the next year: science, visual and performing arts, social studies, world language, health and physical education, and technology.

Muted response to new standards

The introductions so far have proved a bit anticlimactic. The science requirements will not change much, if at all, from the Next Generation standards that have been in place for several years in New Jersey. Twenty other states have adopted the same standards, and another 20 closely follow them, officials said.

“I understand the baggage that came with the Common Core, but the beauty of these is there has been so much research and evidence in the science standards,” said Beth Ratway, a consultant for the department who spoke before the board yesterday. “It probably has the best grounding in research of any of the standards we have worked with.”

The arts standards — in the works for five years — are also in line for mostly minor changes, including the addition of media arts as a core skill.

“We are very excited about this,” said Beverly Plein, the department’s director of the office of standards, speaking before the board. “It will help prepare students in areas such as animation, filmmaking, digital graphics and website design.”

The revisions largely follow the National Core Arts Standards, officials and advocates said, and also won early praise yesterday.

“These have been in development since 2014, so this has been a long process for us,” said Bob Morrison, director of Arts Ed NJ, a prominent advocacy group. “The state has done an excellent job in modifying what the national standards look like and how aligned with what we’re doing here.”

Philosophical differences

Still, any talk of standards comes with philosophical debates about what is and is not important for students to be taught at any given time. And yesterday was no exception.

For instance, Repollet and several state board members pressed for climate change to be a bigger part of the science curriculum, as well as other subject areas. The topic has been very important to Tammy Murphy, wife of Gov. Phil Murphy, who called for new state standards for climate change last month.

Environmental impact is already a piece of the Next Generation standards, officials said, but Repollet added that his department was working with the Board of Public Utilities to develop educational programs about specific clean-energy issues, including wind and solar energy.

Several board members spoke about the importance of engaging educators in not only the revisions but also in subsequent teacher training.

“I remember there was a lot of kickback when we started with arts standards, and there still is,” said Ronald Butcher, a longtime board member. “What are we doing to make sure that students truly have the opportunity to participate in and meet these standards?”

Elaine Bobrove, a newer board member, added “I know you are giving time for teachers to learn to this, but is it enough?” Bobrove teaches both at high school and at higher-education levels.

State officials said there would be a series of hearings over the next several months to solicit further input from educators and the public.