On April 3, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) released its highly anticipated final proposal for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA replaces the discredited No Child Left Behind Act and provides an unprecedented opportunity to rethink how schools are measured and what students learn. ESSA also requires local stakeholder engagement at the community level with parents, NJEA members, retirees and others to shape local schools.

With its emphasis on local stakeholder engagement, ESSA may reflect a turning point for bottom-up change in our public schools. Ideas long neglected at the state level may now be pursued locally, with buy-in from stakeholders across the community. Stakeholder engagement provides a chance for NJEA members to build a public school system at the local level that works best for students.

While opportunities abound at the local level, the state plan itself takes some advantage of newfound flexibility on issues such as graduation rates, but ultimately keeps PARCC as the single most important accountability measure. In some cases, PARCC scores would account for as much as 85 percent of how a public school is measured.

NJEA members spoke strongly against the over-reliance on testing in multiple meetings across the state with the department. Instead, NJEA members called for a true system of multiple measures—such as a student success index—that would change the focus to what really works to improve student development. A proposed student success index would include factors such as adequate support, materials and resources.

While the NJDOE added a new measure—student chronic absenteeism—as part of ESSA accountability, this is a far cry from a true system of multiple measures of success. The NJDOE committed in the state plan to develop additional measures in the coming school year that could eventually diminish the focus on standardized testing. The work on experimenting with new and innovative ways of measuring the success of schools could begin on the local level this year.

NJEA members should consider joining a local ESSA Stakeholder Team to help shape the direction of public education in New Jersey in light of the new federal law. Reach out to your local president to volunteer. NJREA members should send their contact information to Sean Hadley shadley@njea.org.

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