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REPORT FINDS SERIOUS PROBLEMS WITH STATE'S NEW DISTRICT MONITORING SYSTEM

The Institute on Education Law and Policy (IELP) at Rutgers-Newark recently released a report evaluating the 2006 pilot program conducted by the Department of Education (DOE) for the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) Act of 2005. The Rutgers researchers found significant problems with QSAC that must be immediately addressed before implementing the system.

QSAC is a new monitoring and evaluation system that purportedly integrates many of the requirements of existing code and statute -- including the Abbott regulations, the State Takeover Law and No Child Left Behind Federal Legislation -- into one comprehensive system. It is designed to measure the performance of public school districts in five areas: Instruction and Program, Fiscal Management, Personnel, Governance and Operations through a set of indicators known as the District Performance Review (DPR). The DPR is a series of self-assessment checklists completed by district teams and then submitted to the county superintendents for review. Based on the results, the Commissioner of Education places each district on an "accountability continuum." The placement determines the extent of state support and assistance to be provided to the district.

Researchers at Rutgers evaluated the pilot program run by DOE in 13 districts. The evaluation sought to determine the effectiveness of the DPR for assessing school district performance, and whether QSAC, and DOE implementation methods, are likely to further school districts’ efforts to build local capacity and improve student performance.

Some of the findings include:

  • The DPR scoring system needs significant revision because it does not permit partial credit. Each indicator is scored on an all or nothing scale. So, as one district administrator noted, "The DPR allows you to do the minimum and still get [all of the] points. The flip side is also true. It doesn’t show how extraordinary a district is…Those sitting on the bench appear to be playing as well as Michael Jordan."
  • County and district administrators found the QSAC process burdensome and time consuming.
  • DOE did not provide the necessary direction and support to pilot districts.
  • DOE county and Trenton staff lack the skills required to implement QSAC effectively.
  • Very few indicators address capacity or effectiveness. Instead, the DPR is weighted heavily in favor of addressing technical compliance with bureaucratic requirements.
  • The DPR indicators do not require or allow districts to demonstrate realistic progress over time toward the goal of meeting state standards.

Additionally, although QSAC purports to create a single system of accountability, it does not address the programs and reforms required by the landmark Abbott v. Burke rulings. Rutgers identified 22 Abbott reforms missing from the DPR.

Responding to the report, ELC Executive Director David Sciarra said, "Given the major problems identified by Rutgers, full implementation of QSAC should be delayed until they are corrected. We also recommend the Department promptly convene stakeholders from Abbott districts to assist in ensuring that all of the mandated Abbott programs and reforms are covered by the QSAC performance reviews. We’re ready to help get this done quickly."

ELC is also calling on the Senate and Assembly Education Committees to hold hearings on the Rutgers evaluation report, and quickly prepare amendatory legislation to correct flaws in QSAC.