By Laura Waters

In NJER TV’s new video, Laura Waters interviews Paula White, Executive Director of JerseyCAN, on the urgency for the New Jersey Board of Education to adopt new reading standards that focus on phonics and comprehension, an instructional approach known as the Science of Reading.

JerseyCAN has been at the forefront of efforts to update the Student Learning Standards–which have not been changed since 2016—in order to address NJ students’ poor outcomes in reading: currently only 42% of NJ third-graders can read at grade-level, a benchmark for future academic success. Yet, while state after state has integrated effective reading instruction, the Murphy Administration, White says, has been “kicking the can down the road” to the detriment of students, particularly those who were already behind before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In lobbying for necessary changes, JerseyCAN has launched a series of initiatives, including the New Jersey Legacy of Literacy Coalition and the report “Leveraging Literacy: the Path To Education Recovery in New Jersey.” This campaign brings together parent and educator-led groups who are hoping that the State Legislature will pass a bill that defines clear state directives and goals to address the literacy gap, enables aligned teacher training for public school teachers, mandates more significant information sharing to parents regarding their children’s literacy acquisition, and instructs the NJDOE to develop and implement a plan to address the literacy gap.

“The word ‘legacy’ is very personal to me,” explains White.

On Wednesday the State Board of Education will vote on new student learning standards for reading and math, an agenda item languishing since last April when the standards were introduced to the current Board; in fact, the last time new standards were approved was in 2016 before we had access to correct information about how children learn to read. White explains in the video that, while curricula is left to individual school districts, the DOE sets standards and disseminates best practices for how instruction must align with those standards. Thus, the Board has the opportunity this week to put the needs of students first so they have a “fighting chance.”

“If we don’t have the right standards,” asks White, what are we doing? We need leadership from our State Board.”

White is hopeful that JerseyCAN’s tireless efforts may pay off. Now if the State Legislature can follow suit, we may have a chance to ensure that our children—especially those most disenfranchised—have the benefit of evidence -based approaches that will give them the tools to move forward.


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