• Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Waiver

    According to a memo dated April 11, 2012, from Christopher D. Cerf, Acting Commissioner of Education in New Jersey:

    Through New Jersey’s waiver from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Department of Education has developed a new school accountability system to replace certain provisions of No Child Left Behind.  Most importantly, schools will no longer be subject to the mandated interventions associated with failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  Instead, the Department has identified three categories of schools based on a combination of both growth and proficiency - Priority Schools, Focus Schools, Reward Schools – in order to more fairly categorize school performance and to provide flexibility and more targeted supports and interventions where needed.

    In the state’s ESEA waiver application dated November 14, 2011, we developed a preliminary list of Priority, Focus, and Reward Schools for illustrative purposes using preliminary 2010-11 data. 

    Below, please find a link to the official list of Priority, Focus, and Reward schools developed with final 2010-11 school data. This information, as well as technical information on the methodology, can also be found at: http://www.nj.gov/education/reform/PFRschools/

    As outlined in our ESEA waiver application (which can be found at: http://www.nj.gov/education/grants/nclb/waiver/), the Department is undergoing a fundamental shift from a system of primarily oversight and monitoring to service delivery and support. Over the past year, we have been developing seven field-based Regional Achievement Centers (RACs) staffed with expert school improvement teams that will work directly with Priority and Focus Schools to implement proven turnaround principles and dramatically improve student achievement.  These RACs will be operational and ready to support Priority and Focus Schools by September 2012.  Reward Schools will be recognized for either high overall performance or significant growth over the prior three years.  Reward Schools that received Title I funds may also be eligible for financial rewards through Title I funds. 

    Beyond these three categories, the vast majority of the 2,500 schools in New Jersey will not be categorized as Priority, Focus, or Reward Schools.  In these schools, districts will have autonomy over the necessary investments and supports to sustain strong performance or strengthen areas for improvement.  Beginning in the 2012-13 school year, the Department will develop individual growth targets for each school and subgroups within that school and will report those targets in a new School Performance Report.  These new School Performance Reports will also include measures of college readiness and comparison to peer schools across the state.  School boards will be required to have public discussions on the findings of these reports to ensure transparent communication about school performance.  Through these new School Performance Reports, district administrators and educators will have unprecedented actionable data to drive their improvement efforts.

    Definition of Priority, Focus, or Reward Status

    New Jersey’s ESEA waiver application includes a detailed methodology for identifying Priority, Focus, and Reward Schools.  Below is a short definition of each category.

    Priority Schools

    A Priority school is a school that has been identified as among the lowest-performing five percent of Title I schools in the state over the past three years, or any non-Title I school that would otherwise have met the same criteria. There are 75 Priority Schools. The types of Priority Schools are:

    • Lowest-Performing: schools with the lowest school-wide proficiency rates in the state. Priority schools in this category have an overall three-year proficiency rate of 31.6% or lower.
    • SIG schools: schools that are part of the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program.

    Focus Schools

    A Focus School is a school with significant but focused areas of concern in student performance over the past three years. As part of the process, Focus Schools will receive targeted and tailored solutions to meet the school’s unique needs.  There are 183 Focus Schools. The types of Focus Schools are:

    • Low Graduation Rates: high schools with a 2011 graduation rate lower than 75%.
    • Largest Within-School Gaps: schools with the largest in-school proficiency gap between the highest-performing subgroup and the combined proficiency of the two lowest performing subgroups.  Schools in this category have a proficiency gap between these subgroups of 43.5 percentage points or higher.
    • Lowest Subgroup Performance: schools whose two lowest-performing subgroups rank among the lowest combined proficiency rates in the state.  Schools in this category have an overall proficiency rate for these lowest-performing subgroups of 29.2% or lower.

    Reward Schools

    A Reward School is a school with outstanding student achievement or growth over the past three years.  There are 112 Reward Schools. The types of Reward Schools are:

    • Highest-Performing: schools that are the highest-performing in the state, in terms of school-wide proficiency, subgroup proficiency, and graduation rates.
    • Highest-Progress: schools that have high levels of student growth, measured using their median Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) over time.

    The Department used a number of factors in the development of these lists.  They include:

    State Assessments

    The proficiency rates used to determine Priority, Focus, and Reward Schools are based on 3-year averages of state assessment data, from the 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 school years. Every test eligible student is included in all proficiency rates.  A subgroup must have an average of 30 test eligible students and make up 5% of the test-eligible student body to be included.

    Student Growth

    The lists of Priority, Focus, and Reward Schools take into account that some schools or student subgroups exhibit very high levels of student growth over time. For high schools, high growth is determined using school-wide HSPA proficiency changes over time. For elementary/middle schools, high growth is based on median Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) over the past three years of assessments. Schools with high growth cannot be classified as Priority Schools. Subgroups with high growth cannot be classified as a school’s lowest or second-lowest performing subgroup for purposes of Focus School designations.

    Graduation Rates

    Each school’s 2011 4-year cohort-adjusted graduation rate is used.  The Department will report final graduation rates for the state, district, and schools in the coming weeks using the new federally mandated 4-year cohort adjusted graduation rate.

    For a full copy of this memo, please visit:  
Last Modified on April 22, 2020