Yearly Archives: 2019


Big Changes for New Jersey State Assessments

By Jaclyn Scotto Siano

As you have probably already heard, the New Jersey assessments have been changed for the 2019 testing window. Let’s take a quick look at these few important changes!

Name Change

So, the first major difference in the New Jersey assessment world is the change in name of the test. What was once known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is now the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA). In regards to content, the new test still covers the same skills so there is nothing new that needs to be taught.

Math Changes

For all grades, the test has been shortened (hooray for our students)! On the grades 3 through 5 tests, the NJSLA now consists of three 60-minute units instead of the four 60-minute units the students took in 2018.

For grades 6 through 8, there are still three units. However, the unit times have been shortened. As opposed to the 80-minute testing windows we saw in the past, the 2019 test consists of three 60-minute windows.

At the high school level, students will only be taking two 90-minute testing units. In 2018, they took three 90-minute tests.

ELA Changes

Once again, for all grade levels, the students will spend less time in front of the computer for the ELA sections. For all grade levels, students will be taking two units in 2019 (as opposed to the three units they took in 2018).  Instead of completing a Literary Analysis Task (LAT), Research Simulation Task (RST), AND Narrative Writing Task (NWT), students will be doing only two. Depending on the blueprint the student receives on test day, the test will consist of one of the following combinations:

  • a LAT and an RST
  • an NWT and an RST

So, regardless of the test versions they receive, all student will be doing an RST.

In regards to time, grade 3 will be sitting for two 75-minute units, and all other grades will take two 90-minute units.


So, there are a few major takeaways in regards to the changes in New Jersey’s state assessments. First, the name has been changed from PARCC to NJSLA. Secondly, there has been a reduction in number of units and total time spent testing for all grade levels and in both subjects. If you want more information, try New Jersey’s assessment web page.

By |2019-03-26T22:44:34+00:00March 26th, 2019|NJSLA|0 Comments

Improving Student Achievement through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

By Jaclyn Scotto Siano

One of the major goals of any school is student achievement. But did you know that Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) can contribute to increased student success?  In our last blog, we discussed how PLCs can be used as a method for improving teaching and pedagogy; today, let’s focus on some strategies that can be used in PLCs to improve student achievement.

Reviewing Student Work and Using Data Analysis

Having a set, recurring PLC time provides teachers with a place to review student work. One way this can be particularly helpful is when teachers are encouraged to bring graded performance-based assessments to their PLCs. Using the rubrics, teachers can focus on areas of strength and weakness for individual students. From there, individual support plans can be created to provide extra help in struggling areas. For example, if a particular student scored low on the grading rubric section for using MLA citations correctly, the teacher could provide the student with extra practice on this topic.

Similarly, teachers can work together during PLC time to analyze data from traditional assessments, like multiple choice tests. Reviewing graded tests as a group provides the teacher with objective feedback on both student scores and the test itself. In regards to student achievement, data analysis can assist the teacher in locating problem areas/topics. If many students perform poorly on the same question(s), then the teacher can consider re-teaching that topic for clarity.

Best Practices

PLCs provide educators with a venue for sharing best practices. In PLCs where the teachers share the same students, it provides an opportunity for discussing strategies on dealing with certain students. For example, one teacher may have found a helpful website to use with a struggling non-native English speaking student.

In all PLCs, educators can use that time to “bounce” ideas off each other. One teacher may have taught a very successful lesson or assigned a great project; he or she can share that with the group so that it may be adapted for other classes. When teachers share their victories, their peers can benefit and so can the students.


Multiple research studies show a direct link between teachers who are involved in PLCs and increased student achievement (Vescio et al., 2008). In its most effective form, a PLC should be utilized for all of the activities listed above. When teachers find new and more efficient ways to teach their students, students are more likely to succeed. We learn more when we learn together!


Vescio, V., Ross, D., and Adams, A. (2008). A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24, 80-91.

By |2019-02-04T14:42:04+00:00February 4th, 2019|PLCs|0 Comments

Improving Teacher Practice: Creating a Collaborative Culture through PLCs

By Jaclyn Scotto Siano

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

As educators, we know that there are multiple benefits that come from teacher collaboration; one of the biggest is improved teacher practice. In past blogs, we’ve established the basics of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in regards to purpose and initiation. Today, let’s get a little more specific and discuss how PLCs can be used as a method for improving pedagogy.

Problem Solving

PLCs provide a forum for educators to engage in open and honest discussion about relevant topics, such as dealing with educational issues. For example, if a teacher has recurring discipline issues with a particular student, he could refer to his PLC for ideas. This discussion of “what works” or best practices provides the struggling teacher with strategies that he can apply in his own classroom. In turn, this provides the teacher with a larger repertoire of strategies to use that could even prevent further issues! An added bonus is that these types of open discussions increase levels of interpersonal trust among group members (Tschannen-Moran, 2009). In turn, this increases the likelihood of teachers going to their peers for help even outside of PLC time.

Group Inquiry

Another way teacher collaboration can improve teaching is through the use of a group inquiry cycle. The majority of us have engaged in some kind of data analysis process; typically, this is done individually. However, in a PLC, members can work together to not just analyze data but to further understand educational issues and then assist their peers in creating more effective practices for the classroom based on the results.

One example of a recommended inquiry process is the Stamford PLC Cycle. In its simplest form, this cycle uses five steps:

  1. The PLC chooses an area of focus and then analyzes data
  2. The PLC reviews and discusses student work samples
  3. The PLC members take turns observing the member requesting assistance
  4. The PLC will create an assessment to identify strengths and weaknesses.
  5. The PLC will come up with a plan for “next steps” that the requesting teacher can apply. (Thessin and Starr, 2011)

Lesson Planning

Even if you work in a school that does not require collaborative or aligned lesson planning, a PLC is a natural conduit for it to occur. If groups are created based on subject matter (i.e.: all English teachers are in one PLC), then teachers can be encouraged to share their favorite lessons and activities. Many can be adapted to fit varied subjects. If PLC groups are arranged by grade level (i.e.: all fourth-grade teachers are in one PLC), then teachers should be encouraged to engage in cross-curricular planning. An easy way to initiate this is to ask each teacher to pair up with another who teaches a different subject and create a combined lesson. In either case, the result is a larger “toolbox” of effective pedagogical strategies from which your teachers can pull.


As the proverb implies, educators must work together in order to achieve success. Each teacher comes to a school with different ideas, activities, and strategies; encourage them to share the wealth via PLCs!

Keep an eye out for our next PLC blog where we will get into the nitty gritty of data analysis in PLCs and how it can improve student learning.


Thessin, R. A., & Starr, J. P. (2011). Supporting the growth of effective professional learning communities districtwide. The Phi Delta Kappan, 92(6), 48-54. doi:10.1177/003172171109200611

Tschannen-Moran, M. (2009).  Fostering teacher professionalism in schools:  The role of leadership orientation and trust.  Educational Administration Quarterly, 45(2), 217-247.  doi:  10.1177/0013161X08330501

By |2019-01-10T19:39:06+00:00January 11th, 2019|PLCs|0 Comments