Tucked deep within the state’s anti-bullying law is a requirement that New Jersey’s districts be graded on whether their schools are following both the letter and spirit of the legislation.
More than two years after the bill was signed, those grades – based on a scale of 0 to 75 -- are starting to be released and posted for the first time on individual schools’ websites.
But it is proving to be a generous grading curve, to say the least, as it relies entirely on districts judging themselves – resulting, not surprisingly, in pretty high marks.
In the scores released by the state yesterday, two-thirds of schools gave themselves a score between 57 and 75, the highest quartile. Less than 1 percent gave themselves less than a 19, the bottom quartile.
Sorted by the state’s 21 counties and with a separate category of charter schools, the scores for every school are available in accompanying links.
State officials said it is a start and will hopefully continue to spur community discussions about ways to improve the climate in schools and address the scourge of bullying.
“We know that safe school environments are a crucial component of high-performing schools,” said outgoing state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf in a statement yesterday.
“We have worked closely with districts on reducing bullying incidents and creating safer schools, and we are look forward to continuing that process.”
The school districts complete the assessments through adistributed by the state Department of Education, asking schools to certify that they are adhering to the law.
The law requires every school to have training in place for all staff, to assign personnel and others to develop anti-bullying programs, and to follow a strict protocol for investigating accusations of bullying.
The eight categories in the report cards are:
1. HIB Programs, Approaches and Other Initiatives (maximum 15 points)
2. Training on the Board-Approved HIB Policy (9 points)
3. Other Staff Instruction and Training Programs (15 points)
4. Curriculum and Instruction on HIB Related Information and Skills (6 points)
5. HIB Personnel (9 points)
6. School-Level HIB Incident Reporting Procedures (6 points)
7. HIB Investigative Procedures (12 points)
8. HIB Reporting (3 points)
Not all were satisfied with the inaugural run of the grading system, with some critics saying that as long as the department allows schools to grade themselves, they are not likely to get an accurate picture.
The districts already self-report the numbers of incidents of bullying and other school violence each year, leading to wide fluctuations.
"I'm appreciative of the department’s effort and the difficulty of creating a grading system from scratch, but it’s a ridiculously inadequate grading scheme,” said Stuart Green, director of the New Jersey Coalition of Bullying Awareness and Prevention.
“A system that relies solely on self-report by school administrators is not a meaningful way for these issues to be assessed, as years of (self-reporting violent incidents) has richly demonstrated.”