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NJDOE Directs Abbott Districts Not to File Instructional Improvement Plans

State Also Fails to Meet New Deadlines for Abbott Evaluation and Progress Benchmarks

Just days before the February 1st due date, the NJ Department of Education told Abbott districts not to file their plans to improve curriculum and instruction for the coming school year. These plans – called the Two-Year Report on Instructional Priorities – are mandated by regulation and represent the culmination of months of effort by local educators to develop plans to improve student achievement in the high poverty Abbott districts and schools.

The NJDOE announcement was made by Assistant Commissioner Gordon MacInnes in a memoradum issued to Abbott districts on January 22, 2007. The Assistant Commissioner provided no explanation for the Department’s sudden action, or offered any legal basis for suspending a substantive mandate contained in the Department’s own regulations.

The NJDOE’s directive brought to a halt work by teachers and parents on Abbott school leadership councils (SLC), and district administrators and school boards’ to establish priorities for instructional and program improvement and strategies to implement them in the 2007-08 school year. These priorities and strategies are also designed to ensure school and district compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Abbott reforms.

The Two-Year Instructional Reports also are central to the development of school and district budgets for FY08, and serve to link funding to effective programs. While the NJDOE told districts not to send in the instructional plans, districts were still required to submit their fiscal plans and budgets by the February 1st deadline.

By instructing the districts not to submit the Two-Year Reports, the NJDOE also removed itself from the responsibility of reviewing these plans. By regulation, NJDOE is required to provide feedback and approve the districts plans, and then use the plans as a basis for reviewing the districts’ budgets.

In addition, there is still no indication that NJDOE has taken any action to launch the independent evaluation of the Abbott reforms. The evaluation, first ordered by the Supreme Court in 1998, has never been undertaken. In the most recent State Budget, the Legislature directed the NJDOE to prepare a plan for the evaluation by October 2006. In response, the NJDOE issued only another promise to respond at some unspecified future date.

NJDOE has also failed to implement another key Abbott accountability measure: the establishment of baseline data and progress benchmarks for the Abbott districts. Like the Abbott evaluation, progress benchmarks were also Court-ordered in 1998, and the Legislature has also directed NJDOE to follow through. Here again, despite promises to do so, NJDOE has not taken concrete steps to comply.

"We’re dismayed that NJDOE abruptly halted districts’ efforts to plan next year’s educational improvements," said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. "We are frustrated by the continued inaction by the agency to evaluate Abbott so we can have a better understanding of what’s working to improve student outcomes. If we want accountability, it must start at the top, with the State."

Prepared: February 2, 2007