Public Now Gets Chance to Weigh in on Proposed Changes to Core Learning Standards

John Mooney | February 11, 2020 | Education
Education officials foresee a school curriculum with updated requirements in computer science and career readiness
Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet

Part semantic, part substantive, the Murphy administration’s latest revisions to the state’s core learning standards for public schools include more specific computer science requirements and a renamed category titled “career readiness, life literacy and key skills.”

Presentation of the revisions to the State Board of Education last week by New Jersey Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet and his staff finished the rollout over several months of revised standards in seven subject areas, from world languages to social studies.

The revisions are part of a routine updating of the standards, which represent the state’s expectations for what every student should know and be able to do. The standards are central in driving local curricula and, where applicable, state testing.

The seven areas currently under review are science, visual and performing arts, career readiness, health and physical education, social studies, world languages, and computer and design thinking.

Language arts and math — the two major standards critical in development of state testing — are not part of this cycle of revisions; they will be up for review in the next two years, when the administration also will be reviewing its entire testing system.

Computers, computers, computers

The presentation last Wednesday to the state board focused primarily on two categories, both with new proposed name changes: “Computer Science and Design Thinking” and “Career Readiness, Life Literacy and Key Skills.”

Revised computer science standards had been long in the making. Previously there was a general technology requirement that every student be adept at a computer; the focus now will be on adding practical skills around computer coding and other knowledge, as well as graphic and other computer design.

Administration officials testified before the board that the changes are as much concerned with evolving the thinking around the processes of computer science and design as the content itself.

“There is a focus on engaging students and collaborating with them to be designing, thinking, testing and refining,” said Beverly R. Plein, director of the department’s office of standards.

Gov. Phil Murphy has proposed a state requirement that all students be offered specific instruction in computer science, even in elementary schools. The new standards fall short of a full course requirement, but nonetheless move in that direction.

Input from business leaders

The career readiness category traditionally has focused on career and vocational skills, but now would be directed more toward general job skills for all students.

Plein said the revisions came out of input from business leaders who have implored — if not complained — that New Jersey students need to acquire more workplace skills, such as critical thinking, collaboration and communications.

“Our students need to be better prepared around critical thinking, problem solving, innovation — that is that focus on key skills,” she said, adding that competence in digital and media literacy would also be included.

Plein said the idea is to get students thinking more — and earlier — about their futures and the skills they will need after their schooling.

“When they are moving into middle school, they are beginning to think about where they might want to go when they graduate from high school, and we need to provide them with options,” she said.

Follow this link to read the full package of proposed standards. If approved, the new standards would be phased in during fall 2021 and 2022.

Next up is for the public to offer input, with a final adoption by the state board slated for June.

The state Department of Education has scheduled three public hearings across the state. For attendance, prior registration through the department’s website is requested.

Public hearings will take place:

  • Feb. 24, 6-8 p.m., Warren County Technical School, Theater, 1500 Route 57, Washington;
  • March 4, 2-4 p.m., NJ Department of Education, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton;
  • March 10, 4-6 p.m., Camden County College, Connector Building, Room 105, Civic Hall, 200 College Drive, Blackwood.