N.J. rethinking high school tests

Posted: May 01, 2012

Gov. Christie announced Monday that he wanted to do away with the state’s current high school assessment exams and instead use end-of-course tests.

Christie was endorsing recommendations of the College and Career Readiness Task Force, which found that the state assessments now in use — the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) and the Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA) — are not aligned with standards New Jersey and most other states have adopted and are not a good gauge of whether students are prepared for college. Even students who pass the HSPA may require remedial courses in college, the task force found.

In addition, the administration said the state has adopted a new, federally mandated method of calculating graduation rates that indicates New Jersey, while ahead of many other states, needs more improvement than the old tabulation indicated. Under new, more rigorous methodology, the state graduation rate is 83 percent, compared with 94.7 percent by the old measure, state officials said.

The new tests and a more stringent and detailed method of calculating graduation rates aim to provide better tools for producing high school graduates prepared for higher education and the workforce, the governor said. The ideas were promoted during an event at West Windsor-Plainsboro North High School in Mercer County.

“Preparing students for college and a career is not only a moral imperative, it is an economic necessity to keep New Jersey competitive given the demands of the 21st century,” Christie said in a statement.

The new tests are still a long way off. Students now in grade four will be the first to graduate based on the new assessments. Students in grades five through eight will pilot the new tests — in math and language arts — but will not be required to pass them to graduate. The task force, which was appointed by acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf in October and released its report Monday, recommended assessments in science and social studies as well.

The new math and language arts tests are being developed by a multistate consortium, working with $180 million in federal funds.

Stan Karp, a specialist in secondary education with the Education Law Center in Newark, expressed concerns about the plan.

Nothing addresses how to help the schools that aren’t meeting current standards pass even harder ones, he said, nor does the plan address costs. The Pioneer Institute, a public policy research organization, recently estimated that implementing the new curriculum standards and tests would cost New Jersey more than $500 million, according to Karp.

State Education Department spokesman Justin Barra said New Jersey now spends $32 million on its assessment, which, in the future, could be put toward funding the administration of the new tests.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841 or rgiordano@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ritagiordano.

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