By NJER Newsroom
JerseyCAN, the only statewide advocacy organization in New Jersey committed to ensuring access to high-quality public schools for every child regardless of zip code, cultural background, or socioeconomic status, has released a deeply concerning report detailing a significant decline in reading outcomes in some of New Jersey’s largest and most challenging school districts. Providing historic perspective, the most recent 3rd-grade district level and New Jersey Student Learning Assessments (NJSLA) data in areas such as Atlantic City, Newark, Camden, Milburn, Jersey City, and Asbury Park, along with identifying and advocating for needed and specific policy solutions, “Leveraging Literacy – The Path to Education Recovery in New Jersey” hopes to showcase the significant challenges affecting school districts across the state as they open their doors this Fall. The report is the first from JerseyCAN since Paula While joined the organization as executive director.
Late last year, after months of inaction, JerseyCAN demanded the Murphy administration release NJSLA scores, culminating with a digital town hall attended by hundreds across the state. Since relenting and sharing the NJSLA results publicly, test scores have shown unprecedented decline throughout the state, with 42.4% of all New Jersey students not meeting grade-level expectations in English Language Arts (ELA), with far more profound impact in New Jersey’s black and brown communities. As a result, this Summer, JerseyCAN launched the New Jersey Legacy of Literacy Coalition (NJLL), a statewide campaign aimed at influencing Governor Phil Murphy, the New Jersey State Legislature, and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to adopt a high-quality statewide plan that addresses literacy in every public school in the state.
“New Jersey families are fighting a dire and clear challenge – far too many of our kids cannot read, and for many who can, they are reading despite their school’s teaching, not because of it,” stated Paula White, Executive Director of JerseyCAN. “It’s time for honest talk, transparency of data, and an urgency to tackle the nuts and bolts of action. As we begin another school year without a real plan, “Leveraging Literacy – The Path to Education Recovery in New Jersey” showcases the alarming data that currently reflects the state of literacy education in New Jersey, which is foundational for all learning. It also specifically defines how key communities within our state are affected and advocates for literacy-based strategies and policy solutions to provide our state with a needed learning recovery. In this report, we assert that given the low and declining reading capacity of our K-12 learners, an overhaul in reading instruction is the best hope we have to recover from the learning that has been lost. Make no mistake, the data is clear, and so are the solutions. After an unacceptable delay in releasing the full battery of the NJSLA scores and not implementing the National Reading Panel’s recommendations, we challenge the powerbrokers to join forces with us to act with bold decision-making and specific substantive solutions.”
In addition to providing a centralized resource of key data points from around the state, JerseyCAN advocates in the report for adopting the principles of the Science of Reading (SOR). Currently, New Jersey continues to represent a minority of States that tolerates the status quo of outdated, inefficient, and perpetually corrective approaches in teaching the fundamentals of reading rather than the proven SOR model, which utilizes the five pillars of reading developed by the National Reading Panel: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. To implement this paradigm change for the state, JerseyCAN recommends providing in-service classroom teachers professional development training aligned to the Science of Reading to empower our educators to succeed. Currently, The state neither guarantees access to such training nor does it require that teachers receive it. In addition, JerseyCAN recommends a series of other tactics, such as teacher preparation programs for pre-service teachers in New Jersey’s colleges and universities that are fully aligned with the Science of Reading, parent notification for students with reading deficiencies, universal screenings to identify students’ entry point along the continuum of reading, and subsequent assessment for learning touchpoints to plan for continuous improvement.
“Leveraging Literacy – The Path to Education Recovery in New Jersey” comes on the heels of an intensive effort by JerseyCAN during the pandemic, entitled “NJ Kids Can’t-Wait,” to support New Jersey families with needed information, guidance, and tools to address student needs. The statewide campaign included extensive engagement, creating a one-stop-shopping online resource for parents, partnering with local teachers to drive meaningful engagement with parents across the state, and investing heavily in data collection and sharing. Information from the campaign included the first poll of New Jersey parents showcasing the stark racial and income disparities in addressing the challenges of COVID-19, the first of its kind study defining the impact of COVID-19 on New Jersey students; a centralized multimedia platform to assist local districts and charter schools in advancing new strategies and programs to accelerate learning, and a series of videos created by NJ teachers, who provided advice to parents to reinforce skills to address students’ learning needs at home.