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New Jersey Lawmakers Seek to Improve Outcomes for Students Following COVID-Related School Closures

New Jersey lawmakers are considering measures that seek to improve educational outcomes for the state’s 1.4 million students following coronavirus-related school closures.

After schools were shut down due to the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, districts across the state adopted remote learning plans to finish out the school year. For the 2020-21 academic year, many schools began using a hybrid model of virtual and in-person instruction, an approach that left parents and teachers alike frustrated.

The proposed law, S-3470, was approved March 9 by the State Senate Education Committee, would allow certain students in kindergarten through 12th grade to repeat the grade level which they were enrolled in for the current academic year.  

Bill Would Let Students Repeat A Grade

Under the bill, a parent or guardian’s request must be submitted in writing by June 1 to the district superintendent, who will make the final decision.

Districts would be required to report to the state Department of Education the number of students who repeated a grade. A companion bill has yet to be introduced into the state Assembly.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-15), said, “In New Jersey, we are constitutionally required to provide students with a thorough and efficient education, but parents and teachers have reported to me that over the past year, that has not happened.”

Virtual Schooling Not ‘Ideal’

“Parents should have the option of having their children repeat the grade if they feel it is in the best interest of their children and their long-term success,” Turner added.

Remote learning, Turner said, “has not been the ideal situation for every student, especially students in low-income districts who lack the equipment or connectivity to even show up to the online classroom.”

Now a year into the pandemic, many parents have said they concerned over learning loss among students due to extended virtual learning and believe more needs to be done to close the technology gap.

Required Training On Remote Teaching

Another bill making it way through Trenton is A-4859, which would require candidates for teaching certifications to receive training on remote teaching to help better prepare the next generation of teachers on how to adapt to virtual instruction in the event of emergencies, like the pandemic.

Under the bill advanced by the state Assembly Education Committee, candidates starting with the 2022-23 school year would be required to complete a remote teaching training course that would include how to revise curriculum for an online platform, determining the most effective tools to deliver content, ways to engage students, building and sustaining connection with classes, conducting assessments online and monitoring academic progress.

A companion bill was introduced by Turner and referred to the Senate Education Committee.

Preparing Teachers For ‘Future Emergencies’ and ‘Disruptions’

The measure’s sponsors, Assembly members Mila Jasey (D-27), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) and Ralph Caputo (D-28), praised educators for rising to “the seemingly impossible challenge of transitioning to remote instruction under the most difficult circumstances.”

“With no precedent to guide them, teachers have worked tirelessly to maximize all available resources and deliver the best education possible,” Jasey, Vainieri Huttle and Caputo said in a press statement. “However, many never had experience with virtual instruction prior to the pandemic and found themselves climbing a steep learning curve alongside their students.”

The lawmakers added: “This pandemic has taught us that schools need to be resilient to accommodate future emergencies and disruptions to normal education. Every aspiring teacher must be prepared to educate students in a virtual environment if the situation arises.”

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