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NJASK Updated As Part of Ongoing Transition to Common Core

Revised middle-school math exams alter profile of what students need to know in grades 6 to 8

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The move to online testing in 2015 may have grabbed most of the attention, but the state's NJASK exams will also be seeing some more changes this spring, as the current elementary and middle school tests are brought into line with the Common Core State Standards.

The state has already started the phase-in of the new national standards, revising NJASK’s grades 3-8 language arts and grades 3-5 math sections. But it left intact the grades 6-8 math exams while the younger students had the necessary instruction.

Now it's the turn of the middle-school math tests. Some content areas will be moved entirely to different grades. Ratios and relationships, for example, will be addressed in grades 6 and 7; mathematical functions more heavily weighted in grade 8.

“The idea was that the scaffolding of content was special for math, so we staged that implementation,” said Bari Erlichson, assistant education commissioner in charge of the testing.

“In 2014, we are finishing that transition,” she said. “NJASK will now be fully aligned.”

The NJASK transition is the last step before the state moves to a whole new battery of exam in the 2014-2015 school year, all to be administered online. Known as the PARCC tests, for the national consortium that developed them, those will be built around the Common Core standards. The state will be field testing the PARCC exams this spring in more than 1,200 schools.

Although it may not seem as daunting as the full move to the Common Core, the NJASK transition has been a source of uncertainty and angst for educators, since the content of the tests has gradually shifted without some districts adjusting their curriculum accordingly -- at least not yet.

The tests have high stakes for schools, students and teachers. This is the first year that student progress on state tests will be used in the evaluation of language arts and math teachers.

The guidelines for the 2014 tests were presented to district testing coordinators through both face-to-face meetings over the past three months and its accompanying presentation. They offer a rare public glimpse into the tests that have garnered so much attention and debate through the years.

As the presentation indicates, the biggest changes are in the middle-school math tests -- understandably so, given that no changes have been made to date. State officials said they would not necessarily be wholesale changes, since the state’s previous Core Curriculum Content Standards have many similarities with the Common Core. But the latter are more demanding in terms of mathematical skills.

The state’s presentation included a number of examples from the new exams, as well as guidelines for the use of calculators and other tools like protractors and rulers. It lists the frameworks and time limits on all sections of the tests as well.

Middle-school math has historically seen the state’s lowest rates of proficiency on the state exams, with just 64 percent of seventh graders passing last year and 69 percent of eighth graders.

The language arts sections will continue to see some adjustments as well. The most significant one up to now has been the greater emphasis on having students write on topics using evidence from provided texts or other media.

“There are no major shifts this year [in language arts], but there will be continued expectations around things like text-dependency in writing and the use of academic language,” said Erlichson.

The one constant remains the state’s science test, now given in just grades 4 and 8. Since there are no Common Core standards yet approved for science, the NJASK science tests will remain as they are -- at least for another year.

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