Livingston Will Not Consider Physical Education 'Opt-Out’ Policy Because It Could Mean Less Control Over Curriculum Standards

 LIVINGSTON, NJ—A suggestion by the Livingston High School student representative to the township school board that would allow students in school-sponsored athletics to opt for an additional study hall instead of a physical education class has not received the support of school officials.

Student representative Moshe Pasternak argued at Monday’s meeting of the Livingston Board of Education that, if one of the objectives of the educational system is to encourage students to be physically fit, then those students who spend time pursuing fitness through sports should be allowed to “opt-out” of physical education.

Superintendent of Schools Brad Draeger, while supportive of the general concept, said, under New Jersey law, school districts are required to meet certain curriculum standards and physical education is one of those areas where specific standards are set.

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Draeger noted the state standards require a certain level of aerobic exercise and certain other requirements in physical education for all four years of high school. He added he was not sure that coaches who are not certified as educators in the township schools can provide the instruction required by the state to meet its standards.

Under Option II of the state’s curriculum standards, school districts have some leeway in permitting students to participate in activities outside the normal school curriculum and have those activities substitute for some curriculum requirements if the substitute activities meet the state curriculum standards.

However, according to Mary Oates, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Livingston schools, those students currently taking advantage of Option II due to outside-school activities agree to “contracts” that outline how those activities meet the curriculum standards.

She agreed with Draeger that coaches not certified as instructors in the Livingston schools probably would not be able to certify such contracts for those participating in sports.

Board president Leslie Winograd, although also partially agreeing with Pasternak about the health benefits of sports, said it might also be an issue of fairness.

“What about the student whose family circumstances require him or her to work after school or one who has to attend religious school, for example? Would it be fair if they didn’t get the same benefit as an athlete?”, she asked.

Winograd said participating in sports is a matter of choice and each student has to take his or her other activities into consideration when making that choice.

The superintendent said the school district had no choice but to observe the New Jersey standards.

He did say that Pasternak could attempt to get those standards changed at the state level.

On another matter related to student representation on the board, the school body discussed its policy on alternate student representatives.

A board policy passed in April allows for one elected student representative and two students elected as alternate representatives to the school body.

Board member Ronnie Spring said he doubted if a student representative decided midway through his or her one-year term that he or she no longer wanted to serve an alternate could step in and be “brought up to speed” on some of the more complicated issues on which the board acts.

However, board member Bonnie Granatir thought it unfair if a student representative decided not to serve out his or her term that the entire student body of the high school would be “disenfranchised.”

Draeger also brought up the scenario where a student could be elected as an alternate by as few as three votes.

He said he would formulate a revised policy that would provide for appointment of a student representative in the event of the resignation of a serving representative.

 On another matter, Elaine Bakke, supervisor of English language arts outlined “scope and sequence” steps in development of Strand 1 of the language arts curriculum for kindergarten through fifth grade.

She noted this summer developments included “unpacking” the common core curriculum standards recognized by educators in 49 states and their application to the Livingston curriculum.

The major focus in student writing, she said, will shift from narrative writing to more argumentative and persuasive writing.

Bakke also said there will be more emphasis on non-fiction and the building of knowledge through the use of cross-curricular literature with history, for example, being viewed more as interpretative.

The core curriculum standards, according to the supervisor, will bring some of the following changes to the Livingston schools:

  • More specificity and delineation of language skills;
  • The identification of skill sets for each grade level; and
  • Speaking and listening skills purposely interwoven across all content areas.

She added that advances in the core curriculum standards call for:

  • Proficiency, complexity and independence;
  • Use of content rich informational texts;
  • Reading, writing and speaking based on evidence derived from text;
  • Comparing and contrasting across texts or multiple sources of information;
  • Emphasis on text complexity and its academic vocabulary;
  • More persuasiveness and argument-based writing; and
  • Preparing students four the demands of college, careers and citizenship.

Bakke said the curriculum developed for the kindergarten through fifth grade eventually would progress into the higher grades.

On another topic, Oates and Draeger gave a presentation on 2011-2012 standardized testing results in the Livingston schools.

Oates noted, although it was often difficult to garner a great deal of specific information from statewide reporting of results, the township schools were able to use locally-specific methods to gain a good idea of student progress.

“More often than not,” she added, “we know that Livingston students have been performing better than our district factor group.”

Although the state does not provide much data on performance of specific students, Oates added, it does provide “clusters” through which milestones can be measured.

For example, on the New Jersey ASK Test for language arts literacy in the third grade, 2.3 percent of Livingston special education students attained advanced proficiency compared to a district factor group figure of 1.6 percent and a state figure of 1.0 percent.

Advanced proficiency was achieved by 19.4 percent of township third graders in general education students, compared to 8.5 percent in the factors group and 4.4 percent statewide.

Only 6.4 percent of township third graders in general education fell into the partially proficient category, compared to 11.7 percent among the factor group and 25.8 percent statewide.

In mathematics and language arts in the fourth through sixth grades Livingston students outperformed students both in their factor group and statewide, according to Oates.

She said seventh grade special education students from Livingston performed slightly below the factor group in mathematics and better than the factor group in language arts.

A Livingston “cohort” of third graders who last year “struggled” in some testing areas this year saw improvement as fourth graders, she noted.

In the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), Draeger said 43.6 percent of all Livingston students attained advanced proficiency versus 38 percent in the factor group.

For mathematics the figures were 50.7 percent versus 46.7 percent, he said.

Overall, according to the superintendent, “we had the lowest percentage of partial proficiencies we have seen in many years and more advanced proficiency. I believe this demonstrates the success of opening access to entire curriculum to all Livingston High School students.”

The superintendent reported similar score increases among students at the high school who took the Scholastic Aptitude Tests and American College Tests.

He added state testing will change quite dramatically in the next few years, with students expected to meet certain performance “growth targets” and the district factor groups replaced by 20-districts groupings of schools based on performance rather than social-economic factors.

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