Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet is an Open Book

New Jersey’s new education commissioner shares his thoughts on testing, pre-K, charters and more.

Judge Lawrence Lawson, right, swears in Lamont Repollet as the state's education commissioner, June 19 in Trenton. Holding the ceremonial Bible is the commissioner's wife, J. Darlene Repollet.
Judge Lawrence Lawson, right, swears in Lamont Repollet as the state's education commissioner, June 19 in Trenton. Holding the ceremonial Bible is the commissioner's wife, J. Darlene Repollet.
Photo courtesy of the NJ Department of Education

Lamont Repollet has a full plate. As the state’s new commissioner of education, Repollet, a former teacher and principal who most recently served as superintendent of the Asbury Park School District, must tackle such thorny issues as the future of standardized testing, pre-K expansion and charter schools. I sought his opinions on these challenges and more.

Where do we stand in the effort to expand free pre-K in our state?
The recently signed budget for fiscal year 2019, which began July 1, provides the largest increase in preschool funding in more than a decade. Governor Phil Murphy and the Legislature added more than $30 million to support existing preschool programs, which brings that investment to $688 million. Another $50 million has been allocated for districts that are prepared to expand their programs. This is the first step in the governor’s goal of expanding access to preschool.

What is the appropriate role for charter schools?
I am supportive of all types of schools. There is not a one-size-fits-all model that is right for all students, and parents should have educational options. The charter school law is over 20 years old, and the NJ Department of Education is taking time to review the statute. The department will embark upon a charter review similar to what we did for statewide assessments, during which we intend to meet with students, parents, educators and community members to gather their thoughts and ideas regarding the impact and future of charters in the state.

Can you give us historical perspective on standardized testing?
From 1978 until today, New Jersey has administered statewide assessments. It began as a method to assess minimum basic skills. In 1996, New Jersey adopted the first set of state academic standards. These standards have been updated several times, and statewide assessments have become a measure of student progress toward their mastery of these standards. Federal mandates require states to monitor the progress of student subgroups to identify schools needing additional supports.

What is the impact of the tests on students, teachers and principals?
The NJDOE just completed a rigorous, 21-county, 75-meeting listening tour on statewide assessments to better understand how standardized testing affects students, teachers and school leaders…. Overall, many people believe that assessments are valuable, as long as they are relevant, aligned to the state standards, and the data from the results is useful and turned around quickly. Unfortunately, many students we spoke with do not see relevancy in the current statewide assessments. This is something I’m committed to addressing.

Some say teachers are pressured to teach to the test. Do you agree?
Standardized tests are designed to reflect the NJ Student Learning Standards around which all district curricula are built. These standards define what a student should be able to do at the end of a course or grade level…. Districts regularly assess student progress and understanding through formal and informal assessment. The state assessment should be one tool in determining the supports needed by individual students, subgroups of students and schools.

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