TRENTON -- New Jersey on Wednesday unveiled new long-term goals it considers "both ambitious and achievable" for public schools, including the expectation that 80 percent of a school's students should pass standardized tests in reading and math by 2030.
The proposed plan, which the state must submit to the federal government for approval, also calls for high schools to reach a 95-percent four-year graduation rate by 2030. Additionally, 85 percent of a school's students learning English as their second language would need to meet achievement goals set the by state.
The long-term goals come after Congress in 2015 granted states more autonomy over how they assess their public schools, replacing the former No Child Left Behind law with the Every Student Succeeds Act. Each state must submit its plan to the U.S Department of Education, and New jersey is seeking public comment before filing with the federal government.
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State education groups spent Wednesday afternoon scouring the 366-page plan to figure out what it may mean for New Jersey schools.
They said the proposal would not change New Jersey's academic standards or its standardized testing regimen. Students in most schools likely wouldn't notice any difference in their classroom initially.
Compared to No Child Left Behind, which set the bar at 100 percent of students passing their standardized tests by 2014, New Jersey's proposed goals would be much more attainable for some school districts, education experts said.
But the expected 80 percent passing rate on math and English tests by 2030 would also apply to all subgroups of students, including minority groups and low-income students, who typically post lower scores. Schools would be expected to show progress toward their long-term goals each year.
The state's largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, is disappointed that the proposal would still judge school predominantly on standardized test scores, said Edward Richardson, executive director of the union.
"Is it better than No Child Left Behind?" Richardson said. "Yes, to a point."
Along with setting new long-term goals for schools, the plan calls for enhanced annual reports on each school and new districtwide reports. Among the highlights:Parents can expect to see better and easier-to-read reports about their children's school district and school. They will include better graphics, and the reports will be translated into other languages for parents who don't speak English. The expanded reports will give parents new information about pre-K programs, suspensions, teacher credentials, violence in schools and how many students are homeless or in foster care. New Jersey will have a new focus on chronic absenteeism as one of the key indicators or how schools are doing. The state tracks how many students are absent more than 10 percent of school days and will use that to help assess the quality of a school. The state will also be paying more attention to how non-English speaking students are doing in class. Making sure that students are making progress toward learning English will now count for 20 percent of a school's overall quality score under the new measure.
The plan was crafted with the input of parents, teachers and state education groups, acting Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington said.
"The development process of the New Jersey ESSA State Plan gives us the opportunity to build off New Jersey's strong educational foundation and reflect on ways to better ensure that all students have access to the high-quality education that they deserve," Harrington said in a statement.
The New Jersey School Board's Association is still reviewing the proposal but is optimistic about the framework of the plan, said Michael Vrancik, the association's director of government relations.
The state will accept public comment on the proposal until March 20 through an online survey.
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