NEW JERSEY — A new executive order will mean sweeping changes for the way teachers and students are evaluated for the 2020-2021 school year.

Gov. Phil Murphy, who has long said this isn’t a normal school year due to COVID-19, announced the changes during a Monday press conference on pandemic updates.

As part of the order, high school seniors won’t have to pass an exit test to graduate and student performance won’t factor into teacher evaluations (instead of relying on supervisor assessments). In addition, certified teachers will be able to serve longer as substitute teachers - in order to help maintain proper staff levels.

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“To not make these sensible adjustments given the current situation would be a failure to properly serve our students, our educators and the best interests of our education communities,” said Murphy.

According to the governor’s office, amid the pandemic the Executive Order will allow:

1. Those in the process of becoming certificated teachers to fill teaching vacancies for a maximum of 60 school days instead of 20 school days.

2. Fully certificated teachers who are currently employed as substitutes in an area outside of their credentials to fill teaching vacancies for a maximum of 60 school days instead of 40 school days.

Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan emphasized that all the changes result from conversations with “stakeholders and practitioners.”

“While maintaining the rigor and quality of our accountability systems must remain our North Star, it is undeniable that implementing brand new instructional models has forced changes in how to effectively use performance data,” Allen-McMillan said. “It is also undeniable that the pandemic has forced our teachers and administrators to take on new roles and confront new challenges to meet a district's educational and operational needs….The flexibility granted by this order represents a meaningful and significant step in further adapting our education system to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19.”

Many students haven’t received in-person education since last March and although educators have been moved up on the list to receive vaccines, the state is still focusing on the high-risk groups. During his Jan. 6 briefing, Murphy reported that 8,800 students lacked devices or connectivity for remote learning.

As of Monday, 351 districts were under a hybrid model, 337 a combination of in-person and remote, 79 all virtual and 44 all in-person. The state dashboard indicates 11 school outbreaks and 557 cases linked to said outbreaks.

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