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"Complex Web" of Reforms Loom Ahead for Regional District

From changes in teacher evaluations to student assessments and new curriculum standards, the regional district will be facing several major changes in a very short period of time

Facing an upcoming complex web of new education reforms, the Regional School District is hoping to get a jump start during the remaining school year and work towards crafting a three-year plan.

The plan, which has yet to be drafted, would include how the district will handle the many reforms that are expected within the next two years. Among the upcoming education reforms are a change in teacher evaluations, new student achievement requirements in standardized testing and a switch to the Common Core Curriculum.

"These things will consume an enormous amount of time and district resources and may be pitfalls along the way," Superintendent Patrick Fletcher said. "There are whole other issues with the two percent cap with the budget and the administration cap inside that, a politics in the background, running the school district, negotiations with the teaching staff and other bargaining units. It all makes a complex web."

Fletcher added that he hoped the district could begin working on a three-year plan now and be ready to implement by the start of July 2013.

The first reform the district will face in the coming school year is the newly mandated change to teacher and principal evaluations. River Dell will implement the Stronge Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Performance Evaluation System for the start of the 2013-14 school year.

"The Stronge model includes seven areas of measurement to evaluate teachers who could be deemed 'highly effective', 'effective', 'partially effective' or 'ineffective'," Fletcher said. "This ties in with the resulting change in the tenure laws that if a teacher is ranked ineffective or partially effective for two years in a row, that will result in automatic tenure charges against the individual."

Teachers are ranked based on their professional knowledge, instructional planning, instructional delivery, assessment of/for learning, learning environment, professionalism and student progress. They would also be subject to four observations during the year, two of which would be unannounced.

As part of the state's tenure law changes, teachers would no longer receive tenure after three years and one day from their hiring date, but only after four years and one day.

"There are pitfalls that may come by pitting one teacher against another because it's not clearly defined how much that seventh strand of student growth impacts on the eventual outcome of ranking highly effective or ineffective," Fletcher said.

Additional new reforms include students no longer taking the NJ ASK (Assessment of Student Knowledge) or HSPA (High School Proficiency Assessment) tests each year, but instead participating in the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) exams.

PARCC is a set of K-12 assessments in Language Arts and Mathematics that will track students progress from one year to the next, while providing teachers with information on how to best provide student support.

"PARCC plans to only measure math and language arts which means all other areas fall into a big pot of non-tested area," Fletcher explained. "There will be some universal agreement measurement for math and language arts teachers but that does not exist for other content areas or certified faculty members such as a librarian, child study team or school nurse."

The last reform looming around the corner is a switch from the state Core Curriculum Content to the new Common Core Standards which have been adopted in 46 states. The new standards have New Jersey students learning the same curriculum that is being taught in schools districts in Alabama or California.

"Much of the work that has been done over the last 10 years needs to be revised," Fletcher said. "That's not a bad thing in my opinion, but the Common Core has fewer standards, is written more clearly and requires a deeper understanding of things."

Fletcher likened the curriculum change to previously knowing a little about many things to now having to know more about one or two items by focusing on deeper problem solving and writing skills.

Each of the three major reforms are tied to the state's approved waiver from the No Child Left Behind act that required 100% of all students score proficient or better on a state standardized test by the 2014-15 school year.

According to Fletcher, River Dell's general education population has been meeting the goal of 90% of students scoring proficient or better, although the special education population has struggled.

The Board will continue discussing throughout the school year how to best tackle the upcoming school reforms.

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