Gov. Chris Christie gave his stamp of approval Thursday to a federal waiver that would release New Jersey from the rules of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act
On Thursday, it was announced that 10 states, including New Jersey, would be granted waivers by the federal government that would allow them to bypass the rules and regulations of NCLB and allow greater freedom in developing systems of student accountability.
The waiver comes with an approval of the state's yearly required NCLB application, in which state officials advocated for the existing standardized testing benchmarks be abolished. A new form of measuring student progress is to begin in September of this year.
As part of New Jersey's successful waiver application, the Christie Administration outlined plans for three principles that are in line with the goals of the Obama Administration, according to the governor's office.
These principles include college and career ready expectations for all students, state-developed differentiated recognition, accountability, and support, and providing support for effective instruction and leadership.
"The Obama Administration's approval of our education reform agenda contained in this application confirms that our bold, common sense, and bipartisan reforms are right for New Jersey and shared by the President and Secretary Duncan's educational vision for the country," Christie said, in a prepared statement on Thursday. "This is not about Democrats or Republicans - it is about pursuing an agenda in the best interest of our children whose educational needs are not being met, and those who are getting a decent education but deserve a great one."
Through NCLB, student groups were measured on their separate performances, and schools were classified as making Adequately Yearly Progress (AYP) or as "In Need of Improvement."
Regardless of socioeconomic background, race, or individual ability, all students were expected to meet the benchmarks set by the tests. If one group of students did not score high enough, an entire school could be classified as "In Need of Improvement."
Schools that repeatedly failed to make AYP faced penalties that could anything from reduced funding, firing teachers and administrative staff, offering more tutoring and support services, and in extreme cases, closing, or laying off staff.
NCLB was signed into law in 2001 by then-president George W. Bush. It had a 2014 goal, in which all students were to be proficient in math and reading.
Schools in New Jersey will no longer have to meet NCLB benchmarks, but instead will be subject to a "fairer and more nuanced accountability system...that measures schools based on both growth and absolute attainment," a release from the Governor's office said.
This new system will separate schools into three tiers: "Priority Schools," which will be chosen from the lowest performing five percent of Title I schools statewide; "Focus Schools," which will be chosen from at least 10 percent of Title I schools; and "Reward Schools," or those schools that demonstrate high student performance, or are making progress in closing achievement gaps between student groups, according to the release.
These schools will be identified during the summer, with interventions to begin during the 2012-13 school year.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the largest education union in the U.S., said the Obama administration was reacting to the calls from parents and educators to fix what is often considered an impefect system, but she was cautiously skeptical.
If state officials do not work with teachers and administrators to design their own new system, which should center around student learning and not test scores, NCLB could be replaced by a system that is either no different, or could be worse than the current system, she said.
"We remain concerned that some states may use these waivers to simply put metrics on top of poorly constructed and implemented evaluation systems," she said.