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As Statewide Testing Looms, Lawmakers Start to Raise Questions

Concerns being raised on both sides of aisle about who is being tested and how the results will be used

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (Essex and Morris)
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (Essex and Morris).

As New Jersey moves closer to a new generation of statewide testing, that progress is being paced by several bills looking to put some controls -- or cautions -- on the new exams.

State Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) was the latest to drop a package of new bills that would limit the use of the standardized tests as New Jersey transitions into the new online testing, known as PARCC.

Among them is a bill that would prohibit the use of commercially developed tests below third grade. Another would require districts to inform parents of exactly which standardized tests are being administered each year to their children.

A third bill would delay using the new tests, aimed for launch in 2015, as a factor in the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

If approved, the bills would face long odds from ever being signed by Gov. Chris Christie, but Jasey said this weekend that she wanted to prompt further discussion as much as make any specific changes to the state’s testing regimen.

“We need a conversation about what we are doing,” said Jasey, a member of the Assembly education committee. “How much instructional time are we losing. Is there an overlap in the tests? We need to talk about this.”

”Testing has its place, but are we losing sight of what good assessment is about,” she said. “It’s to inform instruction, not to punish.”

The concerns about state testing are hardly new, but there does appear to be a broader appeal among legislators as New Jersey embarks on the new PARCC exams, an entirely online system adopted by New Jersey and 16 other states.

The new tests, aligned with the Common Core State Standards, would expand both the amount of time and the number of students taking the yearly exams to measure not just student gains, but also progress for individual teachers and schools.

On the eve of the new exams, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has lately spoken against an over-reliance on testing in state education policy. State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the prime architect of the state’s new teacher tenure and evaluation law, has said she also wants to downplay the initial PARCC results -- at least for determining teacher ratings.

State Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly education committee, said at a recent forum of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association said he would support such measures.

“I think it is time we slow down some of this implementation and we take a look to exactly where we’re at,” he said.

From the other side of the aisle, state Assemblyman David Rible (R-Monmouth), a new member of Assembly’s education committee, has taken the lead and filed bills that would limit the sharing of student information culled from testing and another that would prohibit any standardized testing not required by state or federal law.

Jasey said she has noticed a change in the mood of legislators herself, as she has found many of them eager to join as sponsors and co-sponsors of her latest bills.

“There is lots of interest and it crosses across the state and party lines,” she said. “We want to get this right.”

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