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Improving the Quality of Literacy Education
in New Jersey’s Middle Grades

Report of the NJ Task Force on Middle Grade Literacy Education

Executive Summary

This report represents the work of the Middle Grade Literacy Task Force formed by Commissioner of Education, William L. Librera. It builds on the current momentum in early literacy education by framing the direction for a statewide initiative designed to improve literacy achievement in grades 4 – 8. The Task Force was created to:

(1) initiate a statewide conversation about literacy education in grades 4-8, a serious area of educational concern throughout New Jersey and the nation;

(2) produce a consensus document that provides background information to guide policy and practice along with specific recommendations for action;

(3) improve the quality of literacy instruction in grades 4-8.

The report is divided into three parts. Part I, Learning and Teaching in the Middle Grades: Issues and Concerns, begins with research about learners and the challenges they face in the middle grades. Learning in the Middle Grades, offers background information on the nature of middle grade readers and writers, the literacy demands of the middle grades and the effects of home environment on student learning. This is followed by, Teaching in the Middle Grades, which includes salient research on the literacy achievement gap, English language learners, school structures, content area instruction, motivation and engagement, struggling and special needs learners, instructional technology and media resources, and assessment.

Part II, Best Practices, provides a set of research syntheses on effective practices in the middle grades that link back to the background information offered in Part I. Included are: Behaviors and competencies of students, which details the attributes that need to be cultivated to promote successful learning; Instructional features, which outlines what is known about successful classroom instruction; and Features of the professional lives of teachers, which describes key elements required for the ongoing professional development of teachers.

Part III, Summary Statements and Recommendations for Action, outlines recommendations based on the information provided in Parts I and II. The recommendations center on Implementing Effective Practices, Professional Development, Pre-service Teacher Education and Certification, and Assessment. Because the Task Force serves as advisory to the Commissioner, the recommendations are purposely cast to provide direction for policy and implementation at the State level. However, it is the intention of the Task Force that they be considered as recommendations for cooperative action at the State, district, and classroom levels.

__________ May, 2004 __________

Penelope E. Lattimer, Ph.D., Co-Chair
Special Assistant to Commissioner
NJ Department of Education
Dorothy S. Strickland, Ph.D., Co-Chair
Samuel DeWitt Proctor Prof. of Education
Rutgers, The State University of NJ

The work of the Task Force was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.
The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the Task Force.

New Jersey Task Force on Middle Grade Literacy Education

Penelope E. Lattimer, Ph.D., Co-Chair Special Assistant to Commissioner
NJ Department of Education
Dorothy S. Strickland, Ph.D., Co-Chair Samuel DeWitt ProctorProfessor of Education
Rutgers, The State University of NJ


Lillian Augustine, Ed.D. Director Professional Development Academy
Piscataway, New Jersey
Christine Carlson Principal, Middle School
New Egypt, New Jersey
Margarita DeCandia Teacher, Middle School Humanities
Union City, New Jersey
Kathy Ganske, Ph.D. Associate Professor
Rowan University
Elaine J. Geraldo Teacher, Middle School Bilingual Ed
New Brunswick Public Schools
New Jersey Education Association
Mitchel Gerry Vice President and Editor
Newark Teachers Union-NJ-AFT
Margaret Honey, Ph.D. Vice President and Director
EDC/Center for Children and Technology
Debra Jennings Executive Co-Director
Statewide Parent Advocacy Network
Jill Lewis, Ed.D. Professor
New Jersey City University
Ana Mistral, Ph.D. Adjunct Professor
New Jersey City University
NJ Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages; NJ Bilingual Educators
Lesley M. Morrow, Ph.D. Professor
Rutgers, The State University of NJ
Nancy Nicolescu, Ed.D. Assistant Professor
Monmouth University NJ Council Teachers of English
Bruce Normandia, Ed.D. Chair, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, Monmouth University
Vivian Rodriguez, Ph.D. Assistant Superintendent of Schools
Perth Amboy, New Jersey
Patricia Tumulty Executive Director
New Jersey Library Association
Carmina Rodriguez-Villa, Ph.D. Facilitator, Whole School Reform
Long Branch, New Jersey
Faye Warren Principal, Livingston Elementary
New Brunswick, New Jersey
L. Debra Wimbush Director, Whole School Reform
New Brunswick, New Jersey

New Jersey Department of Education
Ex Officio

William Librera, Ed.D. Commissioner of Education
Gordon MacInnes Assistant Commissioner
Division of Abbott Implementation
Richard C. Ten Eyck Assistant Commissioner
Educational Programs & Assessment
Marcia Ashhurst-Whiting, Ed.D. Language Arts Literacy Coordinator
Office of Academic & Professional Standards Development
Eileen Burch Education Program Specialist & Acting Manager
Division of Abbott Implementation
Annette Castiglione Director, Office of Program Planning & Design
Fred Carrigg Special Assistant to the Commissioner for Urban Literacy
Thomas A. Chiola Central Regional Coordinator for the Office of Reading First
Jami Fair-Davis Manager, Office of Program Planning & Design Central Division of Abbott Implementation
Sandra Strothers, Ph.D. Education Program Development Specialist - Division of Abbott Implementation

Office of the Governor
Ex Officio

Lucille Davy Special Counsel for Education

Carnegie Corporation of New York
Ex Officio

Andrés Henríquez Program Officer